PitchFest season has turned into a year-round, worldwide affair. If you have a project and want to network with executives, you can go to LA, New York, Austin, London, Rome, and many other cities all over the globe. If you are preparing for a pitching event, you might be feeling the twinges of Pitching Anxiety (Panxiety). Have the nightmares started yet? The cold sweats? The muttering as you run through your pitch again and again?
If you are a first-time pitcher, your natural fears of pitching are probably being augmented by the fear of the unknown. A PitchFest is a manufactured environment, outside the realm of any reality you may know. However, the good news is that it’s easily navigated and strategies to maximize your experience are easily developed.
Below are answers to five of the most common questions first-time pitchers ask when facing their first PitchFest.
1. Can I pitch a script I haven’t written yet? In the 25 PitchFests I have been part of, this must be the most frequently asked question. I kind of like hearing it, because it reminds me of that rush of electric joy that springs from that new idea, that moment of creation. We are never more excited about a script than the moment we think of it. But scripts are like children: The most fun part is conception.
What follows – though rewarding – is lots and lots and LOTS of hard work. And – particularly for an unproven writer in a PitchFest environment – an executive is going to want to see whether or not you are capable of providing quality work. The best idea ever imagined is not half as important as your execution of that idea.
In a nutshell, let me answer this question with a question: If the exec requests your script, then what will you do? Rush home, mainline coffee, and write without sleep for 72 hours? Look in the mirror. Are you Hunter S. Thompson? Then the odds are the end result will be terrible.
No, if you only have the germ of an idea, get it written. At least an outline so you know if your story has a beginning, middle and end. Know your characters. There will ALWAYS be another chance to pitch it. Best to go into your pitch prepared.
2. What if somebody steals my idea? The underlying symptom of this problem is the same as in question #1. Writers tend to place a huge value on their ideas, cherishing them and keeping them in our little brain vaults, all the while wanting to shout them from the rooftops so that all of humanity can be quenched and nourished by the rain of our creative genius.
And the answer is similar too: ideas can’t be protected, and really have no value on their own. It’s the execution of that idea that matters. You can’t copyright or otherwise protect an idea. A treatment, an outline, a script… those are the things that matter.
a. All right, then, Wise Guy, what if somebody steals my script? The odds of this are very low. From a purely business perspective, the cost of buying your script, putting it in a drawer, and hiring someone to do a page-one rewrite is a lot less (in time, money, and reputation) than stealing your script and fighting your lawsuit down the line. Protect yourself by registering it with the copyright office (don’t bother with WGA registration. It costs more, remains valid for a shorter duration, and provides less protection), keep track of who you pitched and when, submit via e-mail so there is a record, and follow up.
From a practical standpoint, writing is solitary, filmmaking is collaborative. If you want to get your movie made, you’re going to have to show it to someone, sometime. Get used to the idea and carry on with careful confidence.
3. Here is my logline! Is it good enough!? Is it? Please help! I’m terrified! Can I shake their hand? Once I’ve shaken it, do I sit down? Or do I sit down before? When do I start the pitch? Should I say hello? What in the world do I do? PLEASE HELP!! All right, my friend. Take a deep breath. It’s critical to remember that the person sitting across from you is a human being who came into the industry for the same reasons that most of us did: They love stories, they love movies, they love television. They just want to hear your story and ask you questions about it. Have a conversation. Don’t talk AT them. And don’t fill up the five minutes. And relax. RELAX, DAMN IT!!!
Seriously, though. Each pitch is not your destiny made manifest. Your entire screenwriting career is not on the line. Provide your logline. Be CONCISE. And answer their questions. Prepare yourself by knowing your script, knowing your craft, and understanding the language of the industry.
4. Should I pitch more than one project? Each executive is looking for different things, so being prepared to pitch a variety of projects is a great idea. However, you should enter each individual meeting prepared to pitch your strongest script (that would be appropriate for that exec). Be confident and direct. It feels wishy-washy to start with “I have several scripts. Which would you like to hear about?” If you give them various genre options, it appears that you haven’t done your research. If you hand them a list, you lose a direct connection to them from the start. And don’t you think it makes the most sense to provide them with your best work?
If they pass on that initial script, feel free to say “I have others. Would you like to hear about another?” If they request that initial script, thank them, collect their contact info, and carry on. Once they say “Yes,” the only thing left for them to say is “No.” If your writing is good enough, even if they pass on the script they request, you won’t need a PitchFest next time. Just reach out to your new professional contact directly and say hello.
5. Should I provide a one-sheet or business card? Absolutely. Think of the Pitchfest from the executive’s perspective. They will hear a couple dozen pitches over the weekend, and then head home. Eat some dinner. Sleep. Wake up. Head in to the office on Monday. Deal with e-mails, chat with colleagues, catch up on things, eat some lunch. Finally, they will settle in to prepare for a meeting with their boss – “Now which pitches from the weekend am I going to recommend we follow up on?”
How do you, as a writer, stand out? When the exec starts going through his notes and pile of takeaways, will your one-sheet be one that pops? Or just another in the crowd? Will it remind him of why he was excited by it in the first place? In a nutshell, will the quality of your one-sheet put you on the REQUEST pile or the MAYBE pile (or even the REJECT pile)? Don’t be caught with an amateurish one-sheet. Get it done right.
I understand how intimidating it can be to prepare for any PitchFest, but remember, you have nothing to fear. You are the world’s leading expert on your script, so in any conversation about your script, you are in the position of strength. If you have any questions, you can feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great PitchFest, no matter the continent you are on!