How to succeed at a pitch fest
August 25th, 2017
Completing a feature-length screenplay is daunting enough, but what can you do to convince someone — especially producers — it’s worth their time to read it?
Condensing your 100-page screenplay into a nimble verbal pitch is an art in itself. And if you’re uncomfortable even attempting to do so, you can relax, because the art of the pitch can be learned, and mastered.
More importantly, say Geof Miller and Troy Hunter, a quality pitch can be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Miller, president of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, and his writing partner Hunter, also an NwSG member, have developed some of their strongest professional relationships with producers that started at pitch fests.
Miller and Hunter presented their pitch-fest best practices August 20 at the NwSG “Get the Most out of Pitch Fests” event, held at Seattle’s Couth Buzzard Books.
“It’s not a pitch fest, it’s a meeting fest,” Miller stressed, noting that few — if any — screenplays are outright purchased at pitch fests.
Hunter added, “It’s access to people you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.” And both said your main goal should be to build relationships with the producers — and even producers’ assistants who may be there in lieu of their bosses.
“It’s important to demonstrate you can collaborate, because filmmaking and story development is collaborative,” Miller said.
Pitch fests typically allot five minutes to meet with a given production company, so it’s important to do your research in advance, and target the production companies who produce work similar to the stories you’ll be pitching.
Miller says IMDbPro is the best resource not only for what production companies have produced, but also what they have in development, which even for small companies can be several projects.
The best approach is to go into pitch fests with three ideas, briefly introduce each one — a sentence for each idea — and then ask which idea the producer would like to learn more about.
Remember, you likely have a total of five minutes, so brevity is key.
NwSG Members: You may download Troy and Geof’s presentation from our Members Only password-protected directory. You’ll receive login and password information via email by August 28.
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“Let them drive the conversation,” Miller continued. And then deliver the key points of the story they want to hear in five sentences — about 45 seconds. “If they want to hear more about your 45-second pitch, they’ll ask.”
And don’t worry if producers interrupt your pitch, Miller added. “Interruptions are good. It means they’re interested.”
And Hunter noted, “If they’re not interested in what you have, your job is not to change their mind.” Instead, pivot to, “What are you looking for?” And share ideas you might have related to their interests.
Both agreed that props and leavebehinds are bad ideas at pitch fests. And rarely are business cards even exchanged. Miller and Hunter both have scraps of paper handy to gather producers’ contact information.
“When you get their contact info, you win,” Miller said, underscoring the main purpose of pitch fests: developing relationships.
And for that reason, he added, pitch fests may not be for you if you only have one screenplay you hope to sell. Managers and producers are only interested in career-oriented screenwriters — those who continually generate ideas and write screenplays.
Hunter added it’s important not to get discouraged if a producer doesn’t request your screenplay because producers often are looking for something very specific, even if you’ve presented an idea in the same genre.
“If there’s one takeaway,” Miller said, “it’s ‘go with the flow.'”