A/A Writing

Thoughts on writing from a pair of working screenwriters

The Great American PitchFest

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I briefly mentioned the Reddit Screenwriting Contest we won, but I failed to mention that the contest was sponsored by the Great American Pitch Fest and that the prize associated with winning was a free pass to the PitchFest. So, with only a couple weeks notice, we started preparing to go pitch our scripts.

The PitchFest has two days of workshops, followed by a day of pitching. I arrived Friday afternoon, registered, and looked over the course schedule. I felt like, given that we were going to be pitching on Sunday, I should take every class that related to pitching. I started out the day with “I Wrote, I Worried, I Pitched” with Jeffery Davis & Peter Desberg. It contained some pretty good tips about combating stage fright, but also contained a whole lot of groan-inducing puns, which I could have done without. After that I tried to attend “Power of the Pitch,” but the speaker didn’t show up, so we ended up with an impromptu Q&A with Gary Goldstein. After that, I didn’t see any pitch-specific classes, I went to see Craig Sabin present his system for bundling up premise, character, theme, and plot, which was an interesting way to approach writing a script, even if I think it’s probably a less organic approach than we like to use while writing. After that, I realized I was about to collapse from lack of food so called it a day. If I have one suggestion for the PitchFest, it would be to schedule an actual lunch break on the class days.

Unfortunately, Matthew was tied up with work all day on Friday, but we connected in the evening to work on our pitches. When we did the InkTip Summit, we spent pretty much two solid days working on pitching and had solid, fully memorized pitches done for six or seven scripts. We didn’t have nearly as much time to prep this time around, so we decided that we were going to focus mostly on Ghost Trappers, especially since we could lead with “we’re here because we won the Reddit Screenwriting Contest,” then launch right into talking about Ghost Trappers. We were a little nervous about this, since when we pitched that one at InkTip, it seemed like a hard sell.

Saturday classes were good, but I ended up only doing two. I was deeply tempted by the action panel featuring Shane Black or by the keynote featuring Roger Corman but I decided we would be better served by Pilar Alessandra’s class on “Pitch in a Minute.” She’s a self-professed Mad Libs fan and handed out Mad Libs-style guides for putting together a logline and a pitch. Somewhat helpful, but felt a little limiting, even if you’re just using them as a starting point. After that, there was a session of roundtables. I think the idea was that you were supposed to move from table to table, but, since there was no method to enforce that, 95% of the people stayed at the table they sat at. I ended up at Pen Desham’s table, which was fantastic. His advice was pretty much diametrically opposed to everyone else there – write what you’re passionate about, don’t follow formulae or rules (at least not when writing the first draft), use every tool at your disposal when writing, etc. He had an apparently limitless number of anecdotes as well, all of which tied into his general theme of “do what you feel driven to do.”

At that point, I was panicking about getting pitches and loglines together, so retreated to work on those. Sunday morning, got up bright and early and spent some time working with Matthew on getting our pitch down. We decided to talk about our Chinese haunted skyscraper movie Gweilo as a backup, but only after being clear with people that we still wanted to do a couple more drafts before we sent it to anyone.

The setup of the PitchFest was not dissimilar to the InkTip Summit. Same Convention Center, same “line up, file in and sit at a table for five minute” structure (I assume InkTip just lifted everything they could from PitchFest). The main difference is that, here, each table contains representatives from only one company, instead of people representing three or four companies. It took us a while to get used to the change – we were used to getting a business card and a script request at least every other table, so it broke our confidence a bit to go three or four tables before someone actually asked for a script. We had some great conversations with people, though managers seemed more interested than producers. Since Ghost Trappers has child protagonists, I think a lot of production companies don’t entirely see how it would appeal to all audiences, not just kids.

By the end of the day, we managed to talk to 22 different companies, of whom ten had requested a script (two more got in touch after the fact to request scripts, which helped our overall ratio). We also had some pretty good chats with people who were not interested. Virtually everyone in the workshops stressed that the goal of these things is not to make a sale, but to build relationships, so I feel like we made some progress in that vein.

Overall, a good experience. I look forward to doing it again when we have more ready-to-go scripts to pitch.

by Padgett Arango | 0

Recap

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I should probably just admit defeat on trying to keep this up to date, but quitting is for suckers. Here’s what we’ve been up to since I last posted.

  • As mentioned, The Agent was optioned.  Daniel Yee Heng Chan was attached to direct, so we spent a while working with him, incorporating his notes into the script.  Note incorporation probably deserves its own post, but it’s a weird process.  The director also sent over his ideal casting, which put Rooney Mara or Charlize Theron in the lead role (instead of our envisioned casting of Melissa Leo, Diane Lane, or Famke Janssen), and floated a bunch of awesome character actors in the other parts. As a result, we rewrote the heavies to be played by Chris Hemsworth and Ben Mendelsohn.
  • After a bit of no communication, we learned that Daniel had moved on to other projects, so our producer Sean started looking for a new director.
  • New director found.  Santiago Zannou, director of Goya-award nominated Scorpion in Love is now attached to the project.  We got some new notes from him on how to rework the first act.  Generally wants the film to be more of a serious drama and less of a glib revenge flick.  First act rewritten, director is happy, awaiting more notes.
  • Did a full rewrite on Extracurriculars, our teen slasher flick.  We were never entirely sold on the third act, especially since the script came in at an overlong 115 pages or so.  We dropped the third act and fleshed out the post-all-is-lost segment, and it works so much better.  We’re talking to a producer now about shooting it in Northern Ontario.
  • For a while, we were talking to a producer about a biopic. We did a ton of research, and came up with a very thorough treatment, but the producer got cold feet.  It’s stuck in treatment phase now, but trying to figure out if we want to move forward with writing it.
  • Wrote up a first draft of a ghost story set in Hong Kong. The tone is kind of weird on this one – we were trying to go with actual horror, but we had so much fun writing the gleefully xenophobic American businessman that it veers into comedy more than intended.  This one needs some work, but I think it’s a good concept still.
  • First draft finished on a road movie comedy about siblings who hijack a whiskey truck.  Writing comedy is hard, which is odd, since about 90% of what we say in conversation is designed to make someone laugh.
  • Finished up the first draft on a sitcom pilot for a hockey comedy this morning.  Again, not easy.  Writing comedy might not be our strong suit.

I may have forgotten some things, but that’s the gist of it.  We will see if I remember to post these more than once a year.

by Padgett Arango | 0

Sean Thomas Options “The Agent”

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From InkTip.com:

Producer/CEO Sean Thomas of September Seventeen Studio found “The Agent” on InkTip and optioned it from Padgett Arango and Matthew Abrams. Sean Thomas’s credits include “Fall Down Dead” (starring Dominique Swain and David Carradine), “Gandhi of the Month” (starring Harvey Keitel and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), and “A Single Shot” (starring Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Wright and academy award winner Melissa Leo). “The Agent” already has one of Hong Kong’s top film directors, Daniel Yee Heng Chan, attached to helm.

by Padgett Arango | 0

Busy Busy Busy

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It’s been a while since I updated here, but it’s not due to lack of activity. If anything, we’ve been busier than ever the last few months. Shortly after the InkTip Summit, we were contacted by one of the producers we met with and were offered a job adapting a comic book series to film. Obviously, we said yes. We just turned in our final draft a couple of weeks ago. It was a great process, and I’m hoping to get a post up here about our experience doing work-for-hire in the near future.

Additionally, we heard from another producer who was interested in a short-term option on Extracurriculars, so that he could take the script to his money people.  We signed papers on that as well.  In the end, his people felt, following the Connecticut school shooting, that they might not want to sink money into a film about killer teenagers. Disappointing, but still nice to have the interest, and the producer’s expressed interest in looking at other scripts.

We had another company that was interested in buying The Agent with the intent of adapting it into a TV series. Eventually, the deal fell apart. Disappointing, but, again, nice vote of confidence.

We’re currently in talks for another work-for-hire project, as well as doing some editing on our old scripts. Like everyone and their brother, we took Glenn Howerton up on his request for scripts, sending him Red Sea, just in case he wants to make a TV drama about Nazi hunters.  Given that they’re averaging eighty scripts a day, we expect to be waiting a while.

We’ve also heard from a producer who actually found the script for The Agent via the listing on InkTip.  I’ve had various scripts listed up there for a couple of years now, and this is the first time someone has actually gotten in touch with us from one of these listings.  He loved the script, so we’re running through another polish, cutting a few pages, and will talk to him again this week.

All exciting news, but makes it much harder to keep up with the blogging.  I don’t know how John August does it.

by Padgett Arango | 0