The Great American PitchFest

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.

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