Last year, it was LA TV Fest. This year, it's called Pitch Con. In both versions, it's NATPE's place for writers and producers to come pitch their projects to a variety of agents and catcher companies. Places like Fox and Warner Brothers, agents like APA, UTA, William Morris, CAA and Paradigm, and houses like 315 CPW Productions, Tsnumani Productions, BET, Lionsgate, Freemantle, MTV and others welcomed the many pitchers as they showed their sizzle reels and talked about their shows.
The majority of the catchers, it seemed, were looking for non fiction, reality, and digital media, but a few places welcomed the scripted writer/producers. Reports say that scripted is coming back stronger than before. While reality is still very popular, it has its drawbacks like not being able to go into syndication as easily. After all, once you know who won the Bachelor, do you really need to see it again?
That's not to say its' easy to get a show on the air. Of 500 pitches, maybe 70 get a go ahead for scripts, 20 become pilots, 4 become shows and 1-2 become regular shows. Of course, each executive gets far more than that, so you're work has to be top notch.
The event was kicked off with coffee and a talk with the new Hawaii 5 O's executive producer/showrunner, Peter Lenkov. "You want to take a job because you're passionate about it, not just because it's a job." For those that don't know the lingo, the showrunner is really the one who runs the show. He hires the writers, cast, directors and oversees the story lines, as well as balancing the budget and working with the network. Those who wanted to pitch to him were told that he looks for promotable moments in their stories. What will the trailer look like? JoJo Wright of KIIS FM moderated.
One of the best panels, I thought, was Preparing for the Pitch. Moderated by Mark Hoebich, it featured Liz Dickler of A & E, Christina Davis of CBS, Kary McHoul of Big Red, Drew Tappon of Warner Horizon TV, and Eli Lehrer of Bravo. Their words of advice included "respect the buyer's time. If they have allotted twenty minutes, only stay twenty minutes, unless asked otherwise." We were instructed to know our stories backward and forward. Know the complete backstory of all your characters, the arcs, know episode three, and where they are going in two years time. Can your story structure be explained in two or three sentences? They told us that we did not need our agents or managers to come to pitch meetings with us. "It's better if it's just the writer, alone." It's important to know the company you are pitching to ie don't pitch a travel show to the golf channel or even to one of the major networks. EAch network has its own brand. Stick with that. No matter who you are pitching to, they are going to have to pitch upwards. Make sure you story is clear and concise. They told us the worst thing you can do is oversell. Once you have a yes, quit talking.
You might have a good idea, and at one time that might have been enough, but now it's how it's fleshed out and executed that counts. Eric Schotz from LMNO Productions moderated the panel on Independent Producers. The panelists Greg Lipstone of ICM, Sara Weidman from Style Network, David Hillman and Edward Sabin of Discovery indicated that you needed to align yourself with a producer who does the kind of show you are working on. You have to distinguish your pitch from the ten others he has heard that day. Not only does it need to be short, but it needs to be unique. All of them liked sizzle reels ( trailers or promos) that show what you are planning to do with the show and who you have attached. Don't bring in an idea and expect the production house to do the attachment for you. You need to do the work ahead of time. Look at the shows that are similar. Why did it not succeed? Why is yours different?
Joe LaBracio from UTA moderated, So You Have An Idea for a Reality Show. Along with him were Eden Gaha from Reveille Productions, Robert Mills ABC Alternative, Scott Freeman of Bunim/Murray, Page Feldman from Mark Burnett and Dan Snook of 3 Ball Productions. They stressed you should know the format of your show and how it will look. Understand the episodes. It's a visual business and showing is always better than telling. "Make sure it's something we can't think of ourselves. Be special and know the history of the business. Be careful to check that the show hasn't been done before. One writer actually pitched a show to a company that had already done that same show!
Laurie Scheer, Story mentor at Univ of Wisconsin, gave us tips on pitching our reality and scripted shows. "It's crucial to know what goes on in the business on a daily basis." She urged us to read the trades daily and if we couldn't there are sites like Cynopsis that gives you at least the highlights.
The two day event concluded with a luncheon featuring Brian McNamara of Army Wives and showing the Lifetime special, Coming Home, a touching film about military families reuniting.
NATPE, National Association for Television Producers and Executives, will have its annual event in Miami, which is always well attended by buyers, writers and producers.
Join NATPE in Miami in January and next year here for the Pitch Fest. For more information go to www.NATPE.org