Got script? Then you should have been at the 9th Great American Pitch Fest - which was really international - held this past weekend at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank. At the pitch lines, I met writers not only from all over the country, but all over the world -- Netherlands, Africa, Ireland, Australia and even two from China. A festival of learning, networking and contacts, the pitch fest urges writers to be their own protagonist.
Over 200 producers, managers, and agents were there to take pitches. While a few of the execs wanted writers who were represented, many were willing to talk to and take material from those who were free agents.
The weekend started with socializing and classes on Friday nights and continued all day Saturday with free classes in a variety of writer related topics. The speakers, all who volunteered their time, ranged from pro writers as Anne Norda, Ken Rotcop, PJ Smith to execs like Danny Manus, Aric Cushing, Logan Thomas, Tom Lazarus, and Pen Densham and mentors like Kathie Fong Yoneda, Melody Jackson, Pamela Jaye Smith, Pilar Alessandra, Carole Kirschner, Chad Gervich, Corey Mandell, David and Jen Skelly, Jen Grisanti, Ellen Besen, Aubry Mintz, Jose Silerio, Steve Kaplan, Todd Klick and finance guru Tom Mallory.
We learned things like Writing the Killer Procedural, Making the First Ten Pages Shine, Unlocking Your Inner Genius, Transforming Your Work with Save the Cat, Selling Our Scripts, Beating out Your Script in Something Startling Happens, Animation Magic, Making Low Budget films, Tripling Your Contacts and Power Networking, Improv For Writers, The Comic Premise, Entering and Winning Screenplay Competitions, Secrets of the Killer Pitch and while Scott Richter did interviews with such writers as Doug Richardson and Rhett Reese.
Books on screenwriting, producing, comedy writing and executive note taking were offered by several companies and many writers, when not pitching, were reading.
In the thriller/horror writing session, sponsored by the LA Fear and Fantasy Film Festival, I learned from Pen Densham, author of Riding the Alligator: a Book for Screenwriters, that you had to write not for the studio system but for your passion. He went on to say how sometimes it took years for a story to surface and that you always had to believe in yourself. "You have to find your own integrity." Tom Lazarus author of Secrets of Screenwriting, impressed how important it was to stick with a project, no matter what. Adam Levenberg, author of The Starter Screenplay, urged writers to understand the genre they were writing in before you try to switch things around. All stated that the three act structure, traditionally used, is, if not dead, dying. With the impact of web series, you tube, iTunes, etc.., the audience today expects things quicker paced and more action packed. You no longer have the luxury for a long back story (if you ever really did.) There are no long talking scenes any more. Tom urges writers to fully flesh out the A story before they try to add a B or C story. While there are no rules that can't be broken, Adam says, it's important to understand those rules before you break them.
Writing, they all stressed, is rewriting. Tom said he once did twenty drafts of a script - and he was rewriting until the very moment they were shooting. Look at every word critically and see if you can take it out or shorten what you are saying. The more visual, the better. Writing is a collaborative effort. Unlike with writing novels, where you are only pleasing yourself and your editor, the script writer must take into account the producer, executive producers, actors and marketing people. They have to be good with understanding and taking notes - even if the notes from the said execs seem silly.
Aric talked about writing the low budget story - think of what locations and what props you have access to and write your story around that. Then check various states for their tax credits. Unfortunately, California's tax credit for film makers is a lottery that is very hard to break into and make use of.
David and Jen Skelly who taught the Improv class reminded us that we, writers, are bringing the execs gifts and while we can't be arrogant, we have to have faith in our own words.
Master classes by Marilyn Horowitz and Richard Walter were paid events, but well worth it for the expertise as were the private consultations.
Many of the execs this time were looking for thrillers. Period pieces were out. I only found two production companies that would consider them. Comedy was good but hard to sell since it is so subjective and does not travel overseas well. Period pieces were nix.
Executive Danny Manus tells writers to have realistic goals since most of the time you are pitching to assistants. "You're not going to walk away with a check. The most you can expect is for someone to request your script to read. Don't ever pitch something you haven't written yet. (That's only for established writers.) Remember you're selling yourself as much as you are selling your script."
Sponsors for this year's event included LA Weekly, #scriptchat, Scriptcopier,
Voyage Media, Stage32.com, and others.
If you missed out this year, there's time to get to work now and start preparing your scripts so you can come back next June and pitch your heart out. www.pitchfest.com or follow them on Facebook GAPF10 and Twitter @ThePitchFest. The next event will be held in London in October so all your European writers get ready.