Interview with inkTip's JERROL LeBARON
by Jim Cirile
Jerrol LeBaron is the founder of inkTip (www.inkTip.com,) the leading site for screenwriters to post their material online. After over a decade of success stories, inkTip is now launching the inkTip Pitch Summit in Los Angeles September 25th and 26th. Registration closes THIS FRIDAY 9-17, so this is your last chance to get in on this event. We spoke to LeBaron about how and why he intends Pitch Summit to set a new high bar for pitch festivals. Meeting 35 producers in a single day? LeBaron says it can happen. Read on...
Jim Cirile: Hi, Jerrol. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got the idea for inkTip?
JC: It wasn’t originally called inkTip, right?
JL: Right. The first name was Writers Script Network. There was another name similar to ours, so we ended up changing it to inkTip, which certainly was a lot easier to type out. Our focus really has been getting exposure to writers and getting results. We average four screenplays a week that are either sold or optioned or the writer’s gotten hired or gained representation. We get about 20 movies made a year. Our concentration is on results.
JC: I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are tiers within the producing community. There’s the big high-up mucky-mucks who are serviced by agents and managers, and then there’s everybody else who don’t necessarily have that same level of access to the CAA scripts that are going out. But those are the guys who are getting deals done, getting movies made, who still have to prove themselves. How did you go about contacting all these producers in the first place to tell them, hey, check our site out?
JL: I didn’t personally have the contacts in the industry to start it off. It was just a lot of legwork -- calling them, meeting with them, doing whatever it takes to get them to see that this is something that will work for them.
JC: When you got started, the internet itself was still pretty new.
JL: That’s right. The internet was unproven at the time. (In the beginning,) of the thousands of production companies out there, maybe 150 actually used the internet to search for screenplays. Now we’ve got about 2,000. It was slow going (laughs.) We’ve been going for a little over ten years now.
JC: So it’s proven now, it’s viable and you have an enviable success record. Why move into pitch fests?
JL: The more we expand, the more producers find out about us. By doing Pitch Summit, it’s inevitable that other producers will find out about us. We’re having industry professionals that we’ve never had contact with who are very qualified coming aboard.
JC: So the Pitch Summit cross-promotes the regular site too, which is good news for everybody.
JL: Right. I am always looking for ways to get better exposure for writers on inkTip. But in addition to that, I saw in the various pitch events that the results weren’t as abundant as I would like. If you go to a pitch event and you’re only able to pitch five or eight production companies, that is just not enough. So my focus is increasing the numbers. You have much better odds if you’re able to see 30 or 35 production companies or agencies.
JC: How can people get 30-plus meetings in a single day?
JL: It’s simple. We’ve made our pitch day a little bit longer, but at the same time, we’ve greatly reduced the ratio. For example, instead of there being ten writers for every production company, we’re bringing almost 200 production companies and we expect about 400 writers. Each pitch session is five minutes. Of course there are going to be lines with some of them, but we’re greatly reducing the ratio so that you have the opportunity to pitch 30, 35 companies.
JC: How do you get these companies to show up?
JL: The same way any other pitch fest does -- you pay ‘em a fee. Now one (incentive for them) is that we’re only allowing writers that have completed, polished screenplays. That’s one thing that’s a real turn-off for production companies is that they go to a pitch event, and they end up sitting with someone who’s never even written a screenplay and who’s got their pitch on a napkin. That’s maybe slightly exaggerated, but not much.
JC: That’s great to hear, because whenever I ask industry friends about pitch fests, you get that sort of collective groan, because they know most of the pitches are going to be amateur hour. So how do you screen the writers?
JL: A lot of the screenplays are already on our site, but we have a lot of other writers who’ve never used (inkTip.com,) and we see their screenplay. I’m not saying we read them through, but we verify they have a completed screenplay. We want our producers and agents to know that they’re only going to get people who have completed, polished screenplays. That’s why we have companies contacting us now, whom we never reached out to, who’ve heard about the Pitch Summit and want to be a part of it.
JC: This is a massive undertaking. Just the rental of the Universal Sheraton ballroom must cost a fortune. This is a huge dice-roll for you guys, isn’t it?
JL: The nail-biting is ongoing (laughs.) Fortunately because of inkTip, we already have access to lots of producers and writers.
JC: Thanks so much for taking the time, Jerrol. Any final advice for folks who are thinking of attending Pitch Summit?
JL: The best way for people to maximize their chances is, we’re going to have studio companies there and big agencies. But if you only look for them -- those folks already have a lot of clientele and projects, and if they already have something similar to that, there’s no reason for them to look at a writer. What I would suggest is that you pitch whoever you can. Go to the smallest lines. The chance of getting recognized by the big guys is much more slight than by somebody who doesn’t have the roster.
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