Monday, February 21, 2011

Virtual Pitch Fest - a Review

by Aaron Pope

We assigned Coverage Ink senior story analyst Aaron Pope to to get the nitty-gritty on query service Virtual Pitch Fest. None of us expected this would turn into a life-altering experience.


The times, they are a-changin’. Gone are the days when a writer in search of an agent, manager, or producer had to type a query letter, lick a stamp, drop it in the mail, and then wait weeks, even months, before finally realizing no response was forthcoming. It’s an electronic world these days, and so it’s no surprise that someone has created a way to streamline that process, combining the widespread access offered at in-person pitchfests with the ease and simplicity of sending an e-mail.


It’s called Virtual Pitch Fest. VPF is the brainchild of producer and script coach David Kohner Zuckerman, who designed the website to give writers a level of access they wouldn’t otherwise have. And writers have taken notice, using the site to gain entry into companies they previously couldn’t reach. “Normally you'd have to have one of the major agencies backing you up to submit to them,” says horror scribe and VPF user Pete Cafaro. “This gives an unproduced writer, possibly sitting on the next big thing, access he wouldn't usually have.”

Here’s how it works. You go to the website, subscribe for free, then buy a pitch package. The Standard Package offers five pitches for $50 and the VIP Package gets you ten for 90 bucks. “It’s definitely worth the money,” according to Cafaro. "I’ve been to pitchfests that charge over twice as much per pitch."

Once you’ve bought your package, you’re ready to pitch...


Er, well, not pitch exactly. You’re ready to query. That’s what Virtual Pitch Fest is really. It’s not the same as the in-person or online pitchfests, in which you get to sit down across from some low-level exec and sweat through your overly polished pitch as fast as you can before the bell rings. What you’re doing here is writing a query letter.

Is that worth the money? For something you could already do? With a little bit of Googling, you could track down most of these email addresses and send these same query letters. Sound like I’m bagging on Virtual Pitch Fest? Not in the least. I love it.

Why? Because what you get by submitting through VFP that you don’t get otherwise is a guaranteed response. Anybody who’s sent out multiple query letters in the past knows that this is, well, priceless. Most queries go straight to the recycle bin. But with VFP, the producers, agents, and managers who’ve signed on have agreed to not just always give a response but to do so within five days. VFP pays them a gratuity for each letter they respond to, but according to Zuckerman, that’s not the real reason they do it. “Their incentive is mostly to try to find a new writer or project,” he says, “because most of them are making about 25 dollars extra a month.”



So how can you rise to the top and prove yourself and your script to be that new writer or project worth the industry pro’s while? It all starts with a strong query letter, the first glimpse that producer, agent, or manager has at your writing chops. But query letters are a different animal than screenplays; it’s important to make sure yours kicks butt. Fortunately, VPF offers sample letters on their site to help you hone your approach. It’s a very helpful tool.

Time to give VFP a whirl. I signed up and sent out ten submissions. The first response came within hours. By the end of the first day, I’d gotten replies from four companies. The next day, three more filtered in. By the fourth day, all ten companies had responded. Five companies asked me to send my script; five passed. Five out of ten, according to Zuckerman, is “a very successful rate.” I guess those last six months developing my actioner and tightening my logline through Coverage, Ink paid off! The replies ranged from the generic “No thanks, but thank you for submitting” to a minimalist “Yes” to one very enthusiastic “Thank God! Finally something I want to read!” I followed up on those five positive responses and within another day, one high-powered agency contacted me asking to schedule a meeting.

One week later, I'd signed with a top management company and am currently hip-pocketed by the agency in question, pending officially getting signed.


Okay, one might say these results are fairly exceptional. In truth, I may have had a bit of an unfair advantage, in that I had the full resources of Coverage Ink behind me in developing the script through 14 drafts, not to mention produced credits. Regardless, VFP is affordable, offers real access and a guaranteed response... a nice little resource.

Still, there are downsides. As I mentioned earlier, their name is a little misleading. This isn’t a chance to pitch; it’s a chance to query. If you’re planning to use your infectious personality to win them over in the room, you’re out of luck. You have to write a dynamic query letter. Virtual Query Fest? Sure, it doesn’t sound quite as nice, but it would be more accurate.


Another drawback is the way the responses come to you. You receive an email telling you an industry pro has replied, but the email doesn’t have the reply or the name of the industry pro in it. Now you have to go to the website, log in, and look at your list of submissions. Next to the names of the industry contacts, you will see a status which will either say “submitted,” meaning you haven’t gotten a response yet, or “responded,” meaning you have. Once you click on “responded,” you get their response. For me, this wasn’t a difficult process because I only queried ten companies. But what if I’d queried 50? Or more? I’d have to scroll through, try to remember which ones I’d already checked, and try to find which industry pro had replied to my query. Simply giving us the name of the responder in that notification e-mail would make the process considerably more user-friendly.

But these minor annoyances aside, the fact is that I found VFP to be a very impressive, inexpensive and user-friendly way to reach out to industry pros and get a prompt and guaranteed response. So take the time necessary to develop your screenplay until is it bulletproof, hone your query skills and start digging change from the couch cushions. You’ll be invading inboxes in no time.

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Aaron Pope is a multi-produced writer/director and a senior story analyst with Coverage Ink. Visit www.aaronpope.net. 



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18 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would also be helpful for VPF to identify the POSITION of the person you're querying -- is this person an intern, an assistant, a development exec, or a producer? They've also recently dropped the second name of the person -- making it even more difficult to find out who they are!

Admin said...

Wow, good to know. Thanks for that heads-up.

Anonymous said...

Yeah virtualpitchfest is for real. And it makes sense producers and managers would want this service - free loglines pinging their email box and all they have to do is say yes or no to read the script.

Each query is $10. So writers gotta be confident their skills are professional before blowing several hundred bucks.

I bought a few dozen pitches. Half my pitches have been answered within 2 days with aprox. 30% success rate.

The industry contacts are for real, and there's a good selection to choose from.

Only pick the ones that specialize in your genre.

Make sure you write a stealth title, logline and query letter showing who you are, any achievments, etc.

Yes, there are some technical aspects of the serice that can be tweaked, but for the most part, this is a great service and I'm impressed. The old school method mailing out snail mail queries seems dead. Cold emailing can get thrown in spam. Calling typically requires an agent, lawyer or you just won some big contest and the secretary listens.

virtual pitch fest DOES have guaranteed response. And it's nice to get ANY response - even a "Thanks, but this did not grab us".

Use virtual pitch fest as just one of dozens of approaches. Granted, I went to a nice film school and have had minor successes in the past and am old enough to have written half a dozen scripts.

I would not waste the money unless you KNOW you have a professional product screenplay.

Also, research each company, there are some losers on there, and you will also find free email query info on websites that save you from $10 for that particular pitch.

Some contacts are the owners/agents etc and some contacts are probably company assistants or associates. Either way, it's worth the risk. It's all a gamble, and this is the safest bet I've seen - better than contests.

I know I kinda sound like I'm part of the company but I'm not. Just a satisfied customer who knows how hard it is to get your material read by the right people.

DT said...

Anonymous, have you SOLD scripts?

DC said...

Anonymous, what is a stealth title? Is it a title that doesn't overtly explain what the movie is about (like "Kindergarten Cop" does)?

Admin said...

I know plenty of folks in the biz who do subscribe to VPF. I mean, they get paid a small fee so it's worth it to them.

I think Anonymous meant "STRONG" title, not "stealth."

--Jim C.

Marty said...

Virtual Pitchfest is NOT the only website in the world that allows screenwriters to pitch online for a guaranteed response. The other site is Greenlightmymovie.com [http://www.greenlightmymovie.com]. Some of their big players are Disney, ICM, UTA, William Morris-Endeavor, Millennium, Relativity, Gersh, Atlas, Management 360, Leverage, CW TV, Lawrence Bender, Film Nation & 200 other VIPs. On Greenlightmymovie, unlike VPF, you can record your pitch and also submit short films, trailers, web series and other visuals to help sell your project.

Anonymous said...

Hey Marty http://www.greenlightmymovie.com I used your website and I am sure it is your website because you sound like a ad on television a bad one. I heard nothing from no one, on VPF I made a great contact in LA and I am on my way to the top!!!

Michael Blaney said...

David zucker is anymous he is a punj bitch a liar and virtual festsucks ass

Augustus Prime said...

VPF is not real and neither are the positive comments posted.

If you choose to deal with VPF then you are wasting time and money pitching to an unpaid intern who signed on to make a little extra money by using their companies name. You will receive an immediate response because they do not possess the power to say YES; so they can quickly say NO.

VPF is a rip off, design to make bad writer invest heavily in the rewriting of their hopeless screenplays. If you wish to pay to be pacified with a industry response then VPF is the way to go. If you want to feel like you've been heard by a major production company then VPF is again the best way to go. But, if you want to reach actual industry pros then VPF is an unfunny practical joke that's always on you.

Los Angeles is a mecca for false hope. People like Virtual Pitch Fest prey on that hope and profit on the remnants of broken dreams.

Anonymous said...

VPF what a disappointment but it sounded good at first. A response from every pitch LOL right. I sent out 7 at 10$ a pop and everyone replied the same way. "Sorry it just didn't grad us". Grab this! If seven people actually read my pitches at least half would have a real response not a copy paste one fits all.

Anonymous said...

David Zuckerman is an evil sick bastard and his VIRTUAL PITCHFEST is nothing more than a scam like his life

Anonymous said...

Run for virtual pitch fest go to another company there are ones out there, David is a fucker

Rooster said...

VPF is real, I've met three out of 30 or so people I've pitched and sold to two of them.

It seems like a low average, but thanks to these contacts, I've met others through them and optioned more to their contacts. On top of that, one of the contacts hires me on a regular basis.

So, if you think this site sucks or is BS, the problem isn't the site, it's your poor skill as a writer.

Anonymous said...

I'd beware of any of these sites. Greenlightmymovie seems shady at best. It's odd to get two requests for full pitches from two different "Producers" with the EXACT worded message other than the "Company" name. Both emails also had the same improper format. In order to reply to this "request" you have to pop $29.95 down before you can send it. There's no actual proof that the company sent the request or that you pitch even gets to them. Be leery. Do your research, and yes, you can query agents/producers/managers without Greenlightmymovie gimmicks.

Anonymous said...

You stated that you were invited to a meeting after one of your queries. What about people who don't live anywhere near LA (ie. out of state.) Are you expected to fly out on your own dime. I don't have the cash to do that. :(

Leslie Lim said...

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Anonymous said...

I got the same response "didn't grab us" although two production companies are reading those scripts (not ones I pitched on VPF). My script also fit one of the production companies exactly and I even had mutual friends with the assistant that I had sent it to. I really don't think she had the power to say yes. I might try the website again, but I can't stand reading the same response.