Monday, July 11, 2011
Rating the Pitchfests
by Jim Cirile
Let’s face it, pitch fests are nerve-wracking. You have five short minutes to try to impress someone who might be jaded, bored or hypercritical. And yet every year, thousands of screenwriters shell out big bucks to do just that, because there’s no better way to get in an executive’s face than to, well, get in an executive’s face.
But which to choose? As of this writing, there are four major players. Each has plusses and minuses, but they all have two things in common: they each offer direct access to industry you can’t get any other way, and they ain’t cheap. So come with us now as we investigate which, if any, of these pitch fests deserve your hard-earned shekels.
Description: 2-day event
July 30th + 31st, 2011
Now in their 15th year, Fade In magazine’s Hollywood Pitch Festival boasts an impressive list of connections made and projects set up. “(It) was just an idea I had in 1995 to give aspiring writers direct access to Hollywood buyers,” says Fade In’s Audrey Kelly. “We weren’t sure if it was going to work at the time, but we were happily surprised by the enthusiasm on both sides of the table -- attendees and industry pros alike. And then when we saw that it actually worked (we had two sales in the first year right off the bat) we were thrilled.”
Hollywood Pitch attendees select their meetings on day one on a first come, first served basis. “If you really want a choice of companies and time slots, you've got to show up early -- and we're talking REAL early,” says attendee Lee Tidball. “For (writing partner) Ron and I, it was always between 5 and 5:30 AM, and that usually put us in the first 30 or so. Good enough to get most of what we wanted. First in line people would get there an hour earlier (ugh). That, by the way, is for an 8 AM check-in.”
There’s also a standby line, which folks can wait in between scheduled meetings, but like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. “You wait… and wait… and wait… then you’re hustled into a meeting with some company that you never heard of, or you wind up pitching your horror/thriller to someone from Hallmark Channel,” laughs Tidball.
2010 attendee Bill Lange from San Diego calls Hollywood Pitch Fest a valuable experience and something that serious writers ought to do at least once. “As first-time attendees, my writing partner and I were lobbing screwballs at batters who were looking for fastballs in the strike zone. Even so, we did get a couple of requests from respectable production companies and we're still working the leads we got with our most recent script.”
GREAT AMERICAN PITCHFEST
Description: 2-day event (pitching on day 2 only.) Day one is free seminars.
Cost: Packages from $250 to $650
June 4th + 5th, 2011
By the numbers, Great American Pitchfest is our highest rated pitch event (see sidebar.) GAPF offers access to a large amount of companies in a single day -- meeting with 15 to 20 (or more) producers is possible. But where GAPF really distinguish themselves is on day one of their two-day event -- a full slate of free seminars from top screenwriting educators. GAPF says they get over 1,500 screenwriters piling into the Burbank Marriott’s ballrooms on day one (and approximately 500 attendees and 100-plus companies on day two.)
How’s the pitch event itself? Well-run and organized. Whatever company you want to meet with, you simply get on that line and wait your turn. If there are four people on line in front of you, that’s a 20-minute wait. “You spend a lot more time waiting in line than you do actually at the tables,” says writer/director Aaron Pope, who pitched at GAP in 2010. “You pitch, you come out and you have to queue back up. You’re able to hit a lot less tables than you think.” He says it’s important to target specifically the lines worth staying in. “I was there for four hours and met with a total of 10 or 12 companies. If I had been pitching a smaller project, I could have found lines that were shorter and hit a lot more.”
GAPF cofounder Bob Schultz says, “Some people are focused like a laser beam on exactly who they want. Other people’s strategy is to pitch to as many people as possible. So the different approaches (people take) help our lines stay more even-keeled.” Fellow cofounder Signe Olynyk adds, “For every five participants who attend, we invite another company. The lines rarely get longer than five people on average. And for those companies that we expect to be more popular, we try to get more than one representative from the company. That right away cuts the lines in half.”
As the Great American Pitchfest rolls into year eight, they claim tons of relationships made and projects set up. “We’ve had lots of people sign with agents or managers,” says Olynyk. “We’re over 100 success stories now. Every year we get at least ten more.”
Description: 3-day event
Cost: $89 Expo sign-up fee plus $25/meeting or 5/$100
September 15-18, 2011
The Golden Pitch Festival takes place every year at the Screenwriting Expo, the largest annual screenwriting gathering. Golden Pitch uses an online shopping cart system for writers to select their appointments. This thankfully eliminates long lines (and getting up at 5 AM,) but it’s imperfect. While attempting to book my meetings this year, my choices wound up frequently disappearing from my shopping cart -- bought out from under me by others, since the tickets go quickly when registration opens. I finally managed to land meetings with the companies I wanted, all clumped together late Sunday afternoon within a few minutes of each other. But Golden Pitch should consider implementing a system like Ticketmaster uses if possible, where the choices stay in the shopping cart for five minutes, to prevent the frustration of having your selections disappearing and having to go back and do it all again.
Golden Pitch’s pricing policy is interesting. In theory you can pay $300 and select 15 companies to meet with, which is a pretty decent deal. But in my case, there were only three prodcos my partner and I wanted to meet with when the first wave of companies were announced. But later, after we’d spent our $75 and bought our three meetings, additional top-shelf companies were announced. Had we known this in advance, we certainly would have selected the five for $100 deal. But the discount only applies at the time of purchase, another policy Golden Pitch needs to rethink if they’re going to dribble out the attendees. Fortunately, there was a multitude of discount tickets (many half-price or less) available at the event for quite a few smaller companies.
But when the rubber hits the road, Golden Pitch shines. The organization, as well as selection of companies attending, were all excellent. Our 3:15 appointment took place right on time, as did our 4:30 and our 4:50. There was NO waiting in line. My partner and I were in and out of there in under two hours having met with the exact top-notch companies we’d wanted, leaving the rest of the day free to check out Expo events and NOT stand in line. Too, Golden Pitch staffers were knowledgeable, professional and helpful. Hat’s off to the management for the smooth as glass operation.
PITCH SUMMIT (InkTip)
Description: 2-day event (pitching on day two only.) Day one is seminars.
Cost: Packages from $300 to $625
July 23 - 24, 2011
When my partner and I got wind of this, we were pissed. We now had to contend with keeping three people interested instead of one. Fortunately, InkTip mated the companies well, so for example, there would be three horror producers at the same table, etc. But still, withholding this key bit of information from attendees before the event frankly kind of sucks. But here’s the thing -- they shouldn’t have, because it’s brilliant. As my partner and I worked the room, in every case it worked in our favor. Enthusiasm is contagious, and we and I walked out of there with an astonishing 100% success rate.
As far as organization goes, the picture could have been better. Like Great American Pitchfest, you queue in lines, in this case for each table. The event got started late, then broke a scant 50 minutes in for water breaks (?) even though there was plenty of water for the execs in the room. Less than an hour after that, they broke yet again for lunch -- for another hour. Ugh. And while there were a lot of great companies, there were plenty of no-shows. My partner and I said “Later for this” and split before lunch. But those who stuck it out said it was worth all the waiting in line; many folks got lots of script requests. “We’re working out a lot of kinks, to be honest,” said InkTip’s Eric Kim. “The biggest lesson is to be sure in confirming a good number of producers so that we can most effectively organize them in the sense of what they’re looking for. There were a lot of last-minute show-ups.”
Which should you choose? Hate to do this to you guys, but we say: all of them. Cop out? Look, every single one of these gives you access that’s pretty much priceless. Each has downsides, but upsides which far outweigh them: the chance to meet a heck of a lot of people and possibly get a foot in the door in Hollywood. So it’s going to come down to budget and schedule – whatever works for you.
And please make sure your stuff kicks tush before signing up. There’s little point in shelling out hundreds of dollars to pitch them a script that’s a “pass.” Take the time and do the work. Access ain’t worth jack if you don’t have the goods. Good luck, and I’ll see you all at the next pitch event!
Screenwriter Jim Cirile lives in Los Angeles and is the owner of screenplay analysis/development service www.coverageink.com.
Read the companion article "BEST OF THE REST" at scriptmag.com.
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