Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pitchfest! Go! Now!

Interview by Jim Cirile

Great American Pitchfest blazes into the Marriott Burbank Hotel & Convention Center this weekend (June 20-22). Over 100 companies are slated to attend. You ARE going, aren’t you? ;)

Why do we love Great American Pitchfest so much? Simple – unlike other pitch fests that limit you to 4 or 5 meetings, with Great American Pitchfest, the average is **12-20 meetings**, sometimes more -- all for the same flat fee. Plus all day Saturday they’ve got an incredible array of FREE seminars by top screenwriting gurus like Blake Snyder and Michael Hauge. So even if you’re not pitching, stop by beautiful downtown Burbank this weekend! Pitches are on Sunday, and there’s no better way to barnstorm a whole passel full o’ industry lickety-split.

Coverage, Ink has been to many pitch fests, but we really like the way these guys run their ship. Like CI, the principals are writers themselves and really do care about empowering emerging screenwriters. For more about the Pitchfest, including companies list & bios, and to enroll, please visit their web site at And don’t forget the discount code listed above to get $50 off!

We chatted with writer/producers Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz, partners in the Great American Pitchfest, to find out exactly how their event works and what to expect.


Jim Cirile: One thing that always petrifies me going into one of these events is not understanding how it works. You don’t know what to expect. Are you going to be herded into lines? Will you get to meet with the exec you want? Give us an idea of how the mechanics of the Pitchfest work.

Signe Olynyk: Ours is quite different from any other pitch event out there. First of all, we take the biggest ballroom that we can find, and we have at least 100 companies throughout this room. They’re all spread at least ten feet apart so there’s privacy between the tables. And in the hallway outside, we have 100 corresponding lines. Say you want to meet Village Roadshow at table 30. You would get into line 30. And you also get the booklet, and the booklet is probably also worth the price of admission. The booklet has all 100 companies listed, but it also has at least a page for each dedicated to what they’re looking for, what their credits are and what they’ve done in the past.

Bob Schultz: What they’re *not* looking for can be just as important.

Signe: Exactly. It’s also got information about stars they have relationships with, budgets they work with, advice to writers and their contact information. At some other pitch fests, you don’t even get the name of the person you’re meeting with. You also get this information in advance, so you know which companies to target specifically for your project.

Jim: How do you manage 100 lines?

Signe: You have a great guy like Bob involved.

Bob: Armed with the booklet, most of the participants arrive with a strategy in mind. You have people who know exactly what they’re going for when they get into that line. So managing the lines is not that difficult. Controlling 500 participants is not that hard when we’ve given them the information ahead of time.

Jim: Let’s say you’ve got a big producer whom everyone wants to talk to, and that person has 25 people on line. But maybe there’s a lesser known or emerging producer with only two or three people in line. Is it a concern that some participants might exhaust all their time waiting in line for the big boys?

Signe: For every five participants who attend, we invite another company. So 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.

Bob: Also it’s a strategic choice. Some people are going to target one company in particular, and they’re satisfied because they’re 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) helps our lines stay more even-keeled.

Jim: How do you manage the timing? Does everyone get five minutes, and you just ring a buzzer at the end of each round?

Signe: We have a cowbell that rings at five minutes, and we also mark the 4-minute mark so they know they have a minute left in their pitch. But the meetings can be as long as the executive wants. All we do is simply hold the line.

Jim: Really? Does that happen often? And does it create any sort of resentment?

Bob: One of my favorite aspects of our event is the atmosphere of community, “we’re all in this together.” Even if I’ve been waiting on line for two or three rounds for, say, 20th Century Fox or Lionsgate, when the writer who got the extended meeting comes out, he’s getting high fives and fist bumps. Everybody is excited to cheer on somebody who found success. It inspires everyone else. A rising tide raises all ships.

Jim: Wow. Okay, let’s say an executive decides to keep a writer for an extra two minutes. They’re now three minutes into the next pitch cycle. What do you do at that point? Does the next guy only get three minutes? And if you hold the line, what does the executive do in the meantime — sit staring into space?

Bob: We encourage the executives to do things such as drink water and use the restroom as well.

Jim: Oh, you fiend! So it would actually behoove an exec to hold a writer for an additional 30 seconds past the beginning of the round, then kick him to the curb so he can have 4½ minutes off, right?

Bob: (laughs) Unfortunately, labor laws prevent us from chaining our executives to their seats.

Jim: It all sounds ridiculously organized. How did you guys arrive at this system?

Signe: I started the event in Canada, actually. I had gone to a number of screenwriting conferences in Los Angeles as a writer and as a producer, and I got very frustrated. I felt they were disorganized and had a lot of problems. For the record, I want to say I encourage everyone to go to every event they can, because every opportunity you can get to meet someone who might further your career is something you have to do. So I started the event in Canada, and it worked great, so I thought we should take this to LA because I didn’t see the events in Los Angeles were getting any better. I felt writers were being taken advantage of.

Jim: At this point, how many companies do you have attending? And how many are last-minute additions?

Bob: Over 100. We wound up with a grand total of about 110 last year. We probably (confirmed) as many as 50 or 75 of them in the last week. The industry is so built around networking that as soon as we got two or three really good companies, then suddenly the number of companies grew exponentially because everyone calls their friends. Next thing you know, executives are doing all our work (recruiting other) executives for us.

Signe: We’ve got companies like Village Roadshow this year, Morgan Creek, Lionsgate, Fox Searchlight… we’ve got more agents contacting us than we’ve ever had. This is the best year that I’ve seen yet for our participants to really get some consideration, be it getting their scripts optioned, hired for writing assignments or signing with agents or managers.

Jim: One of my best connections in town I met at a pitch event 10 years ago. I think it’s important for writers to keep in mind that it’s not just about selling something or getting signed but possibly creating new long-term relationships.

Signe: It happens all the time. A woman called me up just a few weeks ago to tell me that her short was being screened in Cannes. She got the short made through connections she made at our Pitchfest. We’ve had lots of people sign with agents or managers. We’re around 60 success stories now. Every year we get at least ten more.

Bob: Last year I ran into a couple of friends of mine at my college reunion and told them what I was doing. They loved the idea of Pitchfest and decided to come out. They’re now moving forward with their pilot. They went from having this idea collecting dust on a shelf to in a matter of weeks actively developing a show with a producer. Coming to the event can definitely be the spark that starts the fire.

Jim: Thanks, guys, for hosting such a great event. See you there! for more info


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