5 EXPERT TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF PITCH FESTIVALS
Going to a pitch festival is a lot like going on a blind date. Emotions whipsaw between giddy anticipation, jaded skepticism, hope, terror and utter dread. Half our brains imagine us passing through a magical doorway on the other side of which lies a glorious future filled with hope, promise, fame and fortune. Our brain’s other half girds us for wrenching disappointment — perhaps even hostile rejection.
As with so many other things in life, what you get out of a pitch festival depends a lot on what you put into it. Proper preparation and execution can’t guarantee you’ll make an instant sale — or even prompt a producer follow-up — but it can tilt the odds slightly more in your favor. If nothing else, what you do ahead of the festival, while you’re there — and even after you leave — will help polish your professionalism and put you in a better position to take full advantage of future writing opportunities when they arise.
Here are five ways to get the most from pitch festivals:
1. Rehearse Your Pitch. A Lot. A pitch is a performance. It needs to be delivered with energy, confidence and emotion. In a pitch, you become an actor, your goal being to wholly capture your listener’s attention — and imagination — with your voice, expressions and body language. As with any performance, this requires rehearsal. A lot of rehearsal. In the weeks and days prior to the pitch festival, practice and, ultimately, memorize your pitch so you can tell it with the same ease with which you can recite the lyrics to your favorite song. Practice in the shower. In the car. In front of your family and friends. Speaking from memory not only makes you appear more polished, it always allows you to connect with your listener eye-to-eye and read reactions in ways not possible if you’re always looking down referring to written notes.
2. Have More Than One Pitch Ready. The adage that advises you to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket is as relevant to pitching as it is to embryonic poultry transport. In a significant percentage of situations, you’ll be stopped soon after giving your log line with such explanations as, “We already have something like that in development,” “We’ve already tried something like that,” “We don’t make those kinds of movies” or simply, “That’s not for us.” Hopefully, this will be followed by the question, “What else you got?” Should this occur, not having a backup pitch ready is a waste of a major career opportunity.
3. Use the Opportunity to Establish Vital Industry Contacts. While a sale or option might be the end goal, in Hollywood, it’s all about relationships. It’s also about being the right “fit” for a project. Pitch festivals give you the opportunity to make the strong first impression you need to get people interested in doing business with you. Start by doing your due diligence. Before the event, research the people and company you’ll be meeting with and the projects with which they’ve been associated. Hopefully, you’ll recognize movies or TV series you’ve seen. Better yet, you’ll recognize movies or TV series you like, and so can compliment them honestly. This will immediately put them in your corner. After the pitch, take any comments or criticisms they give you seriously. These are the people to whom you need to sell, so their tastes, criteria and overall mindset are critically important to your professional future. After the meeting, keep in semi-touch by sending them a thank you card and/or an email when you see their names appear in the Trades. In the lucky event you’re asked to meet with them again, you’ll be able to build on the relationship you’ve already established.
4. Bring a Written Synopsis and First 10 Pages of Your Script with Your Contact Information. Some events advise you not to bring printed leave-behinds, explaining that if an agent, producer or studio executive is truly interested in your project, he/she will provide you with contact information where you can send such material. The counter argument to this is simple: If, after your pitch, you’re asked if you have a written feature synopsis or series concept to leave behind, it never hurts to give potential buyers exactly what they ask for when they ask for it. You should never OFFER such a document — that just comes off as presumptuous — but you should have one available if asked. Also, to stand out from the crowd, bring the first 10 pages of your script. This, along with the synopsis, will demonstrate that you not only have a story worth telling, but you have the technical acumen to actually tell that story in line with industry standards.
5. Use the Opportunity to Network with Fellow Filmmakers. Writing is a notoriously solitary profession, and writers are usually reclusive, introverted and even misanthropic individuals. Even so, social interaction — especially with other writers and directors — can be a stimulating, edifying and, yes, even profitable experience. Pitch festivals are, by the fact they bring artists of all types, backgrounds and sensibilities to a single venue, great places to meet fellow filmmakers to swap information, gossip, test ideas and learn of potential opportunities. Don’t get paranoid that others are going to “steal your ideas.” Writing is 10 percent concept and 90 percent execution. The useful things you can learn by talking with filmmakers far outweigh the risk that your “brilliant idea” is going to be snatched and sold by a fellow attendee. Who knows, the casual conversion you initiate may result in getting you a valuable writing partner, film crew for your short or even an actual paying gig!
When preparing for your next pitch festival, remember your interests are both short-term and long-term. On one hand, you’re looking for buyers and representatives for what you have to sell. On the other hand, you’re looking to establish relationships that can serve your career in the long-term. Pitch festivals offer myriad opportunities for both. Be prepared, and you can take full advantage of the benefits these events have to offer. – Allen. B. Ury
The 21st Annual Hollywood Pitch Festival will take place July 28-30, 2017. For tickets and info, visit HollywoodPitchFestival.com