Pitching yourself and your screenplays in Hollywood within the confines of a studio, management, or production company office is one thing — you’ve already done the leg work to get yourself in those rooms already.
On the other hand, while attending pitch fests, networking events, and film festivals, you’ll find that it’s a whole new ball game. The beauty of it though is that it’s far better and often more lucrative than trying to make pitch and network through endless email queries and cold calls.
However, whether it be at film festivals like Austin or Sundance, pitch fests, or our own Annual Writers Summits, these events can be intimidating to many screenwriters. How do you approach people? How do you know when it’s the right time to pitch yourself and your scripts? If you’re attending pitch fests, how do you make an impression in that short amount of time?
Let's explore seven of the most common scenarios that you’ll come across at these events and how to handle them best.
1. Mingling at Event Social Gatherings
You’re at a film festival or networking event with hundreds of people in attendance. There’s food, drinks, and likely some music. You’re looking to make some connections with managers or producers, hoping to get your scripts represented or sold.
When planning to attend film festivals, pitch fests, or networking events, try your best to get someone to come along with you. Share a room. Share some travel expenses. If you can’t find anyone you’re comfortable with, in that respect, go to social media or writing groups and connect with people that you can at least meet up with.
This alleviates the stress of self-consciousness. Not everyone is a social butterfly that can start conversations with anyone in a party atmosphere — and certainly not a majority of writers out there. So having that comfort of someone to talk to can make a world of difference.
If that’s not an option, don’t cower in fear.
If you drink, head to the bar. Have a cocktail, beer, or glass of wine to loosen yourself up a bit. Just enough to be able to release your inhibitions slightly.
If you don’t drink, perhaps consider sitting at the bar for a soda. Social gatherings often attract those that do like to approach new people, so you can hopefully have someone else break the ice for you.
Either way, all networking and eventual pitching at events like this have to start with breaking the ice. It’s never business first. So do whatever you can to feel comfortable and start some conversations with people. You never know who you’re talking to until, well, you start talking to them.
2. How to Handle Meeting a Producer, Manager, Agent, or Executive
You’re at a social gathering, and you discover that one of the people you’ve been introduced to — or introduced yourself to — is exactly the type of person you came there to meet. Congratulations, because this is your first contact.
The worst thing that you can do is go directly into business. As we discussed before, it’s never business first — even in Hollywood meetings. Thus, you don’t jump the gun. Instead, you get to know them, and they get to know you.
Be casual. These are people too. It’s no different than being at a party, in a bar, or at a work conference. Strike up some conversation. If you don’t like the person — or if they don’t like you — move on. What you’re looking for is someone that you can connect with. At the very least, someone that you can have a conversation with.
Throughout this conversation, however, you have to be constantly aware of any and all possible openings to talk about your work. You can open these opportunities by asking some leading questions.
- “So, what do you do?”
- “What company do you work for?”
- “What are you doing at the festival?”
These are metaphorical hooks as you go fishing in the industry pond. Remember that this only takes place after some small talk. It will start with the weather, the event, movies, or the food, but once a few minutes have gone by and you both are clearly comfortable with each other, start with some leading questions and be sure to listen intently to what they have to say.
If they mention in quick passing that they’re a producer, manager, or executive, only to move onto another topic, then now is not the right time to bring up your aspirations or intentions. However, if they’re there to network as well — or are at least open to it — they’ll likely give you a good answer and return the favor by asking you the same questions.
Boom. You’re in. The door has been opened.
3. To Pitch or Network?
There is a difference between the two.
Now that you have an opportunity to present yourself, you have to decide whether you feel that this is an opportunity to pitch both yourself and your latest script or if this is just an opportunity to network and possibly get a business card.
Pitching on the spot means that you’re going for it all right then and there. You’re pushing all of your chips forward and going all-in.
Networking and getting that business card — or any equivalent — is about getting permission either directly or indirectly to contact them in the near future. You’re holding back your chips and waiting for that perfect opportunity to present itself to make that big bet after you’ve considered all of the options.
How will you know whether it’s time for either?
Pitching opportunities will usually come about in conversation after you’ve asked them those leading questions, and they’ve reciprocated by asking you in return. When you tell them that you’re a screenwriter, if they’re interested, you’ll likely see them raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh really. What are you working on? Have you gotten any projects produced?”
Now it’s time pitch.
If they don’t ask you those questions right away, your best bet is to try to get that business card or contact information. When the conversation is winding down, you can shake their hand and say, “It was great meeting you. Do you have a business card or anything? Maybe I can drop you an email sometime about a project I have.” Keep it casual. All you need is to get that permission — either by business card or a verbal, “Sure, give my office a call.”
You may even luck out and listen as they offer either option to you without you having to ask for it, which means they’re comfortable with you.
4. How to Handle the Pitch
At this level, pitches don’t need to be long and drawn out. Only established writers need to go into an office with an overly detailed and prepared pitch.
At events like this, or even during sit down meetings, pitches should be quick, casual, and engaging.
You’ll often read about the term elevator pitches. The term isn’t ideal because you don’t want to pitch in elevators, bathrooms, or any place where you will only have thirty seconds to converse with whoever you’ve come in contact with. That’s not enough time. That’s not what events like these are about.
Whether it’s a pitch at a social gathering or a specific pitch fest, you’ll want to keep it casual, but also be prepared. Know your story inside and out.
You’ll want to have these elements prepared well before you attend any such events:
- Extended Logline
- Comparison to Existing Films
- A Great Finish
“Imagine a tourist island that is ravaged by a great white shark that nobody can catch.”
“My script is called Jaws and tells the story of a gigantic great white shark that begins to menace this small island community of Amity. A police chief — who is afraid of water — teams up with a marine scientist and a grizzled fisherman to stop it.
Comparison to Existing Films
“It’s a slasher flick meets Moby Dick.”
A Great Finish
“It ends with the police chief — remember that he’s afraid of water — alone on the end of a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean with a rifle pointed at this gigantic and menacing great white shark that is swimming towards him with a barrel of compressed air stuck in its jaws. Smile you son of a bitch. Boom!”
That’s your pitch. That’s all you need to convey the necessary information that they need to know. The setting. The concept. The characters. The conflict. The resolution. And the comparison to pre-existing films to give them some immediate context. The rest is out of your control. They’re either going to respond to it or not, depending on their own tastes, needs, and wants.
You need to make it engaging. You need to deliver it with the excitement that propelled you to write it in the first place. And you need to deliver it with confidence and control. Don’t jump on any couches or anything.
Practice it in front of the mirror. Practice it while you pace around in your living room pretending that you’re at the event. Practice it in front of family, friends, and peers.
Take those four elements, write down your answers to them, and you have your pitch.
But it’s not over yet because if they're the least bit intrigued, the second part of the pitch is handling the follow-up questions.
5. How to Handle the Questions
The easy part of the pitch is over. You should know your story well enough that telling it is second nature — especially if you break your pitch down to those above four elements. Now comes the hard part.
First and foremost, you have to deal with the silence after your pitch is complete. It’s horrible and will never get any better. Learn to take that time to breath. Many writers will immediately go into defensive mode by either continuing to talk or making apologies. “I know it’s not…” “I’m still working on it…” “That ending isn’t set in stone, but…”
Take a breath. The silence usually only lasts a couple of seconds, but it seems like an eternity.
They will either go crazy about the concept if you’ve engaged them enough or they’ll start asking questions about it — and you have to remember that questions aren’t necessarily signs that they don’t like it. Often, it’s a sign that they do. They're interested. They want to know more.
Here are some questions that you have to prepare yourself for:
“Where did you get that idea?”
“Is there something else out there like that?”
“What’s the theme? What are you trying to say with this?”
“Who do you see in those roles?”
“What do the hero and villain really want?”
These questions, and so many more, are ones that you have to be prepared for. Answer these and come up with as many possible questions that you think could come up. Play Devil’s Advocate with yourself. Be hard on yourself.
Half of the time, they are testing you. They’re trying to determine if you’re the real deal or not.
6. Control Your Emotions
You’ve finished your pitch, and you’re taking on their questions. Now is the time to avoid the many pitfalls that most novice screenwriters fall into when networking, pitching, and handling the follow-up questions.
- Never get defensive. It doesn’t show strength. It shows weakness. Here you’re talking with an industry professional with significant credits and connections, and you, Mr. or Mrs. Newbie, are going to go on the defensive when they ask you the tough questions? It would be the biggest mistake you ever make. Sure, sometimes you’ll just run into a rude industry professional that’s either having a bad day and taking it out on you, or they’re just a jerk in general. Shake their hand, thank them for listening, say it was nice to meet them, and move on. But most of the time, they’re just asking to learn more about your concept or challenging you to see if you know your concept.
- Never apologize. Most screenwriters stumble and say, “Sorry, I’m not very good at pitching.” Seeking pity will do you no good. "Man or woman up" and get better at it. Work on it. It’s not rocket science. Just know your story and do your preparation, and you’ll be fine.
- Never have an ego. Confidence is necessary. Ego is poison. There is a difference between the two. Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. Projecting an ego is being centered in or preoccupied with oneself and the gratification of one's own desires; self-centered. You’ve read about screenwriters like Quentin Tarantino, Joe Eszterhas, and M. Night Shyamalan. They’re known for their ego. But their films have also garnered hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars and much acclaim — granted, even if you reach that level, choose to be confident, not egotistic. You’ll have a much better career if you do.
7. Avoid These Industry Social Gathering Faux Pas
Every screenwriter commits them at one point in their journey. They’re told to take chances and think out-of-the-box, but the truth is, such antics can and will work against them and burn any bridges that could have been made.
- Don’t bring hard copies of scripts with you to hand out. First off, welcome to the 21st century. Most scripts are shared online these days. Secondly, put yourself in their place. Imagine if every screenwriter they met at these events dropped hard copies of their scripts in their hands. Awkward.
- Don’t be a tag along. Learn to take a hint and know when the conversation is over. When they’re looking at their watch, looking around the room, or start saying things like alright, well, and okay, followed by a pause, take a hint — the conversation is over. It doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy it, but you can’t expect them to hang out with you the whole evening.
- Don’t get drunk. If need be, have enough to release some inhibitions and quiet your nerves, but you’re not there to party hard until you drop. You’re there to network, pitch, and get the most out of the experience. You don’t want to be the one that broke the glass or threw up on or near a top industry professional.
- Don’t be gimmicky. This applies to all networking, pitching, and marketing. They don’t need to see props, gags, or anything of the sort. It does nothing but create an awkward moment. Just bring your confidence, enthusiasm, and knowledge of your story.
- Don’t forget that it’s quality, not quantity. You don’t want to rush around the room asking everyone what they do and requesting that they read your script. Be patient and take the time to get to know the people first. Let them take the time to get to know you. If it’s a good match, you’ll know it. If not, move on kindly. All that you need is one person engaged by you and your concepts.
These events don’t have to be as difficult as you make them out to be. They will be hit or miss, like anything in Hollywood. You’ll either make some great contacts and progress, or you’ll live to try another day — but at least you’re out there in the playing field, suited up and ready to play the game as hard and as well as you can. That’s the point of attending these events. Win or lose, you’ll reap the benefits.
Courtesy of Script Magazine editor Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, check out these quick pitching tips:
- Be relaxed, clear, and confident.
- Rehearse. Have a clear and understandable pitch that you have practiced in front of the mirror, writer friends, etc. Remember the five Ps. This allows you to...
- Be willing to be spontaneous and off-the-cuff. Be able to respond to questions, clarify points, and pivot the pitch if your audience looks bored. When your pitch is interrupted by questions, take it as a welcome sign of interest.
- Start and end with positivity. To be successful in this business you have to both be a great writer and be gracious, friendly, and polite.
- Be personal. Share what connects you to the material and why you are the perfect writer for this script.
- Be passionate. Nothing connects with people like energy.
- Keep everything in the present tense.
- Main character. The pitch should clearly tell us who the protagonist is, what they want, and what they are doing through the movie.
- Things the pitch could include but not necessarily all: Tone, themes, castable roles, trailer moments.
- Don’t ramble. It’s okay to be done after 2-3 minutes. You shouldn’t be telling the whole story. If you’re worried, start with the logline, that way you have the entire story from beginning to end.
- Do your homework. Research the agents, writers, and production companies before meeting them. Be sure to know what they are looking for.
- Don’t take anything personally. You don’t need everyone to like your script. You just need great feedback and to be committed to working hard to make your script the best it can be.
- Set yourself up for success. Stay hydrated, get a good night’s sleep
- Have fun! Think of this as a fun chance to share a story you love with someone else who loves great stories.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies