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What You Can Learn from Watching 10 Writers Pitch on Zoom: ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Finale

By November 20, 2020 No Comments
lessons from a virtual pitch

Pitching your screenplay or TV show is an art unto itself. Not only must you know your story inside and out, express big conflict and the possible love interest, you have to also convey enthusiasm and confidence to win over studio executives or producers to get them on board with your project. It’s a lot to ask, especially if you’ve never pitched to a room full of studio execs and industry influencers before.

That’s why ScreenCraft’s first-ever Virtual Pitch Competition was so exciting. Viewers who tuned in had the chance to watch 10 finalists pitch their screenplays for features and TV shows live to a panel of industry judges over Zoom. The 10 finalists were chosen from over 1,200 pitches through a rigorous elimination process, and given just 3-minutes to pitch their scripts.

Learn how to pitch your script: Lessons from the ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Finale

If you’re curious about learning how to pitch your screenplay, watch all 10 of these pitches. They’re all great, but more importantly, they’re all very different. Each pitch is tailored not only to the unique subject matter but also the personality and experience of the writers. Plus, the individual feedback from each industry professional is spot-on. Listen to their detailed responses to each pitch, It’s eye-opening. Here’s a link to the full event, along with a recap of all 10 pitches from the finalists and some of the best advice and feedback from the industry pros.

You can (and should) watch the entire Virtual Pitch Grand Finale video here, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here are a few notes from each pitch and some of the expert tips and advice from this expert panel of writers, managers, agents, and producers who made up the ScreenCraft jury.

Hosted by Ben Cory Jones (TV writer) the ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Finale featured these esteemed judges:

  • Wendy Calhoun (TV writer, Executive Producer)
  • Marc Manus (Literary Manager and partner at World Builder Entertainment)
  • Amy Retzinger (Literary Agent and partner at Verve Talent Agency)
  • Eric Heisserer (Oscar-nominated screenwriter)

By the end of the competition, one winner and two runner ups were announced:

  • Grand Prize Winner: Lizzie Perrin, BAKO
  • 1st runner-up: Wesley McInnes, BLACKOUT
  • 2nd runner-up: Kyra Jones, GO TO THE BODY

Do you have a script that’s “pitch perfect”? Sign up for notifications about the next ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Competition and get your screenplay in front of judges that can help you take the next step in your screenwriting career.

virtual pitch competition


How to Pitch Your Script on Zoom: Tips and Advice from the ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Competition Finale

Grand Prize Winner: Lizzie Perrin, Bako (TV show)

Bako means “fox” in Japanese. The show is about Harper Kate, an American-Japanese teenager who is displaced between the white and Asian American worlds. Harper Kate is obsessed with getting her first kiss and eyelid surgery to look more white, but the teen’s energy turns to saving the world when she accidentally unleashes Japanese ghost-demons on her small Southern town. The tone and style are similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Eric Heisserer said that referencing Buffy gave him an understanding of the tone of the show. He recommended opening with that to set the stage immediately.
  • Wendy Calhoun said she wanted to know what Harper Kate’s special skills are and what her flaws are: “What’s driving her?” she asked.
  • Marc Manus loved that Perrin is bringing her own life experiences to the show and loved that the other characters know more about her Japanese culture than the protagonist does. He also wanted the female Samurai character to play a bigger role.
  • Amy Retzinger wanted to know more mechanics of the show and to clarify if this is a “monster of the week” type format.

1st Runner-Up: Wesley McInnes, Blackout (TV show)

McInnes said Blackout is a grounded, one-hour series set in the music industry and is inspired by his own experience as a musician. At one point, when McInnes opened for Shania Twain, he had to go to the ER in the middle of the night. When McInnes told his record label about his illness they told him they didn’t have time to hear about his health problems and that experience lead him to want to tell a story about the perils of the music industry. Blackout centers around Thaya, a former successful pop star who’s now drowning in vices and addiction. Though McInnes said the show is tonally grounded in realism with character-driven storylines, the show will have surreal elements like drug hallucinations.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Wendy Calhoun loved the pitch right out of the gate and said to McInnes, “You told me a story and hooked me there.” She also suggested he find levity to sell the highs and lows, and that “the funny gets you far.”
  • Amy Retzinger appreciated the performance of the pitch but wanted to know more about the arc of Thaya. She also suggested McInnes state he wants to have female director for the film during the pitch.
  • Eric Heisserer said he really wanted another story from McInnes to help him see how he’s going to reshape his personal experiences into the fictional arena. “Show me the highs, not just the lows, show me the fun,” he said.
  • Marc Manus thought all the judges observations were cogent and that McInnes should state the comps upfront and explain more of what is going to unravel over the season.

2nd Runner-Up: Kyra Jones, Go to the Body (Feature film)

This pitch has a sexual violence warning. Jones shared that she works with people who’ve experienced sexual violence and that the movie is inspired by her own experience with it. Go to the Body is a boxing drama that explores sexual violence in the Black community. The story focuses on a Black couple in Chicago: Kendrick is a professional boxer and Sanaa fights in the streets for Black liberation. Their relationship takes a turn when Sanaa is raped by a famous racial justice activist. The film asks the questions, “What does it mean to protect Black women and what does it mean when physical protection isn’t enough?” Jones says the show is a mix of I will Destroy You, Creed, and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Wendy Calhoun wants to see this movie, but suggested Jones share some of the actual scenes in the movie, saying, “Make me feel like Sanaa.”
  • Eric Heisserer thought the pitch told an incredibly compelling story but also wanted Jones to bring in more specifics of the story into the pitch.
  • Marc Manus loved Jones’ passion but said he could tell she was reading her pitch. He wanted her to use the pitch to really immerse the judges in the characters. “If you’re off-book, it will draw everyone in, in an emotional way,” said Manus.
  • Amy Retzinger liked the pitch but wanted less of the facts and anything that may feel “lecture-y” and more focus on the actual story. Amy also liked that some of the characters lived in “grey areas” with both a good and bad side to them.

Collette Legault, Heavy (TV show)

Set in the 1970s in Naugatuck, Connecticut, a decaying factory town with a heroin problem, Heavy is based on the true story of a 500 lb. black man who becomes the de facto father to two white boys when their racist, drug-addicted mother winds up in the hospital.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Amy Retzinger said Collette’s personal connection to the story was a huge win, but the tone of the show wasn’t clear to her. She said if it’s a dramedy, to state that upfront and give comps.
  • Both Marc Manus and Eric Heisserer agreed that clarifying the tone upfront would help.
  • Wendy Calhoun loved the humanity of the story but wanted the protagonist, Heavy, to be less reactive and more “in the driver’s seat.”

Joshua Young, Soaked (TV show)

Young explained that in Soaked, Jen is the assistant director of an aging cruise ship. Smart, ambitious with a bit of manic energy, she’s getting closer to her goal of becoming cruise director. Unfortunately, she’s stuck in the second-in-command position, doing most of the work but getting half the credit. Penelope is the rookie of the ship and comes from a small town in Canada. Young says the show is a mix of the shows Community, The Office, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and explores the tropes of life at sea.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Eric Heisserer loved the pitch and suggested mentioning possible relationships for the characters in the pitch, saying, “That’s where the meat of a good comedy-serial will live.”
  • Amy Retzinger liked Young’s personal connection to the story, given that he worked on a cruise ship for several years and appreciated that he made the judges laugh. She also wanted to hear more about the characters.
  • Wendy Calhoun said the pitch “cracked her up” but she wanted to know more about the antagonist and if there were any evil undercurrents in the story, if there was a “large, existential threat.”
  • Marc Manus appreciated Young’s personal antidotes in the pitch and also wanted to know more about the other characters.

Richard Scott, A-Pop (TV show)

Scott mentioned being a huge Backstreet Boys fan and that his love of pop lead him to love K-Pop (aka “Korean Pop music”). The show centers on an egotistical K-Pop idol who is blackballed by his record label. He then goes to L.A. on a mission to build his own K-Pop academy that creates the next generation of K-Pop stars. But the industry can’t seem to get over that this K-Pop singer is Black. Scott says this is a half-hour comedy that’s a mix of Glee, Entourage, and Silicon Valley.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Marc Manus loved the energy Scott put into the pitch but wanted him to put the pilot set-up upfront and then talk about what will unravel over the first season.
  • Eric Heisserer said he wanted to hear more about the other characters and more about the antagonist.
  • Wendy Calhoun said to write the pilot teaser and send it to her, but Scott needs to include a love story in the pitch.
  • Amy Retzinger wanted to know more about where the comedy is coming from. She said to run through a scene that has some funny jokes and characters to give the judges a “little taste of that.”

Vanessa Logan & Nadia Wit, His Dead Girlfriend (Feature film)

This comedy is about a guy named Trent who’s a hopeless romantic. He plans the perfect marriage proposal to Hayley, his social media-obsessed girlfriend at the Grand Canyon, but she accidentally falls to her death and becomes a ghost. The couple stays together but tension ensues when Trent meets a new love interest, a living woman named Athena. The movie is an other-worldly love triangle.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Amy Retzinger was impressed by Logan and Wit’s rapport over Zoom, saying the story sounds fun, but was a little confused where the film lived tonally.
  • Marc Manus thought it was a unique take on rom-coms and thought describing the climactic scene that includes Hayley lighting candles for Trent and Athena added poignant moments that really balanced the tone for him.
  • Eric Heisserer said people need to know the rules of the ghost – who can see Hayley and why. He suggested the writers explain those rules in the pitch.
  • Wendy Calhoun suggested the writers bring their pitching energy down when pitching on Zoom and really try to connect with the judges. She said not to be too theatrical and that pitching over Zoom will happen at least through 2021.

Jim Picariello, The Cult of Us (Feature film)

Picariello, who was rescued from a cult in real life, started his pitch by clarifying that he’s long distanced from the cult and has recovered, but his experience has led him to write a dark rom-com feature film. The movie is about two people, Ren and Linna, who both are in different cults but fall in love. He says it’s The Manchurian Candidate meets Scott Pilgrim Saves the World.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Wendy Calhoun thought Picariello’s delivery was lovely, “like chocolate pie,” but she got lost in the pitch and wasn’t sure about the climax of the story.
  • Marc Manus thought the pitch was too laconic for him, adding that halfway through the pitch Picariello talked about the risk the characters are taking, but didn’t see what the worst possible outcome could be. He suggested the writer frontload the pitch with how dangerous the scenario is.
  • Eric Heisserer got lost in the pitch as well and was looking for a strong protagonist. He wanted to know more about the cult families and if this story is Romeo and Juliet meets Nxivm.
  • Amy Retzinger was enthralled by the pitch, and said she liked Picariello’s line about how people in cults believe cults exist but don’t believe they are in one. She also needed more info about the romance and wanted Picariello to clarify what he means when he says we’ll see things through the eyes of the characters. She added that this was a very funny concept.

Stef Smith, Next Dimension Video (Half-hour TV show)

This sci-fi comedy show is set in a DVD store in space. The main character is Grace, who’s in her 30s and runs the store. When she discovers the store is going to be demolished, she finds an alternate dimension where she meets her love interest, Brooks. Together, Grace and Brooks must travel the universe trying to save the planet and the DVD store.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Amy Retzinger thought Smith was charming but wanted to her to clarify if the show is a three-camera sitcom or single-camera show at the beginning of the pitch. She also wanted Smith to share a scene that explores the comedy, asking, “What’s going to make us laugh?”
  • Marc Manus thought Next Dimension Video is a great idea for a show but wanted to know more about the characters in the pitch.
  • Wendy Calhoun loved Smith’s reference to singer Grace Jones in the pitch and also said she loves “zero to hero stories.” She also suggested moving up Grace’s “daddy issues” storyline and said to clarify the emotional arcs of the main characters.
  • Eric Heisserer liked the storyline about an asteroid but got lost in Smith’s sample story ideas. He said he was unsure if this is more like Star Trek, or something else. He suggested she clarify the info about the spaceship she finds herself on and how she gets there.

Elisa Elliot, The Dream Machine (animated TV show)

Elliot started her pitch by asking, “Where do dreams come from?” She said she was taught that dreams arrive from the subconscious but thinks that’s silly. She explained that in her show, The Dream Machine makes all the dreams for people on earth and works sort of like a movie studio. But now that people are taking “Nevernap pills” to stay awake, The Dream Machine may be put out of business. The protagonist, Lemonemo, is a dream prodigy and lives an extraordinary dream life and must fight to save dreams.

Judges’ Feedback and Pitching Advice

  • Marc Manus thought the pitch was great and said it comes across feeling very Pixar and is clever. However, he thought Elliot’s preamble was too lengthy and wanted the protagonist to be introduced earlier.
  • Amy Retzinger thought the pitch was charming but was confused whether it was a movie or TV show. She wanted to know more about the antagonist.
  • Eric Heisserer said the dynamic between hero and villain was clear and concise but didn’t understand how much of the show lived in the dream world and wondered if maybe there’s a dream that’s wreaking havoc on dreamers.
  • Wendy Calhoun had a Thanksgiving metaphor and asked, “Where is the turkey?” Calhoun shared her “Pixar cheat sheet” that is a six-step guide for telling a story:
  1. Once upon a time __
  2. Every day ___
  3. One day___
  4. Because of that___
  5. Because of that___
  6. Until finally___

What you can learn from watching 10 virtual pitches

The most important part of any screenplay pitch is getting in the room. So, congratulations on landing the pitch. Where you go from there depends on your story, your audience, and you.

Bring in details about your life if they inform the screenplay. Make sure to front-load your pitch with comps and tonal details to seat the industry execs and judges in the right frame of mind as early as possible (so they can focus on your great story). And above all else, commit to the moment with a well-versed, but not memorized pitch that captures the spirit of the story in a way that shows everyone in the meeting just how great your script is going to be once they produce it. After that, it’s up to fate. Good luck, and happy pitching!

Do you have a script that’s “pitch perfect”? Sign up for notifications about the next ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Competition and get your screenplay in front of judges that can help you take the next step in your screenwriting career.

virtual pitch competition


Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards