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:: Spotlight :: 16th Annual Hollywood Pitch Festival

By: Mark Rasmussen

So here I am in Los Angeles, California, USA, for the third time in as many years as I ramp up my journalism skills, increase my writing and delve deeper into the film and entertainment industry. But this time it’s very different. For starters, it’s not about dipping a toe in the water but the whole damn foot, leg and body. Head first!

You see I am at the 16th Annual Hollywood Pitch Festival, presented by the good people at Fade in Awards. And unlike previous excursions to America this weekend is about throwing my ideas and scripts into the ring to see if they stick. Having never been to a professional pitch festival before, and truth be told, never really pitching anything other than floating around ideas and synopses across a screenwriting group with other writers, to say it was a baptism of fire would be understatement. But as I am writing this to you, then you know I survived and fair to say, came out not only unscathed but braver, bolder, better for the entire experience.

Before I delve any deeper, however, I should explain for the those who don’t know what I am talking about. A pitch festival is essentially where writers of all walks of life get to sell (or pitch) their script or idea to a company representative, all in one big room with 40 or more companies at the same time, with even more writers doing the same thing on the tables around you.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Amazingly, it all works, like clockwork too. You see, you register ahead of time, get your credentials and then on the Saturday morning before the main event, check your name off for the companies you want to pitch to. That’s a bit of a free for all but if you do your homework first, then you’ll already have a shortlist of companies you want to approach. Then it’s simply a case of finding them on the many tables and adding your name as soon as possible before their available times fill up. And they do - quickly. Especially when you have such big names like 20th Century Fox, Dreamworks, Warner, Disney and more.

Once you get past the argy bargy of elbowing other writers out the way (all done in the nicest possible way), you then get a breather for a chance to remember your pitch one last time, which you will have gone over ad nauseum and rehearsed numerous times. Well, hopefully you have. Some don’t.

Then the doors open to the room as some 40 writers descend upon their respective companies, with hope in their eyes and dreams in their heart. The companies are just as nervous and scared as us writers believe me. They have no idea what they will be hearing. And they have to listen to as many as 30 all in a row over the course of a two hours. But it’s all done in a very friendly, courteous manner and when the bell rings at the end of four minutes, you have one minute to wrap up, get feedback and hightail it out of there before the festival workers shuffle you off for another group of writers to launch into. And it goes on like this for several hours, with a lunch break scheduled as well as a changing of the guard for the companies (who I am sure welcome the breather/escape).

Hopefully, you have gotten into the swing early and really nailed what it is that is the heart of your story and why they might be interested. Note, no deals are done here, not this early on. Sure, many of the companies might take your one-sheet or synopsis, which is a good indication they may be interested. It certainly beats a flat out, “Sorry, we’re not interested.” Which some of them do. But they’re also here on their own free time and it’s not called show business for anything.

Your head spins for a little bit but eventually you find your groove and get into a great rhythm. It’s literally sink or swim. As you head back out to rejoin the line of many eager writers, you converse with many, discuss how they are going and vice versa. But you also have some great laughs along the way. It’s a really sociable, fun event.

For this pitch novice, it was refreshing and easy for the most part. It’s all a very relaxed, informal environment where everything is run smoothly and by the clock. It’s also one of the best, and only ways, to get your face and script in front of many companies that you normally would not get the chance to do. The great thing, if you failed on the Saturday or bombed badly, you get to rethink your strategy and try a different approach on the Sunday. But there are also other options too. Not only is there an alloted appointment line but a standby line. Here it’s more a case of pot luck which company might have a free opening that wasn’t booked out but here you are also more relaxed, more carefree and subsequently, less concerned. Here you can really have fun. And everyone I spoke to not only had more fun with this line, but usually better results.

The 16th Annual Hollywood Pitch Festival is one of the larger, well respected festivals of its kind. There are many doing the rounds. Not all good by most accounts. But this event, being the first of its kind for me, was not so much eye-opening but rather refreshing, enjoyable and mostly fun. Meeting many companies you just never get the chance to. Chatting to plenty of writers and hearing how they are faring. Joking in line and simply laughing, relaxing and making the most of these rare opportunities to get a small toe in the door. It can be nothing else but fun and worthwhile.

I found it a beautifully run event for the most part, picked up some good contacts along the way (something that is mandatory in this cut-throat industry) and just had fun. I would easily recommend this for any writers with stars in their eyes or visions of seeing their idea and script get a chance to see daylight. The companies may not take away your synopsis or get onboard with your idea and dream but without this chance to do so in this setting, you’ll just be sitting at home behind a computer screen, only ever wondering, what if?

For me, I got great results. Not only was I commended on my pitching technique, but over the course of the two days, I pitched to 35 companies, 20 of whom took my synopsis, while after the festival was over, five requested the script. Again, no guarantee, and no done deal, but that’s five more companies than I would have ever had had I not attended the Hollywood Pitch Festival. That to me is a win right there.

So to all the writers out there tapping away on their keyboards and pouring their heart, blood, sweat and tears into something and always wondering, get out from behind the desk, adjust your eyes to the harsh light outside, and get amongst it. You just never know what may come as a result of throwing yourself into the deep end and pitching your passion or love. And isn’t that what writing is all about? Putting yourself, your words, and your heart on line?