London Screenwriters' Festival

Archive for the ‘Pitching’ Category

Networking by Steven Russell of Love Me Not Films

Posted on: October 27th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

An event such as the London Screenwriters Festival is, really, tailormade for networking. A lot of networking events I have been to are really thinly disguised mass back-claps in the pub, or a chance to put a face to the name of someone you already know. In the most traditional sense, networking is a case of getting to know people you don’t know yet. Where the best networking events succeed is in putting two peer groups together. The London Screenwriters Festival will attract writers (lots of you!) but also producers, agents and execs.

And here’s the rub; it’s not about what they can offer you. It’s what you can offer them.

I’ve seen it many times, sadly. The networker who is desperate to get in front of the most “important” person in the room. To monopolise the time of the most “successful” producer they can see present. To interrogate the person who they think can do the “most” for their career in the shortest possible time. They seem to define their interaction in terms of what the other person can promise them and their career… but this goes against the spirit of networking.

The London Screenwriters Festival is the opportunity to let the people you meet know exactly why you should earn your crust as a writer, and why they should be the ones to employ you. There is a community of people gathered who really respect the craft of the screenwriting (and I’ve met many who don’t). They are aware of the value of what you do, on a daily basis, to create something from nothing, to create event, character and plot on a previously blank page. What they aren’t aware of yet is your value. And your job is to let them know…

To me, the notions of “important”, “successful” and “most” in the above context are terms you define for yourself. And this is where networking will succeed for you. The real trick is to remember that you and your work are both unique beasts. You’re the only one who can do exactly what you do. It might be the voice you can bring to the employees of Holby City or to the aged vampire clans of “Being Human”. It could be the spec script that only you can write, centring on a unique personal experience or a little-known, well-researched historical event. It may be the fact that you worked for twenty years as an (INSERT INSANE JOB HERE). Working a night job, with night people, will effect the stories you tell. If you’re in a long distance relationship, writing on long train journeys, will effect the stories you tell. Your age will affect the stories you tell. You know all these things, but you need to perfect the skill and make the time to communicate these things to the people you meet at the festival. And that’s a great way to extend your network, in a meaningful and professional way.

Of course, most of all, it’s a screenwriter’s festival. The clue is in the title. You’re Harry Lime, Rocky Balboa, Iron Man. You’re Erin Brockovich, Bridget Jones, Coraline. You’re the titular character of the London Screenwriters Festival. People are there to see you. So reward their attention in you as part of their network. Keep it focused and professional, keep them interested and interesting, and you’ll do well.

Steven Russell runs Loves Me Not Scripts, a script development service that works directly with writers on their projects, and connects screenwriters with agents and producers. Find more information on their services at Facebook HERE  and their production work HERE. Follow of them on Twitter and find their blog, HERE. Steven is part of the panel for “Your Script and the 20 Common Pitfalls” on Sunday at 5pm.

I Hate Pitching By Neal Romanek

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 1 Comment

Around the UK, screenwriters are practicing their pitches for this weekend’s London Screenwriters’ Festival. Speed-pitching to producers is just one of the Olympic-scale events offered by the Festival (which is the biggest, baddest film writing festival in Europe, I think you’ll find).

Pitching to producers is terrifying for anyone, but particularly terrifying if you’re a writer. We’re just not very good at it. In fact, just about anyone in the world is better at pitching to producers than writers are. Pitching requires an ability to “boil it all down” – to reduce a breathtaking vision of depth and weight to a manageable glue that money will stick to.

Problem is that writers – real writers, like us – by their nature, want to tell the whole story. Actually, no, it’s worse than that. We don’t want to tell the whole story – we want to write the whole story, then give it to you and let your inner voice tell it to you as you read it. Having to boil it down is the opposite of what we got into this ridiculous racket for in the first place and it’s especially galling because one of the real reasons your pitching is so that the pitchee will not have to actually read your script and can simply repeat the pitch to her higher-ups who will in turn pass the pitch further up the chain until finally – perhaps in some Chinese whispered iteration that bears nothing to your original idea – it is jumped on as a Vehicle for someone else.

I hate pitching. Have I made this clear? And it’s not just because I have given some of the Worst Pitches In Christendom – well, maybe that’s part of it.

But however uncomfortable we are with it, pitching is in the natural order of things. Creatives have had to pitch to money men since before Michelangelo went before Pope Julius with nothing more than a set of storyboards and an option on a popular book. I always liken screenwriting to architecture more than any other creative endeavour. We’re in the blueprint-making business really. And blueprints have little meaning to non-architects. They have to be translated, truncated, spiced up – they have to be pitched – if they’re going to be realized as living projects that are going to employ hundreds of people.

So if you are pitching at the LondonSWF don’t be terrified. Or at least be comforted by the fact that, if you are terrified, it’s probably because you’re a real writer and not just some salesmen who thought he’d get into the movie business. Not that real writers can’t be good at pitching too, but it’s a separate skill, one that, in my case, has required a lot of practice. I’m pretty good at it now, but there were many embarrassing moments – incoherent rambling, forty minute beat-by-beat-by-beat exercises in tedium, hysterical enthusiasm in search of a logline. I have given some lousy pitches. But doing a lousy job is the only way you get good. So don’t worry about the quality of the pitches this weekend, but get in as many as you can. I’ll be there beside you, sweating from my upper lip, clearing my throat convulsively, stammering “Did I – Did I say that already?”. I hate pitching.

MORE ON PITCHES

5 Pitching Tips (includes a model pitch if you’re worried/stuck)

REMEMBER – A Logline Is Not A Tagline! Make sure you know the difference for your pitch.

More in The Required Reading List under “Pitches & Prep”, an e-library of resources

Neal Romanek will be live blogging from the festival, so make sure you check back here from Friday onwards – and follow him on Twitter HERE. You will also be able to see live tweets from delegates, speakers, volunteers and other participants by using the #LondonSWF hashtag on Twitter, so DON’T MISS OUT! 

Get The Most Out of Speed Pitching by Jared Kelly

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 3 Comments

One of the more outstanding elements of the London Screenwriters’ Festival is the Speed Pitching. Whether it’s with agents, producers or both, speed pitching presents the golden opportunity to get your desperate face in front of the creative behemoths and life-changing giants who spend the rest of their year locked behind The Firewall of F*** Off.

There can often be a whisper of negativity and cynicism surrounding these kinds of sessions, especially from those who have participated in similar events and not had any success, but success really boils down to three massively important factors:

1. Have you got something that they want?

2. Can you present it to them in a way that makes them understand what you’re selling?

3. Have you got a snub-nosed .38 pointing at them under the desk when you slide them the “read my script or die” note?

I’ve speed pitched before. I pitched to three producers and it resulted in all requesting to read my work without me having to fire a single shot.

The guidelines are very straightforward: research who you’re pitching to, prepare the very best pitch you possibly can, and present it to the best of your ability without ******* your pants. Although the speed pitching sessions lasts five minutes, you really need to be pitching your project in 30 seconds, definitely in under a minute, allowing enough time to chat about your script and work. If you give a confident and succinct pitch, you are more likely to have a confident discussion about that script in the time remaining. If you don’t think you can pitch your project in under a minute, then you won’t be able to pitch it in five. I pitched two projects in each five-minute session and had a relaxed chat about both of them. Two producers requested to read one, the other wanted to read both. It is doable.

You need to strip your story back to basics to cater for the event and also for small attention spans. I guarantee it’s much better to have a brief pitch that leaves questions than a rambling pitch that creates doubt, plus, no matter how well rehearsed you are, the moment you sit in front of Scary Person Who Can Change Your Life, it’s understandable that you will most definitely, unquestionably, without shadow of a doubt, break down and start weeping uncontrollably, so creating a short pitch gives you less words to get wrong and less time to make a complete arse of yourself.

Introduce yourself, include any credits and awards (but leave out criminal records and diseases), thank them for their time and set the scene for your pitch. I said something like, “I’d like to pitch you a low-budget screwball comedy set in contemporary England.” Once you establish those basics they instantly know how to listen to your pitch. You’ve now got under one minute to briefly explain your story plus any business the script has been involved in (placed in any competitions, significant development, etc).

The session is immediately easier once you’ve got over that pants-soiling first hurdle, because then you’ll be fielding questions about a story and characters you should know inside out. Just don’t ramble. Have another longer and looser pitch prepared that expands your opening salvo into a half-page/one-page synopsis. Learn that in the same way and use it to riff back and forth while discussing your film.

Always have back-up pitches. Were they to apologise and say comedy isn’t really their thing, you can calmly respond with, “I have a creature-feature horror set in the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the century. Would you mind if I pitched that to you?” Hopefully this is less likely to happen because you’ll have researched who you’re pitching to in order to cater your pitch and projects to their preferences. Try saying that drunk.

Don’t take along scripts or USBs to thrust into their hands, but do take along carefully prepared one-page pitches and business cards. Your one-pager should include logline, synopsis, any script business and your details. Ask before you produce either of them. The producers who requested to read my work were not interested in my one-pagers, but other folk I met during the festival were interested in them (okay, so it was for a paper aeroplane competition in the car park, but I’ll take whatever I can).

Plan your pitch like you would when writing dialogue in a script. You need to hone it by reading it out, by performing it, to iron out any word combinations that don’t feel or sound right coming out of your mouth. Once you’ve got your pitch down, print off several copies to take with you and keep reading and rehearsing.

Remember the recipients of your pitch are not in your head (at least not until you follow them home and eat their brains), so make sure you explain your story as simply, clearly and calmly as possible without overselling yourself. Do not tell them your comedy is “hilarious” or your horror is “really scary”, that’s up to them to decide when they read it later that weekend at gunpoint.

It’s important not to confuse speed pitching with speed dating. Also, do not eat whilst pitching. I made the honest mistake of buying a baked potato with tuna, cheese and beans just before I was due to pitch. Not wanting to wait (cold beans? I don’t think so) I brought it to the pitching table. Turns out me going to all the effort of providing an extra fork for the producer is somehow not considered thoughtful. Neither is using that fork to stab the security guard. Basically, if you want to eat a baked potato during the pitching session, simply buy extra ones to give to each of the producers and agents when you sit down.

Good luck with your speed pitching and your writing and try to enjoy the experience!

Jared Kelly

Networking The Shirt Off Your Back by Janice Day

Posted on: September 25th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

Writing’s hard. I discovered this when I was five years old and was told off for plagiarising the work of the little girl at the next desk. The teacher had asked us to write our name. I figured that if I copied the strange marks on my neighbour’s page I would be able to write my name too. The little girl was flattered and we became friends. Result!

And the writing? The teacher said one of us must have copied the other and her money was on the one who wasn’t called Susan.

Hey ho, at least I’d made a friend. Many years later I’m still much better at networking than I am at writing, and looking forward to my Networking Workshop at this year’s Festival.

I teach Interface Networking. That means I can help you to make that all important personal connection with the industry player who’s going to make you money.

Of course I can only teach it because I learned it at the coal-face. Unconscious networking is a doddle. We’ve all been doing that since we first shouted “Get off me you bastard” to the nurse who smacked our arses on arrival.

But conscious networking has most of us stumped. And I was no exception…

I stared up at the speaker, a celebrated screenwriting agent. She’s the one, I thought: confident, sassy, passionate and tough. She knows her onions. I want her.

 I followed her to the bar and joined the queue of writers nonchalantly pretending that they weren’t queuing to speak to her.

 As I moved up the queue I practiced my perfect pitch. This was it! I knew I must reveal myself as her next must-have new client. I just had to.

 Suddenly I was on. My mouth dried up, a ball of tumbleweed rolled across my vision and the eerie sound of nothingness whistled in my ears. While she looked at me expectantly, my knuckles grazed the floor and a little sliver of drool escaped from the corner of my mouth. My eyes rolled back up into my head. The seconds ticked away. 

 “What a lovely shirt,” she said, to break the ice.

“Would you like it?” I said. “You can have it. Honestly.”

 Right.

 But, hey, there’s always another chance. The next time I bumped into her…

 “We met last year. You said you liked my shirt. I’ve got it with me. Shall I get it?”

 Hmmm.

 But, hey, there really is always another chance. The next time I bumped into her…

 It occurred to me that she might be tired and thirsty after her speech. She was only human after all.

 I approached her as she came off the stage and offered to buy her a drink. I said I’d get the drinks in and find a table in the bar. She accepted gratefully and joined me after she’d seen off the wannabes offering her the shirts off their backs. We began a relationship and not long after that I joined her agency.

 The difference?

Acts I and II were about me. Act III was about her… 

————————————

Janice Day is a Writer Performer and Writers’ Agent who teaches Interface Networking. Author of the comedy cancer memoir GETTING IT OFF MY CHEST, she is currently working on its stage adaptation with top West End Director Matthew Gould. The film adaptation is in development with Island Pictures. She’s also developing a documentary about Adult ADHD with Maverick Television.

The Extended Pitch

Posted on: October 4th, 2010 by Lucy V Hay 1 Comment

When writing extended pitches, no one can hear you scream!

As everyone knows, I’m always advocating The One Page Pitch. That document where you grab a producer or agent’s attention for your script – make them WANT to read it. (Never send your script out without one!).

But this is not a post about one page pitches, but what I called “extended pitches”. Sometimes this is called merely a “synopsis”; other times a treatment or outline. The ”extended pitch” is usually up to 4-5 pages, describing EVERY BEAT of the story and how it unfolds. A blow-by-blow account, if you like. The extended pitch needs to be written engagingly, drawing the reader INTO the world of that story, NOT reminding them “this is a movie/TV show”. It’s usually all about the story too, rather than budget, who’s attached or other filmmakery stuff.

Extended pitches are usually used at a stage where *someone* (ie. a producer) is interested in a script and wants to show it others (ie. financiers). But why is one page not good enough for this stage? Because as rare as a GOOD one page pitch is (and they are rare), it’s apparently the well-written extended pitches that separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls), especially in terms of evaluating the central concept of a script and its structure/plot.

And it makes sense. No one throws money away on something they *half* know about, especially when we all have pre-conceptions about what is *good* and *not good*. You wouldn’t walk into a Blockbuster and say:

YOU: Hi DVD storeperson, gimme a DVD.

DVD GUY: Sure, what would you like?

YOU: Oh I dunno, give me any DVD.

DVD Guy puts a random DVD on the counter.

YOU: Oh no, I don’t like Julia Roberts, she looks like she has a coat hangar in her mouth all the time. Hit me with another one.

DVD Guy hands over another random DVD.

YOU: Oh no, I wasn’t looking for Rom-Com, how can you give me that? When I have *ever* rented a Rom-Com from you?

DVD GUY: Hey don’t take it out on me, how about *this* one??

YOU: No way Jose, that’s directed by James Cameron, don’t you know he was responsible for Sarah Connor inexplicably turning into a man for the duration of T2: Judgement Day and no fella the world over appears to notice??

DVD GUY: You know what? Pick your own DVD!

In the same way we use DVD boxes and cinema posters to decide what to watch then, producers often use one pagers to get scripts into development. But whilst we’ve all heard *that* story about ALIEN selling in three words (“Jaws In Space!”), a producer rarely gets the green light from a one page pitch alone. Instead, those other people will want to make their own evaluation on the script itself and its potential, preferably without reading the actual script itself – which makes extended pitches invaluable.

Having felt the pain of pulling an extended pitch on an all-nighter only recently, I would recommend doing these in advance. Besides anything, writing a spec extended pitch of your **finished** script can explose flaws in plot or problems with its structure you may not have seen otherwise – so even if you don’t end up using them in the long run, it’s still time well spent, regardless of where your script is destined. To sum up, I’d recommend the following in your portfolio for EVERY project:

1 x one page pitch (sales document for grabbing initial attention – either for the script itself or the concept, if said script does not exist yet)

1 x script

1 x extended pitch (blow by blow account for evaluation, 4-5 pages)

Good luck!

Work it, Baby: Networking at the LSWF

Posted on: September 18th, 2010 by Lucy V Hay 20 Comments

The lovely Rosie asks:

“What type of things/stuff/ideas to people take to the LSF? I’m sure people won’t want to leave with armfuls of scripts, so how prepared should I be? Treatments? Loglines? Synopsis? Or just talking about my scripts/stories with conviction and passion? I have business cards.”

As we all know, writing is not just about the actual writing; it’s about getting “out there” and selling not only your scripts, but YOU, the writer. You need to create a great first impression, make *that* producer or director WANT to work with you. It’s as hard as it sounds – but the things you need to remember are deceptively simple:

1) DO: remember your business cards. If you don’t have any, shame on you. This is the VERY LEAST you need in “working” the room. Try and ensure (more…)