Want to envision something terrifying to get you in the mood for Halloween? Imagine being in a large room, the audience packed with writers that have all their attention focused on the stage, where you're about to go up and pitch your film idea, with only two minutes to speak!
I was among these gutsy screenwriters daring enough to take this terrifying yet fun challenge of pitching in front a live audience as well as four Industry Professional Judges on a panel at this year's Pitch Factor at the London Screenwriter's Festival 2015. We were nervous, we were excited and we were having fun.
My favourite pitch was 'The Children's Table' about a 15 year old girl who is still being sent to sit with the children at the 'children's table' during a wedding dinner, even though she no longer feels she should be categorized as "one of the kids." When things go awry and the wedding is attacked by gunmen, it's up to the children at the children's table to save the day. Brilliant! That was just one of many excellent pitches at the Pitch Factor last weekend.
The winner of the pot of money that night was Frank, with his outstanding pitch for On The Wire, a movie surrounding the bar sport of darts and the world dart championships. I don't recall the details unfortunately (it must have been close to my turn to pitch at that point), nor Frank's full name (If you know frank or his pitch please feel free to comment below), but he definitely got the attention of not only the industry professional judges but the audience as well!
So then what did I learn at this year's London Screenwriter's Festival? A lot!
Before I attended this festival, my first ever, all I knew was how to format / write a professional looking script. But there's so much more to learn. Here's what I found out:
1. A scriptwriter does not go to a screenwriter's festival to 'sell a script' on site.
This was my misconception when I told all my friends in Canada I was going to London to attempt to sell my screenplays at the festival. When I got to LSF I quickly learned that these festivals are about networking and getting to know, and to be known, by the execs. The Great British Pitchfest (which I attended this year) wasn't for handing over a printed copy of my script (yes I printed all my scripts before going to London and no I didn't take take them to the Great British Pitchfest, not after the helpful crash course on pitching by Hollywood pitching guru Pilar Alessandra at Thursday's Pitching Workshop).
So what happens during the Pitchfest? You get five minutes to give the exec sitting at a desk in front of you a logline of your movie that is so catchy, the exec becomes interested enough to give you their business card and asks you to send them a synopsis of your film or TV treatment of your series, or maybe they take your OneSheet if you're lucky.
What doesn't happen? You won't be handing over your entire printed out manuscript in those five minutes and the execs won't be pulling out papers for you to sign. Even the best case scenario would involve a lot of back and forth emailing and working together for months before things get off the ground.
2. No one Wants to Work With a Difficult Screenwriter
I knew this before going to the festival but it really came to light while I was there. The execs are tired, they're overworked, they've got thousands of potential screenwriters vying for their attention. Who would the execs be most comfortably working with? Not the guy who gets pissed off because they aren't looking for the genre he writes and didn't take his OneSheet.
I met SO many nice writers at LSF. They were friendly, open, knowledgeable, hopeful, etc. Then, on my last day, I met a very bitter screenwriter who was calling the execs (insert swear words here) names because they weren't interested in his work. It really opened my eyes to something. Even if execs aren't interested in a screenwriter's genre at this time, a good attitude and a friendly smile could still go a long way in furthering a writer's career in the future. It's a process and there's a 'big picture' to keep in mind.
It's not hard to see how this works. Just put yourself in the execs shoes. Are you the kind of person they would want to work with as the screenwriter of their next upcoming movie, whom they will spend months corresponding with back and forth and being part of their team? Hopefully the answer to that is yes.
3. Learn Your Craft
I didn't realize how much more there is to know about the industry, for a screenwriter, than simply knowing how to put together a professional looking script. From learning that character arcs in a TV series are important or how to make an excellent TV treatment, to understanding the process of getting your script optioned or your TV series onto Channel 4, a screenwriting festival is a great place to start accumulating the knowledge a writer will need to turn screenwriting into a career, starting with a realistic understanding of how the industry works (it's not like winning the lottery).
4. Make Friends
I was standing in a cue for the ladies washroom, looking all around and moved almost to tears at the large amount of writers standing with me. I've never been with so many screenwriters under one roof. The writer's group I attend in Canada is made up of novelists and poets. None of them writes screenplays. And then suddenly I was in London, surrounded by a sea of scriptwriters just like me!
I turned to the lady behind me and said "Wow, I've never seen so many writers all together like this" and she said "Yes, just look at all the competition". I laughed because it was something that hadn't crossed my mind. All I can say is, the like-minded writers that I became friends with last weekend made me feel like I'm part of a team, part of a bigger picture, a group that can encourage one another and help each other take the steps toward getting their screenplays optioned and eventually getting their work onto the big screen, or small screen, by sharing knowledge and inspiration and encouragement.
I learned that this industry is like a family. So it's best to find friends and execs that you'd want to be part of your career "family". It's not a competition. The nervous group of us waiting in line to go on stage for The Pitch Factor weren't looking at one another as the competition, but rather, we were encouraging each other with whispers of 'you can do it!' and 'I think we're either really courageous, or just plain crazy'. The girl in front of me said 'I actually don't know what I'm going to say yet'.
5. HAVE FUN
LSF was FUN! I met so many great writers and I didn't even think of that as one of the goals of attending the festival. I thought I was going to pitch and sell a script. I came back with experience in pitching, a much better understanding of the industry and the tools I will need to realistically reach my goals of a screenwriting a career.
Happy writing everyone,
**photos courtesy of Tim Prescott https://twitter.com/prescottim