June 1st, 2011
By Danny Manus
- Have a FINISHED script in proper format.
- Know your target. Do your Research.
- Embrace the “Alternate” and use it to your advantage.
- Try to get a pitch session before lunch, but not the first session of the day.
- Know your story!! Backwards and forwards. Characters, arcs, plot, story, ending, act breaks, etc. No using Cue Cards!
- Be open to constructive criticism on your story, characters, pitch, and even your personality.
- Have an excellent and visual one sheet with your contact info, email, title, genre, 1-2 paragraph synopsis, additional project loglines, any relevant background info, etc.
- Ask us if we want to take your one sheet if we haven’t asked for it already. Or at least leave a business card with contact info and your project’s title.
- Dress appropriately. No costumes. No flop sweat. No spittle. Bring some hand sanitizer too!
- Make us think you’re from LA, or at least would move there.
- Make sure you can pitch in English. At least coherent enough to understand.
- BE NORMAL!!!
- Know what the hook to your story is, what the original twist to your story is, and highlight that.
- Make sure your first minute contains: your name, your project’s title, any pertinent background info, whatever sets you apart, your project’s genre, the logline and hook, one or two comparison films, etc.
- Make sure the rest of the pitch contains: your main story line, descriptions and arcs of your main character(s), some of your big set pieces, funniest/scariest moments of your script, etc. The most commercial and original parts of your script. The trailer moments!
- Prepare to answer questions about you, your story and your writing process.
- Make sure your TV show idea can last 4 seasons before pitching your premise.
- Gear your pitches to agents/managers so that it’s more about YOU and your vision for your career than a specific project.
- If we ask for it, send us your script within 2 weeks.
- Respect the pass if you get one at the table.
- Say hello if passing us in the halls after your pitch. Act normal and smile.
- HAVE FUN! RELAX!
- Set yourself up for failure.
- Cry while pitching.
- Use Cue Cards. You should know your own story better than that.
- Act your pitch. Just tell a story and have a conversation. Also, no singing, dancing, or funny voices necessary.
- Tell us that this is the first time you have ever pitched this to anyone. We shouldn’t be your first pitch.
- Use a gimmick. No posters, toys, props, etc. Trailers are okay and drawings are okay if you are a professional FX Artist.
- Fight with fellow attendees, even if they are taking up your time.
- Fight with execs and argue about their take on your story or pitch. Don’t tell them that you don’t think they’re right. Keep it all inside and just smile and nod.
- Start your pitch with something incredibly personal or embarrassing.
- Start your pitch with a rhetorical question!
- Ask execs to take your script at the table. And don’t beg.
- Ask execs for their card more than once.
- Pitch projects that are not appropriate for pitchfests (period epics, sci-fi trilogies, Hollywood insider movies, Oscar-type Prestige Dramas, Autobiographies that haven’t been published/covered somewhere – a book, article, short film, doc, etc)
- Deny execs your big twist ending.
- Have typos or grammatical errors on your one sheet!!
- Insist on directing or acting in your script.
- Make execs regret saying yes. Don’t be annoying or email/call incessantly.
- Under any circumstances, pitch execs in the bathroom or on a cigarette break.
- Become a horror story.
October 12th, 2010
By Daniel Manus
This past weekend was the 2010 Screenwriting Expo, where writers from all over the world come to congregate, learn, network, get inspired, pitch, and try to break into Hollywood the old fashioned way – by paying for it.
Before I get into my recap of the weekend, I’d like to congratulate my friend and client Tracy Reilly for WINNING the Expo’s 30 minute TV Script Category, beating out hundreds upon hundreds of other scripts and scoring the $1000 prize! It was a hilarious script and it deserved to win! And I’d like to congratulate my two other clients who were semi-finalists in the feature and short categories, respectively. Nice job guys! No Bull clients are making waves!
Now, I’ve learned not to bite the hands that feeds me, but the Expo has changed significantly over the years. I personally had a great time, met some great new clients, writers, fellow teachers and friends and got to have a nice chat with great screenwriters Shane Black and Bert Royal (“Easy A”). And I sold a good amount of copies of my book over the weekend. But, it definitely wasn’t the Expo of old.
I’ve been coming to the Expo every year since 2003 and haven taken pitches at every expo until 2009. Back in ‘04, the Expo had almost 5,000 writers and took over the LA Convention Center with big names like William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Paul Attanasio, Dean Devlin, Joss Whedon and Syd Field, had a pitching hall filled with about 80 companies ready to speak to writers, and an exhibition hall that felt like a convention within itself.
This year, the Expo had about 700 writers (and that’s being generous), had John August and Shane Black speaking to a muted audience of 100 writers each, had only 35 companies taking pitches, and took over parts of 2 floors of a hotel near the airport. And the exhibition hall featured the Writer’s Store, CS Magazine, John Truby, and only about 6 other companies.
There were reasons for the low turnout this year, though. Yes, the economy. But there was also an unfortunate strike of hotel workers that caused the WGA, who had been supported by those hotel workers during their strike, to send out 2 letters to its members saying not to attend or speak at this year’s Expo. So, planned special guest speakers like David Milch, Jennifer Salt and William Goldman, stayed away. And this isn’t the Expo’s fault – it was the Hilton’s. But, the Expo certainly paid the price for it.
But here’s the thing…without all the big name speakers and the huge list of companies to pitch to, the Expo turned into what it should have been all along – a chance for writers to LEARN something. But, once again, writers did themselves a disservice and didn’t show up because this year, there was less of a chance of them meeting a celebrity or landing an agent.
And this is what is wrong with most wannabe screenwriters today – thousands of you that try to break in every year – you all want to be lazy about it. You all want it to come easy. Many of you want to write a script in 2 weeks, sell it 2 weeks later, land an agent by Thursday, quit your job by the end of the month and trade your life in to party at the Palms. You don’t go to film school, you don’t take the courses or the seminars, you don’t move to LA and suffer as you work your way up, and you don’t attend events unless you think you can SELL YOUR SCRIPT.
And it’s not JUST at the Expo. At the Great American Pitchfest earlier this year (whose overall turnout turned out to be higher than the Expo’s), there were about 450 people there taking FREE classes on Saturday, but over 1000 pitching on Sunday! I like to call the 500 some-odd people who just thought they could show up and sell a script – HOPELESS.
There were some great classes at the Expo this year – including my 3 classes. And while mine were very well-attended on Thursday (in part because there were only 3 classes being given all day and writers from out of town were already there), the rest of the weekend found most classes half full (or half empty if you’re a pessimist). Yes, star speakers like Pilar Allessandra and Michael Hauge had some packed rooms (don’t get me started on the advice Hauge gives on pitching), but I don’t think any class had over 75 people in it. Years ago, most classes were standing room only (as my pitch class was on Thursday afternoon).
I sat in on some of these other classes, and I had my little spies around all weekend telling me who was worth seeing and who wasn’t. I’m not going to bad mouth anyone, but I will say I was highly impressed with new speaker Corey Mandell’s class. It was the only one where I actually took out my pad and pen and wrote stuff down. Pilar is always entertaining and engaging and knows how to grab an audience and make them feel like they are really leaning something. James Jordan is a No-Bullshit guy like me, and I respect that. And Hal Croasmun’s class was very informative.
Yes, there were a few classes and teachers that had no business being there or who weren’t very informative or entertaining, but hey – that’s why you have a choice of 10 classes to attend every 90 minutes.
I know the problem writers have with the classes is that there is SO much conflicting information – everyone has their own style, their own opinions, their own formats, tricks and rules for writing and pitching – that it all gets confused and writers don’t know who to listen to. Well, I can’t tell you who to listen to (listen to me), but I can tell you that getting every perspective and deciding which works for you is still much more valuable than staying home and getting none of them.
If you are serious about this business, then you need to LEARN this business! You need to do your research, you need to network, you need to become the best writer you can be. And you can’t do that sitting at home typing away and reading a 20 year old copy of Robert McKee’s book. You can’t. So, even if it means you’re not going to get famous in one weekend, you should still be attending these conferences and learning what you can. If you learn 3 things that make you a better writer and make you see your script in a different way, then it was worth the money!
I hope to see you there next year! Thanks to Bill, Danny, Tee and everyone else who helped put on a fun event!
June 30th, 2010
By Danny Manus
What a weekend. As many of you know, June 26-27th was the 7th annual Great American Pitchfest in Burbank, CA. I continue to think that the GAP is becoming the premiere writers’ conference in LA. Not only is it a great chance for writers to attend great classes for free and score some free consultant swag, but the pitchfest is a great way for writers to meet and connect with execs and just maybe – maybe – get their big break.
I think I was at the Pitchfest for about 27 hours this weekend, and it was definitely time well spent. It started for me at the ass-crack of dawn on Saturday – and for those who don’t know me, I’m not an early riser or morning person. Morning people scare me. But, worried I would oversleep, my body jolted me out of bed at 5am and, unable to press my internal snooze button, I got ready and headed out early.
I arrived before 7am – I was the first person there. But that was okay because it meant I got first crack at tables. And momma didn’t raise no fool – I grabbed some prime real estate across from the Writer’s Store – and set up shop. My lovely interns showed up to help and I got ready for my class which was to start at 9am. This was my 3rd year teaching at the GAP but it was a class I hadn’t taught at this event before (“Become Your Own Development Executive”).
I walked into the large room and the first thing I said was, “there’s no way I’m gonna fill this room.” But, by 9:30, I pretty much had. The class went perfectly – even without the use of power point, the class was a hit! The rest of the day was spent running between my private consultations and my table, making sure my interns weren’t overwhelmed and that people were signing up and hopefully buying my E-Book, “No B.S. for Screenwriters”! If there’s one rule that will always hold true, it’s that writers love free shit. Pens, candy, notebooks, bookmarks, postcards, etc. Whatever was on a table – writers grabbed it up like it was crack.
Now, Saturday wasn’t quite as busy as I was expecting – but there was still a good turnout. Hopefully next year, more writers will realize that the chance to take free classes from some of the best in the biz is an invaluable experience and shouldn’t be missed – especially before pitching to a room of execs! I guarantee the ones who took the classes had more luck than those who didn’t.
Anyway, the day went great and congratulations again to the winner of the free 30 minute phone consult raffle –Heathyr Clift. And as the classes and consults came to an end, and the tables were dismantled, the party began. I decided to forgo the karaoke – even though I’ve been known to rock the house on occasion – and had dinner with some new, good friends and chatted it up with my colleagues. The day finally ended around 10:15pm when I got home, totally exhausted. I don’t even remember taking off my shoes before hitting the bed, knowing all too well I’d have to be up early in the morning again for the pitchfest.
Sunday was…organized chaos. But that’s what a pitchfest is supposed to be. And to their much deserved credit, Signe and Bob put together a wonderful event that was run better than any other pitchfest I have been to (and I’ve been to dozens!). And the reason the GAP is different is that Signe and Bob are good people who treat everyone with respect – the writers, execs, teachers, consultants, etc. And as the execs traded cards and stories, and the writers stormed the tables Braveheart-style, it was almost scary for my poor interns who returned to listen to pitches with me for the day. Welcome to Hollywood.
The pitches just kept coming – I didn’t get a break the whole morning. And throughout the day, I heard a few great pitches – and a few bad ones – but maybe everyone had read my book or my articles because to my delight, I didn’t see ONE person there in costume or with a stupid gimmick. And that’s a victory in my eyes! And now, as I request my chosen scripts, it’s time to see if the writing is as good as the pitch. But even if it isn’t, the Great American Pitchfest 7 was a weekend to remember and I can’t wait to return next year.
Please make sure to tune into my weekly column for The Business of Show Institute – this pitchfest gave me a whole bunch of new ideas! And follow me on Twitter @nobullscript for daily screenwriting tips, rants, news, and more!
August 18th, 2009
Hello again, BullScripters! First, I’d like to thank you all for checking out the site and being so supportive. This company has been growing leaps and bounds the last few months and that is due to all of you! And look for many more new updates in the coming month or so! And thanks for checking out my articles on the BOSI website and for all the great feedback.
Anyway, I had the pleasure of attending the Willamette Writers Conference (pronounced Will-AM-ette – and dont you forget it!) in Portland Oregon last weekend. It’s my 4th year going I believe and it’s always a good time! Now, the number one rule for execs about pitchfests is – you don’t talk about pitchfests. Or at least what happens after the pitching is over and nighttime activities commence. Needless to say, the last few years in Portland have been action packed and we always come back to LA with plenty of fun stories to share (or use as blackmail material haha).
This year, however, we chose to be a bit more understated. Sure, we still sang TV theme songs at the top of our lungs in the Oregon Culinary Institute. And we still hit the dive bars and drank cheap beer like it was water. But it was a much more low-key event this year. Perhaps we’re all just getting old. It has been an ongoing trend (and joke) that the film execs go out and party ‘til 4am and the book execs all go back to the hotel, read and go to sleep by 11. And that is pretty accurate. Though this year, perhaps we all felt a bit more bookish. I’m not saying we didn’t party, but the party ended earlier than it used to.
On the pitching side of things, the people that attend the Portland conference are always so nice and gracious. Sure, there was the older woman who propositioned the exec panel for sex. And sure last year, there was the guy who thought his story about father daughter incest was a commercial project for a teen audience. And sure, there was the guy in the blindingly bright silk suit and pompadour who made me wonder what his day job was. But that’s what makes these events fun!
I heard some good pitches and asked for a few scripts, though not as many as I normally ask for. I have noticed a couple trends with the Portland conference as far as material goes. First, I hear more stories that involve spirituality, magic, Native American rituals, and things like that in Portland than almost anywhere else (Santa Fe had a bunch of Native American based stories too). And I have to say – these don’t sell. Broad audiences don’t care about Native American stories and they don’t care about spiritualism. I just can’t sell it. As I mentioned in my recent article on www.businessofshowinstitute.com, I also got a ton of period piece pitches despite making it very clear that we are not interested in period pieces. Perhaps it’s because Portland writers have always been a slightly older crowd and those types of stories appeal to that demographic, but that’s not the demographic we as producers cater to. The third type of pitch we get a great deal of in Portland is the book to movie adaptation. Willamette started as a book conference and it is still a HUGE and very valuable part of the conference (even more so than the film part), but it’s really hard for us to buy into a pitch for a book by a first time writer if the screenplay isn’t written yet simply because – we don’t know if you can write that adaptation. You’ve got to write a screenplay first. That being said, I did find some good stuff and am starting to go through it all now.
The classes at Willamette are great. Some are better than others, but the few that I got to observe briefly were really enlightening. I don’t get to meet many book people or hear them speak, so I relish the chance to learn a bit more about that world (especially since I’m working on my first book). Even though I didn’t get to teach my No B.S. Pitchfest Class, my Living in and Indie World class went wonderfully and we had a really great turn out. I hope everyone got as much out of it and enjoyed it as much as I did. I can’t wait to come back next year, if they’ll have me, and hopefully I will be teaching many more classes. And at the end of the day, I met a bunch of wonderful other execs, managers, agents and book people that I hadn’t met before, and networking is always the name of the game!
Thanks to all the wonderful organizers and volunteers. A BIG special thanks to Gibran Perrone (who is just awesome), Ann Buenzli (a great help!), Nancy Froeschle (who didn’t run things this year but is still awesome), Elisa Klein, writer Robert Kienbaum, Mary and everyone else there!
Next up on the No Bull Tour is Dallas in September…so stay tuned for more info!! Til then, Keep Writing!
July 23rd, 2009
Less than two weeks after the Santa Fe Conference, I took part in the ever-expanding Great American Pitchfest. I have been attending the Great American for about 5 years now – I’m officially a veteran. And I even attended the Great Canadian a few years ago, which is run by the same team.
When I started with the Great American, it was a small event which probably had 250 writers in attendance and 40 companies. It was greatly overshadowed by other LA-based events like the Screenwriting Expo and the Fade-In Pitchfest. But I am so happy that in such a short time, the Great American has become one of the pre-eminent LA pitching events and conferences and this year there were over 2000 writers and about 80 companies (there would have been 110, but some companies think they are too important to show up). This is mostly due to the GA’s headmaster, Signe Olynyk, who has definitely stepped up her game.
And with the new line up of classes, instructors, and panels, dollars for donuts, this is probably the best value for writers out of any of the conferences in LA. The classes and instructors were great. I was worried at first that my “No B.S. Guide to Pitchfests” class wouldn’t be well attended, but by fifteen minutes into the class, it was standing room only and I think it went very well despite the fact that I couldn’t use any audio/visual, which I didn’t know until two days before the event. So my power point presentation went out the window and the class was forced to (gasp!) actually listen to me speak. There were some other classes on theme, networking and making your archetypes more powerful – or some crap like that – but if you’re a writer and you’re spending money on pitching, then why wouldn’t you attend the pitching class, right?
There were some other heavy weights teaching master classes like Pilar Alessandra and Blake Snyder, who are both fantastic. Michael Hauge, who is one of the most successful teachers around, was there teaching as well. The afternoon was full of 30-minute consulting sessions and I was booked solid for 5 hours. I was so glad that they went well, and I absolutely loved having the writers I met with come back up to me after pitching the next day, telling me how much I had helped. There’s nothing more rewarding.
On day two was the actual pitchfest, which was run very well, but was still a friggin’ madhouse, in the best sense of the word. Writers stormed the room like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, all seeking their FREEDOM from obscurity and amateur status. I have optioned material from the Great American before, and last year there were 2 or 3 projects that I really enjoyed. This year, while the pitches were pretty solid, I was a bit disappointed in the amount of commercial material. That being said, I asked for about 10 scripts again and there were some goodies (I’m still waiting for a couple I think), but nothing I felt strong enough about to move forward on. Though there were at least 2 or 3 writers that I would keep in mind for the future. And really, that’s all you can ask for at these events.
The downside of this event is that so many of the companies that attend have never produced anything, or are completely unknown. And if I have never heard of them, then I can’t expect writers to have heard of them either. Some are just random men or women who started their own company or are just trying to find projects they can attach themselves to. So, writers have to do even more due diligence and research when deciding to whom to pitch.
Another highlight of Day Two was being a guest on Pilar Alessandra’s podcast, On the Page. I feel bad admitting that I had never listened to her podcast before, though I’m a big fan of hers. But it was a great time, and she was gracious enough to let me plug my own script consulting service (www.nobullscript.net), and she made me into a listener. The networking was great, the writers were energized, and no one pitched me in the bathroom, though I did hear a couple of others get pitched there (definite no-no!).
Overall, it was a great event that has really come into its own. Hopefully next year, they can wrangle a few more high-profile companies and that will really complete the event and raise its status even more.
July 22nd, 2009
I realize this is coming a bit late, but I had the great pleasure of being a guest lecturer as well as take pitches at the Sante Fe Screenwriting Conference about 6 weeks ago and I have to say – I’ve done a bunch of these conferences and pitchfests, but this one may be the most fun I’ve had.
I should have known I was in for a good weekend when the 75 year old woman who met me at the airport told me we had to go back to her house first to pick up her hearing aid. Along the way, we crossed the intersection of “Gun Club Road” and “Coors Blvd.” I couldn’t make that up! We went on to get lost for an hour in the dark (it was after midnight) and we didn’t make it to the hotel until 1:30am. A two hour ride from the airport, when the flight from LA was only an hour and a half. But it was a fun adventure, capped off by getting goosed the next day by my white haired chauffeur.
Now, not only did the conference have great classes (if I do say so myself), but they don’t run the execs and teachers into the ground. We don’t start at 8am and go straight through until 6pm. I had time to do some sight seeing, relax, and even visit a wonderful Japanese Spa. I realize I live in LA, but I never get to do anything remotely nice or relaxing, so I took advantage of the opportunity. I even got a nice tan, though I think my body, which hasn’t seen the sun since I was 12, still hates me for it. But this conference really had a nice blend of busy and laid back. The programmers understood that execs really don’t like hearing pitches at 8am and going for 5 hours straight, and doing so only hurts writers’ chances.
The conference seemed to be a big success. My classes were both very well attended, with my pitchfest class being standing room only. I love that. Quite frankly, my other class didn’t go quite as well as I would have liked, but that was my fault. I tried to change my spiel but kept forgetting that I had changed it. Oh well, live and learn.
The other execs and I had a wonderful time sampling Santa Fe’s…ambience. And by ambience, I mean beer. I would love to tell you more, but the first rule of Pitchfest is…you don’t talk about pitchfest. At least not what happens at night.
The pitchfest itself was crazy. I was booked the whole time, and even went about a half hour over. I heard some good pitches and some bad pitches, but happily, I think I only got one or two ridiculous pitches, which is far below the average number I usually get. And only 2 or 3 people made me want to back up slowly out of the room. Ha! Actually, I was highly impressed with how prepared most of the writers were to pitch (the other execs said so as well). Sure, most still didn’t know what “commercial” means or how it relates to story, but that’s to be expected. I asked for about 10 scripts, which is a lot for an exec to ask for.
And I will break the news here – Clifford Werber and I have decided to come aboard to produce one of the scripts I found at the conference and the writer is currently doing a new draft with our notes. The writer is New Mexico’s own Hannah MacPherson and we look forward to working on her great horror project. In addition, there were at least 2 other writers that I was incredibly impressed with and perhaps could work with in the future.
In the van on the way to the airport, all the other execs (a bunch of guys this time around) all shared our stories of best, worst and most creepy. And at the end of the day, not only did I meet some great lecturers, writers, and volunteers, but I made a new group of friends that I can now call to send them my projects – and that’s what it’s all about. And I got to have a great conversation with Emmy Winning writer Kirk Ellis (“John Adams”) and fellow lecturers Karl Iglesias and Cynthia Witcomb, all of whom got rave reviews for their workshops. And I hear I did a nice job as well…
Now, there were a few downsides. I thought a couple of the people teaching weren’t quite qualified enough or weren’t doing the writers enough of a service. No, I won’t tell you whom. And then there was the issue of food. I didn’t realize that Santa Fe closes at 9:30pm, and I don’t like to eat very early, so I went without dinner for the first two nights. Cheez-it’s are not meant to be an entrée. They didn’t even have bottled water at the hotel (I know – I sound like an LA snob, sorry!). Though the hotel did have a delicious melon and cucumber water in the lobby – but that was gone by 6pm! The hotel was lovely, despite some reservation issues, but they really need to keep room service going past 6pm!
But I want to give a big thanks to Larry and his wonderful volunteers (Laura, Steve, Vicky, Jason, etc) and I can’t wait to return next year! I highly recommend this event for both writers wanting to get some real personal attention and learn their craft, and for execs who want to get out of LA for a while and maybe find some great material.