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!
March 17th, 2010
This year for the Oscars, I was in Vancouver for the first annual Pitchmarket 2010, a screenwriting conference run by FTX West, where I was invited to teach a couple classes and take pitches. Now I had been to Vancouver a few years ago for a pitchfest event and one of the same people were running this event. So I was really looking forward to returning to Vancouver! I love the city of Vancouver – it’s like NY but cleaner, nicer and smaller. And everyone says ‘sorry’ when they bump into you on the street.
Now, the Olympics had just ended a week prior to my arrival, but the spirit was still in the air – as was much of the signage and posters, which was cool with me. The cab drivers and business owners seemed much more relaxed however.
I always look forward to these conferences – especially when they are outside of Los Angeles. It’s nice to get away, and Canada is sadly about as far as I get to travel to (seriously, doesn’t anyone in Europe need some screenwriting help?). I landed Friday afternoon after a delayed flight and as I was landing, my popping ears made me realize – oh yeah, I’m getting sick. And flying hurts. Good times.
Once I landed, I was taken to my hotel which was…not what I expected. It was more like a residential living facility. Now the rooms were very nice and had beautiful views of all of Downtown Vancouver and the Mountains. But the Worldmark “Hotel” did lack a few things – air conditioning, wifi internet, toiletries and maid service. Thank God for Blackberries or else the other executives probably would have demanded another hotel. I don’t want to make it seem like LA Execs are prima donnas – but we are sometimes. I’m a really easy person to please – but when you’re sick, in another Country and you have a million things to do, little hotel perks go a long way.
Anywho, I taught my classes Saturday morning – How to be Your Own Development Exec and No BS Guide to Pitchfests. They both were very well attended and I thought they went great (I will hopefully post some pictures soon!). The writers really seemed to respond to my No BullShit approach and they all seemed to take away something from the seminars. I was really impressed with the writers there, who all had some great questions and seemed really interested! Or maybe they were just placating me haha! And I had brought some of my E-Books, which also sold pretty well. I can always tell even from looking at writers in my class, which ones are going to do well in their pitches. It’s like a 6th sense but without dead people.
Saturday afternoon I had all to myself to play in Vancouver. I love days like this. And despite being increasingly under the weather, I was not going to let a cold ruin a beautiful day. So, I took a long walk down to the water and caught a SeaTrain over to North Vancouver and explored a bit. Then came back and walked all the way back to the hotel. That night, we had a lovely dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant and I was finally able to socialize and meet some of the other execs attending (they arrived later than I did so I hadn’t seen them yet). A couple of agents, a couple managers, and me. There weren’t that many execs from LA brought to the conference but we had a nice little group. I won’t dare repeat the items discussed at the dinner table, but a good time was had by all.
That night, a group of the LA execs went out and partied. I probably shouldn’t have, but I can’t turn down a good time. One of the agents knew an actress in town who knew some club promoters and we all got into a couple fun hotspots. But it had been a LOOONG day with no nap time, so most of us were back to the hotel by 1am, a pretty mild night considering.
Sunday was pitch day, but I woke up in Hell. I normally really enjoy the constant pitching, but my ears, nose, throat and body hurt. I had been taking cold pills since Saturday morning but they weren’t working. So I got MORE pills. And I could barely speak (teaching for 4 hours and screaming over music in the bars probably didn’t help). I will admit I became a bit of a diva and had someone get me tea and cold pills as the pitching began. THANK YOU to all the volunteers who helped me out!
I was actually pleasantly surprised – the pitches weren’t bad at all. I probably heard about 30-40 pitches in 10 minute increments. And only a couple were really bad. Most had taken my class the day before and knew what I wanted to hear. And the ones that didn’t…well…it was obvious. Only one man sat down and said, “This isn’t my best work…you’re going to hate it…I don’t even know why I’m pitching this…” before he even told me his title. Never lose before you even play the game. You need to be confident and sell yourself and your project even if you’re unsure.
And one other gentleman sat down and said he wanted to do a reality TV series on a very general topic, which I won’t mention, but didn’t have any idea on an angle, hook or premise. And when I politely told him that we don’t do reality TV – he just kept pushing. There was nothing I could do for him, so when I realized he was going to sit there for the whole 10 minutes instead of letting me sneeze and breathe in peace, I had to tell him that he needed to go back to the drawing board.
If you just have an idea for something but no hook, angle, premise, concept, or story – guess what – you don’t have enough! You need to be specific and educated on the topic. I actually thought his broad concept could be an interesting half hour sports special, but it wasn’t not a series. And even if it WAS – I don’t do reality TV! Pitching me harder isn’t going to make me become a reality TV producer!
I think the most common note I gave was that the writers’ story wasn’t going in the best direction possible or the set up wasn’t as good as it could be. Sometimes a writer has such a good idea but you can see the minute where it just went off-track and you want so badly to pull it back on the road and set them straight. That’s what I tried to do in my pitches.
Out of the 30-40 pitches I heard, I asked for about 5 or 6 scripts, which is about an average number for these events. So who knows…maybe one of these will totally blow me away. I got a few pitches that really sounded great and I’m hoping the scripts live up to the hype!!
Sunday night was our Oscar Party and while it was perfectly nice and fun and the food was pretty darn tasty (not to mention the free vodka!), I was full blown sick. I felt like crap. I was coughing and sneezing and worried about the plane ride home I’d be taking in 24 hours. So, once Avatar lost and Sandra Bullock won, I decided to forgo the late-night festivities and actually went back to the hotel, got all kinds of fuzzy on cold pills, and passed out before midnight. When I woke up, I only felt slightly better but the cough had gotten worse as had my ears. I was afraid my ear drums would literally rupture on the plane, but I was going to have to brave that chance.
I bought ear-planes – the earplugs for planes that have been tested by like the Navy – so I figured those would help. And thankfully, I found a wonderful plane-buddy in Ellen Sandler, one of the other speakers at the conference and an Emmy-nominated exec producer and writer for “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She by chance had changed her seat and was now stuck sitting next to me. But we chatted the whole way about the business and writing and she even read my E-Book and loved it, which I took as a great compliment as her book is fantastic and quite successful.
She was even nice enough to drive me home….awwww….I was thrilled to have gotten to know her on this trip and hopefully we will work together soon. I finally landed – with only minimal ear pain upon landing – but I was half deaf with totally clogged ears. Small price to pay I suppose for a fun and productive weekend in Vancouver!
I want to send a big thank you to all the volunteers, helpers, sponsors, etc that helped put on a great event and chauferred my sick butt around! But most of all, I’d like to thank Danika Dinsmore who did a great job with the classes and pitchfest, Marcy Schacter, who put together a great event and kept it moving, and Joan MacBeth for suggesting that I attend!
For those wondering, I’m hoping to be back in Vancouver before the end of the year to do a weekend of classes with Biz Books and Capilano University. I’ll keep ya posted! And if you know of a conference or group in YOUR town that is looking for a speaker, please, let me know. And hopefully I’ll see you all soon!
October 21st, 2009
Once again, I’m a bit behind on my blogging on this site because a couple weeks ago, I travelled to Chicago for a Hollywood Insider Weekend hosted by the hugely entrepreneurial advertising maven and Chicago screenwriter Linda Frothingham and Chicago Hollywood at www.chicagohollywood.com. The weekend included seminars Friday and Saturday plus an in-depth first 8 pages workshop Saturday afternoon and the weekend was capped off with a dinner and seminar for the Chicago Screenwriters Network Sunday night.
I hadn’t been to Chicago since I was in College and back then, my girlfriend at the time and I stayed in some paint-chipped hostel in a room that had a light and a door…and that was about it. But I do remember the city and how nice of a contrast there was downtown between the buildings and the river, the parks and the Navy Pier. And I remember the wind and the rain, which I actually missed since it had been 90+ degrees in LA all summer and 55 degrees felt like heaven.
The weekend was a lesson in promotion and patience, but overall, went pretty well. While the Friday class was barely attended – now we know for next time that Friday classes are not the way to go – I did get to talk to some high school students that seemed about as interested as you’d think a high school kid could be in a lecture about independent film. Ha!
Saturday went better as we set up the Development Exec Class at Columbia College downtown and the subsequent workshop was very beneficial for the handful that attended. Thanks Rick and Noreen for sticking in there all weekend! They get the Chicago VIP award.
Now Saturday night, I ventured towards Wrigley Field and spent the night bar hopping a bit and getting to know the locals, as they say. And when I returned to Linda’s home in the northern suburb of Chicago at just after 2am, after two barely made train rides, the joke of the weekend began as I was unable to open her front door. For 90 MINUTES! In the cold, in Chicago, at 330 am…I was stranded on the front porch. Somehow my knocking, doorbell ringing and incessant calls went unheeded but the door finally acquiesced and I was allowed admittance and a well-deserved sleep. To this day, that door probably still mocks me. But we all got a funny story out of it.
On Sunday, we had the CSN dinner and it went wonderfully. I gave my seminar on Pitchfests and afterwards held private pitch consultations. We also sold my new No B.S. for Screenwriters E-Book which was Linda’s idea and she worked tirelessly on putting it together. The book will be available on my website VERY soon and they went like hotcakes in Chicago. The night went wonderfully and made the weekend a real success.
I left the next morning with a new plan for the business, a new E-Book to sell, and having met some great writers. And that’s all you can ask for. Thanks Chicago! I hope to be back next year!
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.