Wendy Kram’s mantra is to help screenwriters get past their “I’m not good at pitching” fear.
Kram, a producer and owner of the Hollywood consulting firm L.A. FOR HIRE, shared her industry insights with the Northwest Screenwriters Guild at Seattle University April 14. The event, co-sponsored by Seattle U., was a mix of seminar and workshop, as Kram helped some attendees improve their introductions and pitches on the spot.
Currently producing projects with Anonymous Content, Kram has more than 20 years of experience consulting, producing, and developing projects at major Hollywood studios. So when it comes to pitches, she stressed the importance of highlighting the distinguishing factors not only of the story you’re pitching, but also of your background.
“Everyone has some unique expertise, some distinguishing factor” that helps substantiate expertise driving the story being pitched, Kram said. It can often be a particular uniqueness that can pique the interest of the industry executives.
“Take stock in your background,” she said. “Don’t forget to mention the obvious.” For example, if your script won an award or was a finalist in a major competition, mention it. If you’re a lawyer pitching an idea about lawyers, be sure to mention you’re a lawyer. Expertise in the world of your story gains trust with producers, she added.
In addition to uniqueness and expertise, Kram said producers also gravitate toward pre-existing source material, such as books, plays, and true stories. That book you loved 15 years ago that never got produced as a film may be available for a low-cost or even no-cost option agreement, she said.
The source material, she noted, does not necessarily have to have achieved great levels of fame. Even a locally produced play that received local notoriety, or a blog with a regular following, can be enough to pique the interest of a producer.
Kram also stressed the importance of writers’ willingness to sign the industry-standard submission release forms when asked to do so, as well as consulting with an entertainment attorney prior to signing a release form.
In addition to her workshop, Kram also took pitches from NwSG Compendium members, and she is offering a discount to all NwSG members seeking L.A. FOR HIRE services, which include:
In-depth feature and TV script consultations
TV series Bible Creation, Templates and Editing
Insider tips to increase your project’s salability
Marketing and submission strategies
Personalized coaching and career-building action plans
The Art of cold-calling and pitching like a pro
Northwest Screenwriters Guild members can contact Wendy by firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-994-3258 to discuss services that might be the right fit, or to customize services to fit individual needs.
Even if you haven’t been following entertainment industry trends lately you’ve probably noticed more original content being offered by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a bevy of “cable channels.”
And considering studios are producing fewer films, the more opportunities for screenwriters in television, the better, producer Paul Green said during a recent visit to Seattle.
“It’s where writers have the most creative control,” he said.
Green, a long-time producer with Anonymous Content, was the featured guest at an October 20 event cosponsored by the Northwest Screenwriters Guild and Seattle University. The discussion, hosted by NwSG President Geof Miller, covered a broad range of industry topics, including:
What to include in a TV pitch.
What Green looks for in a writer.
With now the well-established reality of short-season orders — the likes of The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Jessica Jones — comes opportunity on multiple platforms. Also, the 30-minute and 60-minute framework of traditional television now is more elastic, because the platforms don’t have the programming constraints of network television. “Stories can be as long or short as they need to be,” Green said.
The new platforms also make it easier for producers to market content, Green said, because it’s easier to match content to the audience — a key consideration when producers are considering which screenplays to greenlight.
What makes for a strong television pitch
When hearing a pitch for television, Green expects:
A pilot script.
Succinct summaries of each episode for the first season.
A one-page summary of each ensuing season.
Something visual, like a look book, that reveals the style or tone of the story.
It’s about understanding if the story can last five years. Where do the characters end up? Green said.
What Green looks for in a writer
In an industry with offices filled with stacks of screenplays, how does Green decide which scripts are worth his time?
Familiarity with the agents/managers who submitted the material.
Script page count, particularly if for a feature film.
Regarding the final point, Green said producers and distributors typically shy away from lengthy films, because it limits the number of showings, thereby undermining its opportunity for profitability. There obviously are exceptions, like certain superhero tent poles, but those films have full backing from big-funded studios. Indie producers, on the other, are making the lower-budget films studios don’t make, or focus on short-form projects for the streaming platforms.
A writer’s voice is also important, Green said. “Is there something unique about the way the writer is telling the story?” And, he added, is it written with precision. He must know what the story is about within the first 5- to 7 pages.
“At the end of the day, it has to be a collaborative process,” Green said. “Our goals are the same. I want to see your script get produced.”
As part of the NwSG’s mission to connect screenwriters with producers, Green also took pitches from NwSG Compendium members the following day.
One of the key takeaways I wanted to emphasize at the Oct. 5 talk on screenplay coverage is: you can’t worry about who is doing the coverage — chimp, elephant, college intern, disgruntled writer, or otherwise.
Those of you who attended the Northwest Screenwriters Guild free event at Couth Buzzard Books also may recall I stressed how trust between producers and readers is paramount, and readers who provide inadequate coverage are recognized just so.
Don’t think of readers as gatekeepers, think of them as advisers. Sure, producers and creative executives rely heavily on readers to help sort through the stacks of screenplays delivered each day, but at the end of the day, the executives are the ones making the decisions.
As you can see in the image above, writers and projects are rated separately. An intriguing concept could be a “Recommend,” but if it is poorly executed, the writer would receive a “Pass.” Likewise, a good story could get a Pass if it’s not a fit for the production company. That’s why, prior to pitching your material, you want to use the Internet Movie Database to target productions companies working primarily in the same genre as your material.
But getting back to coverage…
Yet another reason not to fret about the level of experience of the person covering your screenplay, because, as you can see, coverage reports primarily are objective. There are some elements of interpretation in the form of readers’ opinions, but mostly it’s like the book reports you did in school:
Who is the story about?
What’s the theme?
Because we are in show business, other elements, naturally, come into play:
Will this story attract top talent?
Will this be easy to market?/Is this the right time to make this film?
Does this need to be a film? Would it be better as a stage play? Short-form television?
Will profit expectations justify the production budget?
Is this story complete, or is more development needed?
Again, regardless of the reader’s opinion on such matters, the executives are the ones who make the decisions. And if you’ve written a concise, compelling screenplay that could appeal to top talent and be produced at a reasonable budget with the expectation of marketability, well, congratulations: you are your best gatekeeper.
Coverage reports serve one purpose: to help producers make business decisions. They are not to be confused with the in-depth analysis you might receive from other sources. When I do coverage for producers, I use the coverage template specific to their production company.
When I do screenplay analysis for writers, I use the custom ranking grid pictured above. I don’t mean to suggest producers don’t care about all of those items, but, when they’re making business decisions on whether to invest in concepts, their primary concerns are business-related, because their investors need some expectation of a return on profit. Does that mean producers don’t care about story? Of course not. Producers are in the business of producing. But they also need to make a profit so they can stay in the business.
In my talk you’ll recall I differentiated between screenplay coverage and analysis. In-depth screenplay analysis is designed to help you improve your work — it’s what helps you get in the door. Whereas coverage is what happens behind the door. It’s what helps producers make business decisions.
Completing a feature-length screenplay is daunting enough, but what can you do to convince someone — especially producers — it’s worth their time to read it?
Condensing your 100-page screenplay into a nimble verbal pitch is an art in itself. And if you’re uncomfortable even attempting to do so, you can relax, because the art of the pitch can be learned, and mastered.
More importantly, say Geof Miller and Troy Hunter, a quality pitch can be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Miller, president of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, and his writing partner Hunter, also an NwSG member, have developed some of their strongest professional relationships with producers that started at pitch fests.
Miller and Hunter presented their pitch-fest best practices August 20 at the NwSG “Get the Most out of Pitch Fests” event, held at Seattle’s Couth Buzzard Books.
“It’s not a pitch fest, it’s a meeting fest,” Miller stressed, noting that few — if any — screenplays are outright purchased at pitch fests.
Hunter added, “It’s access to people you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.” And both said your main goal should be to build relationships with the producers — and even producers’ assistants who may be there in lieu of their bosses.
“It’s important to demonstrate you can collaborate, because filmmaking and story development is collaborative,” Miller said.
Pitch fests typically allot five minutes to meet with a given production company, so it’s important to do your research in advance, and target the production companies who produce work similar to the stories you’ll be pitching.
Miller says IMDbPro is the best resource not only for what production companies have produced, but also what they have in development, which even for small companies can be several projects.
The best approach is to go into pitch fests with three ideas, briefly introduce each one — a sentence for each idea — and then ask which idea the producer would like to learn more about.
Remember, you likely have a total of five minutes, so brevity is key.
NwSG Members: You may download Troy and Geof’s presentation from our Members Only password-protected directory. You’ll receive login and password information via email by August 28.
“Let them drive the conversation,” Miller continued. And then deliver the key points of the story they want to hear in five sentences — about 45 seconds. “If they want to hear more about your 45-second pitch, they’ll ask.”
And don’t worry if producers interrupt your pitch, Miller added. “Interruptions are good. It means they’re interested.”
And Hunter noted, “If they’re not interested in what you have, your job is not to change their mind.” Instead, pivot to, “What are you looking for?” And share ideas you might have related to their interests.
Both agreed that props and leavebehinds are bad ideas at pitch fests. And rarely are business cards even exchanged. Miller and Hunter both have scraps of paper handy to gather producers’ contact information.
“When you get their contact info, you win,” Miller said, underscoring the main purpose of pitch fests: developing relationships.
And for that reason, he added, pitch fests may not be for you if you only have one screenplay you hope to sell. Managers and producers are only interested in career-oriented screenwriters — those who continually generate ideas and write screenplays.
Hunter added it’s important not to get discouraged if a producer doesn’t request your screenplay because producers often are looking for something very specific, even if you’ve presented an idea in the same genre.
“If there’s one takeaway,” Miller said, “it’s ‘go with the flow.'”
Anyone who has ever attended the annual Seattle International Film Festival knows the festival is much more than a program of films from around the world. Mirroring the industry itself, SIFF’s approach highlights the collaborative aspect of filmmaking through forums and educational workshops.
And as part of SIFF 2017, the Northwest Screenwriters Guild tapped into the educational vein with its pitching and Look Book demo, held June 4 at the SIFF Filmmaker Lounge in Seattle’s Pan Pacific Hotel.
Screenwriters appreciate all too well the importance of a compelling pitch, but the idea of a Look Book may be a new concept to some. Look Books are brief video presentations — typically 90 seconds or so — that help producers, directors and studio executives experience how a film made from a screenplay might look, sound, and feel.
Geof Miller, NWSG president, explained how Look Books are an important part of the pitch, because the verbal pitch alone may not always help producers “feel” how the screenplay may translate to the big screen.
The https://nwsg.org/pitches-feeling-the-fear/NWSG mission is to promote professional screenwriting as a career, and regularly holds events to help screenwriters develop their pitch, create look books, and gain a better understanding of the industry.
Members of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild had the pleasure of hearing portions of their screenplays brought to life by professional actors, in an event co-sponsored by the Seattle SAG-AFTRA chapter.
Held March 12 at the Eclectic Theater, the event featured script excerpts from a broad range of genres, and was followed by a question-and-answer session with the screenwriters.
While screenwriting programs such as Final Draft have a text-to-speech feature that allows you to assign different voices to the characters in your script, there is no substitute to hearing your script read by professional actors. That’s why the NWSG teamed up with SAG-AFTRA, not only for the benefit of some of our screenwriters, but also to provide the opportunity for actors to exercise their skills, and demonstrate their range should any of the featured projects move forward to production.
The NWSG members whose scripts were featured:
LAST STOP by Michael Walker – directed by Bill Murray
LITTLE BANDITS by Michael Di Martino – directed by Craig Packard
THE ELEPHANT ROOM by Tom Kennedy – directed by George Thomas Jr.
TAKEN AWAY by Kate Calamatta – Long Tran
TUESDAY NIGHT POKER by Adam Sheridan – directed by Bill Murray
THE WAY DOWN by Jeffry Smith – directed by Long Tran
DELUSIONAL (PONZI) by Dick McCormick – directed by Craig Packard
SUPER GEEKS by Mark Robyn – directed by George Thomas Jr.