Local screenwriters shine at Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel

Third-place winner Kara Puerschner delivers her pitch at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel event.
Third-place winner Kara Puerschner delivers her pitch at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel.

Posted on behalf of Jeremy Dodd

Last month the Northwest Screenwriters Guild hosted a pitch panel at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit with some of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights, giving 12 writers a chance to win over a thousand dollars in prizes.

More than 50 Northwest writers submitted 60-second video pitches in hopes of being selected to present their ideas in front of these professionals, as well as a live audience of over 200 people. Grand prize winner, Myra Dietzel, won free admission to TheFilmSchool Winter Writing Intensive along with free software and other prizes.

All writers were fortunate to have their ideas vetted by top Hollywood professionals, such as Christopher Lockhart, who reads scripts for Will Smith, Robert Downey, Jr., Liam Neeson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and more, as head of story at talent agency juggernaut WME. They also got feedback on their movie ideas from Sean Robins, producer of such properties as TAG, Tom Cruise’s KNIGHT AND DAY, among others.

Screenwriters from the Pacific Northwest submitted more than 50 video pitches to compete in the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel
Screenwriters from the Pacific Northwest submitted more than 50 video pitches to compete in the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel.

For those who showed literary promise, we had two managers on hand to field ideas, as well: Josh Adler from Circle of Confusion, and Kevin Parker from Artists First. And of course, if you’re idea was contained and capable of being shot at the right budget, critically-acclaimed indie producer Alex Schepsman, producer in-residence of The Bigfoot Green Room, was there to get your pitch off the ground.

The judges and winners of the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel
The judges and the winners. From left to right: Kevin Parker (literary manager, Artists First), Christopher Lockhart (head of story, WME), Josh Adler (lit manager, Circle of Confusion), Alex Schepsman (producer in-residence, The Bigfoot Green Room), competition winners Kara Puerschner (3rd place), Arthur Rains-McNally (2nd place), and Myra Dietzel (1st place).

After about one hour of hearing pitches, the judges announced winners. Aforementioned Myra Dietzel won first place. Coming in second was Arthur Rains-McNally. And last but not least, Kara Puerschner came in third. All writers are from the greater Seattle area.

Participating in events like the Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel is just one of the perks of joining the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, where up-and-coming writers connect with amazing resources to improve their craft and make industry connections.

See you at our next event! 😉

Our Q&A with BlueCat founder Gordy Hoffman

Gordy Hoffman
BlueCat Screenplay Competition founder and judge Gordy Hoffman

Written by Erin McGhee

In Seattle for one-on-one script consultations, Gordy Hoffman, founder and judge of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition spent an evening with Northwest Screenwriters Guild members for a moderated Q&A where he discussed screenplay competitions, what sets the BlueCat Screenplay Competition apart and how writers can hone their craft.

Hosted at the Seattle Film Institute and moderated by NwSG member Arthur Rains-McNally, Hoffman talked about his trajectory from shooting his own films in elementary school in the woods around his hometown of Rochester, NY to attending the University of Kansas to writing and producing screenplays in Los Angeles.

He founded the BlueCat Screenplay Competition in 1998 and remains its judge. Asked why BlueCat consistently makes all the top 10 lists of the most important screenplay competitions in the industry, both for screenplay and television script writing, and what makes it special, Hoffman elaborated: “Transparency sets us apart. You know who’s reading your script, you know their credentials and what they’ve done in the industry and we pay them accordingly so we can attract and retain the best.”

Asked how one goes about winning the BlueCat Screenplay Competition and whether it favors any particular genre, he explained that it all comes down to good storytelling and strong relationships between characters. They’ve awarded the top prize to any variety of genres – horror, comedy, drama and everything in between, but the winners all had a couple of elements in common: unique characters, relationships between those characters that are compelling and that the audience cares about and a strong storyline.

It’s the same commercially: “Whether it’s Black Panther, The Meg, or Black Klansman, they were all great screenplays because you care about the characters and the relationships between them. And the high quality storytelling.”

Hoffman also talked about the importance of writing and producing short films, particularly for new writers. The short film format forces writers to develop compelling characters and compelling relationships between those characters quickly, and to create an emotional connection with the audience quickly. He explained that it’s also easy for new writers and producers to work in their communities to produce shorts, rather than attempting to bring a full screenplay to fruition. Hoffman’s short film Dog Bowl had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at over 50 festivals around the world.

In addition to the Q&A on Friday evening, August 17, Hoffman sold out all available slots for one-on-one script consultations for aspiring screenwriters in the Seattle area on August 17 and 18. BlueCat Screenplay Competition offers a variety of other services for screenwriters, including:

  • Written, Skype and in-person script consultations, for features, TV pilots and shorts
  • Workshops, and
  • Online screenwriting courses

Visit BlueCat Screenplay Competition for details.

New meetup for scene analysis

Long-time Northwest Screenwriter Guild member and former board member Wally Lane has started a scene analysis group that meets weekly in Seattle.  It’s free and open to all.

Here are the details from Wally:

Goal

First and foremost, to assist fellow screenwriters hone the craft of writing scenes—both action and dialogue—that are cinematic, engaging and correctly formatted.

And thus help our screenplays make it to “the top of the Reader’s pile.”

How it works

  1. Bring some scenes or a sequence (3-4 pages) from your screenplay.
  2. Together, we do a table read (aloud) of your material, then critique and offer suggestions.

Cost

Nothing (unless you care to purchase affordable food &/drinks on-site).

Benefits

  1. A chance to hear portions of your work read (by real people, not the Final Draft robot).
  2. Receive suggestions to improve the material, point out errors and/or problem areas, and how to correct them.

Group Schedule/Location

Every Wednesday
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Café Racer
5828 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

This is a free event and it is open to all screenwriters… we welcome pros and tyros alike.

First Rule of the SSAG: Treat other screenwriters as you’d like to be treated.

Our mutual aim is to improve our skills (not hurt someone’s feelings).

We can be constructive and civil at the same time.

In other words, play nice and be friendly.

Navigating the industry: insights from Wendy Kram

Wendy Kram
Industry executive Wendy Kram leads a workshop on ways for screenwriters to submit material for consideration.

 

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 wendy@la4hire.com or 310-994-3258 to discuss services that might be the right fit, or to customize services to fit individual needs.

Learn more about the benefits of NwSG membership.

 

How to succeed at a pitch fest

Troy Hunter (left) and Geof Miller say pitchfests are about developing relationships.
Troy Hunter (left) and Geof Miller say pitchfests are about developing relationships.

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.

Not a member? Learn about NwSG membership benefits.


“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.'”

 

Script reading: SAG-AFTRA actors read material by NWSG members

Geoff Miller introduces the script reading event, featuring SAG-AFTRA actors and NWSG screenwriters.
Guild President Geof Miller introduces the script reading event, featuring SAG-AFTRA actors reading material by NWSG screenwriters.

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.

This is one example of the types of events the NWSG will sponsor throughout the year. If you’re active on social media, like our Facebook page, connect with us on Twitter, or get on our email list (see the right panel to subscribe).