It seems like every year that goes by pitch festivals become more and more popular. There is a huge difference of opinion as to how useful or successful they are but I am firmly in the camp that they are a useful tool for writers. Notice I did not just say undiscovered writers. They are a useful tool for all writers and here's why:
1. Getting out there: At some point in your career you are going to need to put yourself out there. No one is going to call you and say "I sense that you have completed a screenplay. Will you please send it to me?". If you don't hustle your product, you don't sell your product. It's that simple.
2. Practice: Unless you are Martin Scorsese and can call up the head of the studio and say "I've this great idea, you want to make it" then you need to pitch. Pitching is not the easiest thing to do for any of us. I am not the most social person in the world (probably one of the reasons I am a writer). I am the type of person who calls a perfect vacation one where I have a hotel room with a view of water and a balcony. I'll sit there for a week recharging and writing and not care whether or not I talk to a single person. I get knots in my stomach when it comes to walking into a room. Once I am comfortable we are off and running. The more I pitch, the more comfortable I become with the process. This is the perfect place to practice that. And if you are Martin Scorsese reading this... call me.
3. Lower Pressure: I don't deny the amount of pressure at these events, but I'll put it this way. What do you think is worse? Having your pitch tank when you are one of many that day or having it tank when the studio exec took time out of their day to talk to you specifically? One is more memorable than the other. So take a deep breath. Stop psyching yourself out. Know that it will be all right. You can do this.
4. Exposure: This is where the difference of opinion comes in on these events. Some complain that many times you are "only" pitching to assistants who don't have decision making authority. This is an incredibly short sided argument. Assistants are assistants because they want to work their way up to being reps and execs (no one is hired as the CEO). Their key to that promotion is finding an amazing talent they can champion. You wait to pitch to an exec, hope they say "Yes" and have your script go into their pile. Or you can pitch the assistant, have them walk into the exec's office and say "This script is amazing. You need to read it tonight". An assistant who champions your work can be the best friend you have because you both have a stake in the game. Never, and I mean never, look down on someone in Hollywood or assume they can't help you.
I'll be honest, the reason there aren't more success stories from pitch festivals is because a lot of people who attend are not ready to be there. I didn't say they are not talented, they have obviously worked hard enough to complete a screenplay and that is a major accomplishment. They just aren't ready to be there. Completing your first draft of your first screenplay and heading off to one of these events is not a sound decision that I would endorse. But the cream does rise to the top. If you are prepared, your script is ready and you have a great pitch you will get someones attention. The studios and management companies are there for a reason. If the person before you crashed and burned on their pitch for a film about the madcap adventures of a talking penguin on vacation in the tropics, that has no bearing on your script. Only worry about what you can control, and that is you.
And yes, I do put my money where my mouth is. Dustin and I will be at The Screenwriter's World Conference in October happily (unless it's before 8am. I am NOT a morning person) pitching and networking away. I hope to see you there. If you see us in the hall feel free to stop and chat. I'll be just as nervous as you are.