It's that time of year again, pitchfest season. Yay! Normally I wouldn't talk about events like this until we are much closer to them happening. Today is different though. I want to take a moment to help temper your expectations if you are planning on attending one of these events for the first time. Not in a hater type of way (I happen to really like pitchfests). I mean in a, "This is what you need to be thinking type of way". Because when it comes to pitchfests, an ounce of preparation really does go a long way.
Be Prepared: A lot of people are going to read this and think I'm talking about researching the companies you want to talk to. Yes, that is important. No, that is not what I am talking about. I am going to go even further back. You need to have your script done and ready to show. In a perfect world you should have at least two, but one is the bare minimum. You would be amazed how many people attend these events with just an idea and a dream. Do that and all it will be is a dream. If you have an exec ask to see your script, you have two weeks, MAX, to get the script to them. Anything after that and they have moved on and forgotten about you. You will not get your script done in that time, especially if you have never written one. Get your script done. It won't mean anything if you go before that, and there will be plenty of opportunities once you have completed it.
Be Yourself: Relax, take a deep breath, tell some jokes to other attendees, smile, hand out cards, learn from others, etc... That's what you're there to do. The last event Dustin and I went to was, well... it was an experience. People were nervous and strung out because they were so focused on the notion that they had to sell their script that day. It was like a compressed version of people packing up their hopes and dreams and letting them all ride on that one single event. Seriously, we saw people crying in the bathrooms. If desperation is a turnoff to execs then there were a lot of turned off execs that day. Take a breath. It will be OK.
Have a Realistic Goal: Dustin and I will be attending The Great American Pitchfest in a little over a month. I will tell you right now that we are not going to sell a screenplay there. We aren't even entertaining the dream of selling a screenplay there. Why? Because I know that no matter how brilliant our pitch, no exec is going to pull out a checkbook and say "That's genius. I'm going to get on the phone to Spielberg right away. How does a million dollars sound?" We are going to the pitchfest to meet people, make relationships, open up dialogues. Think of it as a first date (a speed date but still a date). Both sides are sitting across the table trying to decide if they want a second date.
Know How to Handle Objections: This goes back to having a realistic goal. When Dustin and I sat down with Benderspink, after our Industry Insider Contest win, our Story Specialist gave us the best advice we could ever get, "You are not going to sign tomorrow. That is not how this works. Your goal is to have them still interested in you when you walk out the door. A request to read another script is a win." Knowing that advice is what saved the meeting for us. If we had gone in with stars in our eyes and our special signing pen in our hand we would have been in way over our heads. Instead, we were able to handle all of their questions, steer the conversation at the right times and, in the end, they asked for another script. Win. Conversations are still on going as they have asked for us to send them our next finished script as well (That reminds me, there will be a blog post on Writer's Block coming soon). Remember, you are NOT going to sell your script there. You are answering questions in a way to keep them interested in you. You are not trying to get them to please, please, please buy your script.
Talk With the Other Attendees: There are two very good reasons for this. First, you are not in competition with each other. There is not a set number of people execs are allowed to be interested in. Just because the person next to me has a fantastic romantic comedy has no bearing what-so-ever on whether or not an exec will like my angry, revenge filled action/thriller. Hell, we probably aren't even going to talk to the same execs. So get to know them, have fun, learn something new, tell them good luck when their time to pitch comes. The second reason? Who knows who that person will become? You are not the only talented person there and everyone has to start somewhere. Who knows, maybe you are going to look up in five years and see that person being interviewed on TV and you're going to think, "That looks like the person I sat next to at pitchfest. I sure wished I had talked to them."
This all being said, please don't let this scare you. I am not trying to scare you. I'm just a rather blunt person. I am also a firm believer in pitch events. Here's why. I don't live in LA. I spent a good part of my post college life working Law Enforcement. When Dustin and I started our screenwriting venture we did not know a soul in the movie industry. The first time we sat down to send out query letters it was all foreign to us. It was like, "This guy sounds cool. Let's send it to him as well." Flash forward a couple of years. Last month I was getting ready for another round of queries. I opened up my exec directory and started flipping through. This time I was saying things like, "There's XXXX, we met him at the Screenwriter Conference last October, he's the one who wanted to know where we got our business cards. Or XXXX, that's the manager we had coffee with last August. Here's XXXX they requested our script when we pitched at XXXX, etc..." Know how we met all those people? Pitchfests and high contest placements. It is more than worth the time if you have the right mental state going in.
So, to sum it all up. Have a finished script before you try to sell that script. Take a breath and calm down. Don't be desperate to make it all happen at the table. Know that it won't all happen at the table so you can focus the conversation. Be nice to the other people. Don't cry in the bathroom.