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Your Burning PitchFest Questions Answered

By Great American Pitchfest

Summer is the season of selling, as people from all over the world flock to Los Angeles (or online) to pitch their ideas with the hope of getting their project sold. With these opportunities come questions, so we sat down with the leading authority on Pitchfests, Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz, creators of the upcoming 8th Annual Great American PitchFest to answer your burning questions.

What do I need to do to prepare for a pitchfest?

The best thing you can do to prepare is to practice, practice, practice. Know your story inside and out. Be prepared to answer questions about your protagonist, theme, story, structure, and the obstacles your characters face. If your script is based on another property, make sure you have the rights. Go to as many classes as possible, and use the opportunities to learn, explore, and network with experts and other writers. The Writers Store hosts classes very frequently in their Burbank location. They also sponsor an entire day of free classes as part of The Great American Pitchfest & Screenwriting Conference every year.

While you wait for your class to begin, strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You never know who you will meet. We've had writers meet other writers, and now they cowrite together. Or they start a production company, or a writer's group. Classes by the likes of Robert McKee and Pilar Alessandra help you learn the essentials of becoming a professional, working, and successful screenwriter - no matter where you live. Take advantage of them.

Research the companies you are pitching. Learn what they've done in the past, what they are looking for, and the budgets they have available. You can do this research yourself, or take advantage of the comprehensive guide book published exclusively for GAPF attendees each year.

Someone requested my material at the event - What's the protocol for following up?

Congratulations! Getting a request is the first step towards selling your screenplay. But remember, you aren't just selling a script. You are selling yourself. Every industry meeting is an opportunity to build your screenwriting career. That's why it is so crucial to have face to face time with an executive. Pre-Production often takes years, and hundreds of meetings. Your script needs to be great, but you also need to be someone who an executive is going to want to spend thousands of hours with as the script moves through the development process. An 'in-person' meeting is the only way for you and the executive to know whether you can work together.

We always recommend that you pitch to production companies first, and get read requests. Then meet with agents and managers. You are then in a position to demonstrate that you have had requests for your material, and you need that agent or manager's expertise to represent you. Many of our writers have been very successful at obtaining representation as a result of this strategy. Always send requested material through a third party (agent, manager, or entertainment attorney).

The biggest mistake most writers make is sending out material before it is ready. There are a lot of tools out there to avoid this. Consultants, writing groups, and classes (many of them free), as well as software and books are all available from your friendly neighbourhood Writers Store to help you hone your craft.

Once you have submitted your material, 'polite perseverance' should become your policy. Do not follow up too soon. Remember, these are busy people. Allow six weeks before following up with light, 'no pressure' contact. Ask if there are any questions you can answer, and let them know you will followup in another three weeks. Then, do it. Be respectful, and gracious. Thank them for their time.

What types of materials should I bring?

Breathmints! And bring enough to share. It's a great way to meet others.

Also bring business cards, onesheets, and other leave behinds that establish you as a professional screenwriter. You will also want at least two hard copies of your script on you at all times. Most executives will ask you to send it to them after, but if they request a script 'on the spot', you want to be prepared. Also keep a hard copy of your script in an easily accessible area, such as your car or hotel room, and on-file electronically in case extra copies are needed. At our PitchFest, it is not unusual to see executives reading scripts between pitch meetings, or during the luncheon. 

Dress 'business casual', and wear comfortable shoes. If you don't know anyone in Hollywood, you certainly will by the end of this weekend. Have FUN!

The Great American PitchFest is taking place in Burbank, CA on June 4 - 5, 2011. Click here for more information and to register.