The Do’s, Don’ts, Myths, Facts (around the industry, pitchfests, and pitching)
This post is a collection of things heard straight from the pros mouths and from my own observations of what I consider “bad behavior” – meaning things that will make you annoying and appear difficult or amateur.
The last thing you want to do is appear difficult to work with or ignorant of the industry. I don’t care how good your script is, if people decide off the bat that you are going to be a pain in the ass, you’ll never get your brilliant script read. You are asking them to invest precious time, energy, and money in your project, working with you for many months, even years… if you don’t sell yourself first, you certainly won’t sell your script.
… pester executives / decision makers at networking parties. The first thing out of your mouth when you meet someone at an industry event should not be a pitch. How do you know you even want to work with this person if you don’t get to know them?
… carry the DVD of a movie you made around with you trying to show it to everyone you meet.
… go to a pitchfest if you are not a serious screenwriter. Serious screenwriters have more than one script and many more in their heads. Serious screenwriters have spent time on their craft. They know how to edit and they know how to take criticism. They understand that filmmaking is a collaborative process. If you aren’t in it for the long haul (and it is a haul), you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.
-NO ONE IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR IDEA. If you are afraid to pitch to an executive because you think they’re going to steal your idea you need to get over it. First off, they are professionals. If they got caught stealing ideas, their reputations would suffer. But even more practical than that… the portion of the budget that goes into the script/writing is minimal. It makes more financial sense for them to buy your idea from you than risk going to court.
(BTW – When I was teaching a screenwriting course, one of my students didn’t want to share her story with the rest of the class because she thought they might steal it. First of all, if you took that idea and gave it to 10 people, they’d end up with 10 different scripts. Second, after they wrote it, they’d have to spend months/years polishing it and pitching it and somehow get someone to produce it (where it would be changed again). Sounds like a lot of effort to me towards someone else’s idea. But also – you’ll never get the feedback you need if you don’t share your script.)
-Whoever has said your script won’t get read/made if over 100 pages is misinformed. Keeping it tight is a must (i.e. 130 page scripts tend to put people off), but if it’s a tight script at 115 pages, and it’s a great script of course, people won’t care. A great script is a great script.
-Big agencies are not always better. They could be too big for you. They might not have the time to really work with you. They are really looking for the NEXT BIG SCRIPT. You may be better off with a boutique agency.
-Network! Get to know people and get to know the people that you know. You don’t have to know a lot of executives to get assistance in the industry. Start with the people you know already. If you have a friend who is an assistant director, take them out to lunch and ask them for advice. People are suprisingly more helpful than you might think. You just need to ask.
-Take chances and be flexible! Don’t be married to your ideas (could the protagonist be the magician rather than the orphan?) or with your vision of what your career looks like. If someone asks you to write a commercial for a petstore and you think this is beneath you, you could be missing the opportunity to make a good impression on people who might offer you more work.
-Love what you write. Whether high concept or art film, it’s going to be with you for a long while. Everyone can smell inauthenticity in a script written simply because you thought you were following some formula for a blockbuster.
-Enter reputable contests. Although not the “golden key” to production, they will get you noticed and management companies do care. BE CAREFUL of scammy contests with no professional merit or valuable offering for the winner. The Reel Breakthrough panelists all mentioned Cinestory, Fade In, and the Nicholl Fellowship. One panelist said she entered a contest and didn’t win, but one of the judges optioned her script.