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Day 271: Wrap Up on the Great American Pitch Fest

It’s the end of Memorial Day weekend, the end of the month and the end of my follow-ups subsequent to ScriptFest 2016 and the Great American Pitch Festival. A lot has happened in the week since my last blog, but I did do some on-site videos for ScriptFest that appeared on the The Screenwriter’s Journey Facebook page. If you haven’t seen them, I’ll give a brief recap of that weekend’s events to bring you up to speed.

Scriptfest is a decidedly different beast than the Nashville Writer’s Conference. Nashville was all about access and getting to meet people. Their pitch session was part of that overall goal. At ScriptFest, the pitch session is the main event and everything leads up to that. Sure, you can still meet people and network, but basically everyone was focused on creating and practicing their pitches. Even the seminars had a heavy ‘learn to pitch’ slant. As a result, there wasn’t the same level of networking that attended Nashville.

At Nashville, the VIP tent was open all day and the speakers were available day and night to answer attendee’s questions. At ScriptFest, about the only time you saw a speaker, was when he/she was speaking. When their breakout session was over, they were gone! There was one notable exception to that rule, however, and she made the biggest impact on those who attended. But I’ll get to that in a second.

The party events for networking felt a little slapped together and virtually everyone I spoke with complained about the luncheon events, which commanded a premium price to attend. The luncheons were held outside in the California sun on a lumpy spot of grass, so tables were tilted awkwardly. There were supposed to be agents, managers and industry professionals at each table (2-4 according to the website). I did not attend either luncheon, but according to those who did, there were numerous tables with no agents, managers or industry professionals. The one person I spoke with who had an agent at her table said he was rude and insulting. To top it off, every single person said the food was awful, and they all felt they had wasted money by attending the luncheons. If the point of the luncheons was to provide attendees with access (or a decent lunch), the general consensus was they missed the boat.

I did attend the opening night party held at the hotel bar, but I can’t really say it was a party. It was more like ‘the hotel has a bar. It’s open.’ For an opening party, there was no one from the event there to welcome you. It could have been any bar anywhere. I did meet a few other screenwriters and a number of other people who were in town for business other than ScriptFest. Not a great kickoff for the event.

This also brings up the registration process. Before going to the Opening Party, I picked up my credentials in the lobby. I have previously attended ScriptFest and in the past, attendees were given a thumbdrive with a digital directory of all the industry professionals who would attend the pitch session. Premium attendees also received a hard copy. I didn’t want to pay the hundreds of dollars extra to get a printed version, so the digital edition would do just fine. The problem was I didn’t get the digital edition. When I asked about it, I was first told that they were only giving them to those who had paid the full price. I pointed out that is not what was offered when I signed up; I was due a digital copy. After some back and forth it was determined that I should have received the digital copy in an email, and they were no longer providing thumb drives. Fair enough, but I didn’t receive the email either. I was promised I would have it by early evening. It didn’t arrive. I checked back later during the party and was assured once again I would have it before the night was over. Didn’t happen. I checked my email in the morning and still no digital directory.

When I arrived at the hotel for the second day, the first thing I did was go to registration and ask for my digital directory. There were several other people asking for the same thing, so I was not an isolated incident. My email address was taken a third time and I was promised I would have it before lunch. Lunch came and went and still no directory. This time I went to Bob Schultz, founder of ScriptFest and asked for the directory. Actually, I asked for the printed version since it was now less than 24 hours before pitching started, and it would be nice to know who was actually coming.

Mr. Schultz refused my request for a hard copy and said he would email the directory to me shortly. This was now my fourth request, and I think something should have been done to make it up to me (not to mention the others who had not received a copy). Mr. Schultz still refused and said all the information was on the website anyway, and it was my fault for not researching it ahead of time. The thing is I had checked on line and all the companies had their information grayed out, stating the info was only available to those who signed up for the pitch fest, which I had. I pointed this out to Mr. Schultz who pulled up the website on his laptop. Sure enough, the info was grayed out, but if you scrolled down past all the grayed out information, the information was actually posted further down the page. So, according to Mr. Schultz, I hadn’t done my due diligence.

There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, it’s a bad web design. No one knew to scroll down further to get the information that the top of the page said was unavailable. It’s also kind of silly to put the information on the page where those who haven’t paid can get it when it supposed to be exclusive to those who have paid. I guess the thinking was, those who hadn’t paid would think there was nothing there and move on. Unfortunately, so did those who had paid. No one told us we could just scroll down further. Besides, we were supposed to be given a digital copy, one that I had to request four times. Just give me the damn hard copy and be done with it. You made a mistake. Correct it and make me happy or I’ll write about it in my blog.

So, the first and even the start of the second day were not off to particularly auspicious beginnings. Still, there were breakout sessions to attend and another party in the evening. The breakout sessions were a mixed bag. They seemed primarily aimed at the beginner with a considerable number of them devoted to pitching. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but for those with a little experience it seemed a bit redundant. I tried to hit as many sessions as I could starting with Pilar Alessandra’s class on pitching. I have taken this class in the past and found it useful, but this time around it felt somewhat basic. The presentation was bland and the information generic. In fact, many of the classes felt this way. It felt like being in a lecture hall and the professor reading to you from his notes.

The one pitching class that I felt was particularly good was the Pitch Logline Clinic with Scotty Mullen, Angela Bourassa, John Bucher and Tara Bennett. The panel was energized and offered great feedback to participants who got up and pitched their scripts. Hearing someone actually go through their pitch and see how the panel reshaped it was quite informative.

The other class worth mentioning was literary manager Whitney Davis’ Hollywood 101: How to Really Break In. I only got to sit in on the last 20 minutes of this class, but Ms Davis was informative and entertaining. I picked up more in that 20 minutes than I did in the other classes combined, with the exception of the Pitch Logline Clinic. To Ms Davis credit, she made herself available to attendees from the opening party to the closing party. She’s the person I mentioned earlier that made the biggest impact throughout the event. She held consultations, listened to pitches, conducted a breakout session and made it a point to meet people throughout the day. Numerous people commented on how much they liked her and how much they learned from her and not just in her breakout session. She took time to listen to people during lunch and at the various parties and offer advice. She worked the whole event and made contacts and connections by making herself available. Whitney Davis is what the whole of the event should have been.

And that brings us to our next round of parties. There was an Executive Cocktail Party at the close of the second day. I had a glass of wine and spent some time chatting with Ms Davis, who, as far as I could tell, was the only executive to actually show up to the party. This short event was followed by a Party on the Patio. Unfortunately, by the time this party began, attendees had moved to the hotel bar and most continued to stay there and network with their fellow screenwriters. I was one of the attendees in the bar and never made it out to the patio. I did hear from several people that the patio party was light in attendance, and there was more action happening in the hotel bar. So I decided to stay where my tab was open.

One of the nice things about this second day was a new event, or at least new since the last time I attended; The Pitch Alley. The Pitch Alley was a chance to pitch you script to 20 or so industry professionals lining the lobby of the conference center a day before the big pitch event. This allowed you to practice what you learned in pitch clinics and get a few extra pitches in before the big day. I don’t recall this event from the last time I attended ScriptFest, but I certainly availed myself of the opportunity.

This leads me to the third day and the main event: The Great American Pitch Festival. Like the first two days, the third did not start well. Apparently there was a traffic incident on the 405 Freeway, which caused significant traffic delays. As a result, 45 of the expected 130 companies scheduled to hear pitches were not available. That’s a no-show rate of roughly 35%. By lunchtime, the no-shows were down to 25%. That’s disappointing to those who paid good money and traveled from across the country to make their pitches. To be fair to Bob Schultz and company, however, that’s not their fault. They can schedule the companies, but they can’t make ‘em show up. But in an industry that derides tardiness and places an emphasis on deadlines, it was a rather egregious error made by those individuals and speaks to the legitimacy of their hearing pitches by unknowns.

Still, there were around 100 companies by lunchtime willing to take the time to listen to pitches. You could realistically hit about 6 per hour or 30 over the course of the day. So there were plenty of people to pitch to. I managed about 16 individual meetings, sometimes getting multiple pitches in each session. I had enough one sheet requests that I ran out and had to email the rest. I also had several script requests. While the whole event is kind of like a meat market or speed dating, it does allow you to get good at making your pitch short, tight and succinct. And the quicker you can get the pitch out, the more time you have to make a personal connection with the person to whom you are pitching. One of the best pieces of advice I got in Nashville was don’t worry about selling the script, meet the person. If you can make the personal connection, you will have more time in the future to sell them on this or other projects. I think I managed to make several connections; the script requests were just gravy.

So, the long and the short of it, was ScriptFest worth the price of admission? I suppose it will depend on whom you talk to. If you got requests, it was probably worth it. If you spent a lot of money on a platinum package and didn’t get a request, it probably wasn’t worth your time or money. The pitch session is what the whole event is geared around. Despite a brief hiccup in the morning with some no-shows, the pitch event was well organized and ran without any real hitches. The breakout sessions seemed more beginner oriented, though there were plenty of sessions I just didn’t have time to attend that may have been better suited for me. The add-on events like the luncheons and parties left something to be desired, and it would behoove organizers to try and get speakers to spend more time with attendees outside of their respective breakout sessions. There could still be private consultations and exclusive events for a premium, but right now I can’t say that those who paid $700 or $800 more than I did got anything more for their money.

And one last little secret I learned: leading up to the event, if you wanted to pitch you had to also purchase the breakout sessions for a total of $300. You could attend only the breakout sessions for $100, but there was no option for just the pitch session. . .until pitch day. Several writers showed up at the pitch fest and paid $200 just to pitch. It makes sense, the breakout sessions were over and that was money on the table. If they had 10 people show up, that’s an extra $2000 in festival pockets. Were they just going to let that walk? No. So, next year, if you just want to pitch and not attend the breakout sessions, show up on the last day and get a discount. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will do that again, but if you’re willing to take a chance, I’d say go for it.

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