Winding It Up

Ah, pitch season approacheth. That time of year when screenwriters ’round the globe spend their hard-earned dollars on that oh-so-tantalizing event, the pitch fest.

What is a pitch fest? Simply put, it is a happening at which writers cough up tremendous amounts of entry fees (plus travel, food and lodging) to be one fish in a sea of scribes, so they can sit in front of overworked and under-or-no-paid assistants and/or interns, and try to sell them their scripts.

As usual, I’m the voice of dissension. I’m not very fond of the pitch fest. Obviously, my opinion is in the minority, as pitch fests continue to sprout up and get more lucrative *bigger and better*. Here’s the rub: pitch fests, as a cottage-industry, exist for one sole purpose – to make a lot of money off of writers.

But hey! Look! You can tell your friends and family that you are pitching your script in L.A.! Wow! Mom will be so proud!

*sighs* I wish we writers weren’t so needy.

A few reasons that you should think twice before spending the dough:

It’s expensive

Pitch season runs summer to early fall. Coincidentally, that is also tourist season in L.A. Airfare is higher, gas is higher, there are few hotel deals and even eating is more expensive. Add to that your entry fees, and you are looking at a cool grand (at least) for a few days of frustration.

You are not pitching to executives

Yes, yes, I know the pamphlets say that you are – but you’re not. Trust me.

The people taking your pitches are, for the most part, assistants and interns.

Assistants and interns are terrific people. They have thankless jobs. They work long hours, often for little or no pay. They do the grunt work. Establishing relationships with them is a very smart move, for the dedicated intern will eventually become an assistant, an assistant will become an associate, and, eventually, might climb the ladder to the executive level.

You should always treat these hardworking folks well – not simply because they might someday become “someone,” but because they are living, breathing human beings.

But, because they are human beings, they have human flaws. They are forced to give up their weekend to go listen to twelve hundred writers pitch their masterpieces, and, by one o’clock or so, you could walk in with CHINATOWN in hand, and they wouldn’t hear you after “Hello.” They’re tired. They’re hungry. They have headaches. And they’re not getting paid extra for this.

You lose your singularity

Hollywood is not about contacts. Hollywood is about relationships. You cannot establish a relationship at a pitch fest. By hour three, no one listens. You’re just a lemming in a crowd of thousands of lemmings. Your voice will most likely drone. Your story will not be heard. And you just spent a shitload of money to get there be ignored.

Pitching is free

You don’t have to pay anyone to pitch. I repeat – you don’t have to pay anyone to pitch.

What you do need to pay for is a Hollywood Creative Directory. Then, you write and rehearse a most-excellent phone pitch.

Make a list of movies that are similar in style and tone to the one that your screenplay would represent. Look up the credits, and see which production companies produced these movies. Get your HCD, and look up the players. Get on the phone – do not email – and call these companies. Greet them pleasantly, and ask if the company is accepting queries. If you are told “Yes,” then ask who you might direct your query to. Be prepared to phone pitch, for at that point they may ask you to pitch your query over the phone. Be professional; be courteous.

If they accept your phone pitch and ask for you to submit, please ask for the name of the person that you are speaking to, and the name and title of the person that you will be submitting to. Send them your script in the manner in which you were directed. Do not try to be clever. Industry standard. Three hole punches in white paper. Two brads. That’s it. Pretty packages are the mark of an amateur.

If they ask for a query letter, the above also applies. For a query letter, follow up in a week. For a script submission, follow up in a month. Hundreds of scripts are submitted each week; it takes time for the readers to get to yours.

This is what we call Dialing for Dollars.

Another thing that you can do is follow the above instructions – and ask for a pitch meeting. Schedule several, and fly out to L.A. when things are quieter and less expensive. This is your time to shine – and you will certainly stand out more in a one on two session, than you will at one table in hundreds crammed into a meeting hall, the voices of thousands of writers echoing around you, and threatening to drown your voice out.

Are there awesome pitch events? I’m all over AFF and the pitch contest. Most pitch operators are nice people. Very nice. They began the journey on the road paved with good intentions. I don’t think of them as thieves, or unethical… but they’ve learned to work a system for profit. They are feeding on your dreams – and you’re paying them to do that. With a smile.

Just another pitcher of Kool-Aid being passed out to the masses. When will it stop?

Now, go write.

HRH – Princess Scribe

What I am reading: Honestly, I’m writing, not reading.  Unless you count the Charlie Sheen Quote Generator.

What I am watching: I have BADLANDS in for tonight. I’m in a Malick vein these days….

A Royal Shout-Out: Three, count ’em, three friends have launched (or are preparing to launch) new web series. First, Groovy Falcon’s Todd Faulkner and Nicole Greevy with their biting satire EXORCISTS 667 (coming soon!), second, the lovely Alexis Niki and MY BITCHY WITCHY PARIS VACATION – playing this month at the LA Web Fest and last, though never least, Patrick Hayle’s collaborative venture TWENTY FOUR MINUTES, a send up of the beloved series, 24. You guys rock!

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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17 Responses to Winding It Up

  1. tracinell says:

    I’ve often wondered about the “fests,” and the potential ROI. Honest insights are so refreshing, but I expected nothing less from a Princess. 😉


  2. UPDATE:

    Another thought. A few years ago, CA established an anti Pay-to-Play law, directed towards casting “workshops” which were really events in which actors auditioned (pitched) in front of Casting Directors.


    What’s the difference between this and a Pitch Fest?



  3. Nicole says:

    First, thanks for the shout-out. 🙂

    Second, thanks for the honest opinion about pitchfests. On the acting side, paying to meet a casting director/agent/etc. is pretty much becoming the industry rule for actors just starting out, so I can see why new writers might think what works for actors will work for writers, but it’s a whole different field (for example, the query calls that are accepted protocol for writers would get you dubbed a pest and a nutjob if you did it as an actor).

    And it freaking stinks that the assistants don’t get paid anything for doing pitchfests! I know classes and seminars have become an important supplement to casting directors’ and agents’ incomes (and I don’t begrudge them it, as most of them are A) not highly paid and B) genuinely looking for new talent). To hear these executives’ assistants have to do this as part of their job without getting any of the $$ being paid by these hopeful writers? Grrr!


  4. Hi Nicole!

    Great work with Exorcists!

    Pay to play for actors is against CA state law; this law was enacted a few years ago to crack down on the “casting workshops.” The new workshops have specific guidelines that weed out the profiteers.

    I don’t see the difference between a pitch fest and a cd workshop in which the actors are paying to audition. Huh. I’m wondering how the state AG feels about them…


  5. Nicole says:

    I did not know that about California; in NYC, they are very common, with several different companies offering them. There may be laws regulating them here; I don’t know. There is an meme circling that a CD is not permitted to call you in for a certain time period if they meet you at one of the workshops (and so one of the things actors are told to do to get around that is to mail them a postcard ahead of time so the first “contact” happened before the workshop), but I’ve been told that is not actually true in NYC.

    I’ve gone to a few seminars where I’ve felt the person was really just there to pick up a check, but having been called in and booked work from meeting people at seminars, and having some CD friends who have told me they really do depend on the seminars to meet new faces, I don’t really have an issue with them for actors. As an actor, I look at them as an opportunity to hone my auditioning skills, in front of actual industry (not to mention get a chance to show off how awesome I am at taking direction, as they usually direct you, too). But I sure wouldn’t pay $1000 and fly across the country to attend one. And I think everything you said about why they are a waste of money for writers is spot on.

    But it may be different in CA, too, as Hollywood is much more an industry town than NYC, and I can see how the potential for abuse is so much greater. And in acting as in writing, nothing beats relationships, no matter where you are.


  6. Nicole says:

    “a meme” not “an meme.” Jeez louise. That’s what I get for not proofreading after I edited. Sorry.


  7. tina says:

    I thought that’s the way everybody does it and I’ll have to push myself to do these mass pitches. Your reasoning is so clear that I feel like a true lemming for never questioning the value of it.
    What do you think about just sending out query letters without a prior phone call?

    Thanks for your insights


    • Hi Tina:

      We all have our opinions; I certainly am not afraid to share mine. 🙂

      I would not recommend a cold query; it is simply time and postage wasted.

      There is this myth about Hollywood and the entertainment industry – that everyone in it is an asshole. I can tell you that this belief could not be more false; I’ve met the most wonderful people here. We all work really hard; we all strive for excellence, and we hold each other’s hands when the darkness comes, and the boogeyman opens the closet door. In short – we’re all human. Same fears, same dreams, same desires, same pain.

      Don’t let the naysayers and the rumour mill scare you. Pick up that phone and call!


      First and foremost – you need to see if that company is accepting unsolicited queries. Some companies do; some do not. Second, by calling (the old-fashioned way), you are affording yourself the opportunity to begin to establish a relationship. Third, you never know who might answer. There was a time when both Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore would pick up the phones and say “Hello” at their production companies – as would their creative executives.

      The industry is dying for good, resonant stories. Desperate for them, even. So hitch them chaps up, put on yer brace face, pick up the phone, and give them a call.

      Best of luck to you!


      • tina says:

        Thanks so much for you thorough answer.
        I enjoyed your other posts as well and will keep looking for more.

        BTW I stumbled upon your blog by a tweet from Jeanne Bowerman.


  8. I loves me some JeanneVB. Are you there, lady? *clinks glasses*


  9. Jamie says:

    I LOVED this post. I used to spend wads of money going to conferences and such when I was writing novels, but something told me to stop. When I stopped I actually started writing more.
    I’m on your side 100% with this post. I’ve been lucky to establish some great relationships via Twitter (which I never expected or even planned for) which have led me to meetings and introductions. Now that’s the way to meet the right people. I’m not saying Twitter, but I’m saying putting yourself in the right place and being gregarious.
    That said, I have the HCD, and I peruse it regularly, but I’d have to take a Xanax to actually pick up that phone and call. Just thinking about it while reading your post makes my stomach turn. And I’m no shrinking violet, so I don’t know why the thought of making that call terrifies me.
    Thanks again for another wonderful post.


  10. Pingback: Best o/t Web Mar 13 | The Story Department

  11. Between HCD and, I think that is all the writer needs other than their writing and pitches.


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