WIFTI Summit 2012 and ScriptDC
University of California at Washington Center in Washington, DC
Saturday, December 1, 2012 11:45a – 1:15p
Speakers: Marilyn Atlas and Laurie Scheer
Writer: Hannah Buchdahl, Women in Film & Video Member
You kinda had to be there to fully appreciate the role-play that made WIFTI’s “Pitch U” panel so enlightening – and entertaining. Because the two presenters – Marilyn Atlas, a tv/film/stage producer and personal manager, and Laurie Scheer, a consultant, professor and former programming executive – didn’t just talk about what makes a good or bad pitch. They demonstrated it.Laurie put on her best ‘pitcher-in-the-headlights’ look as Marilyn took on the role of studio or programming executive. I suspect Marilyn was far more patient and polite than most execs would be under normal circumstances, but we got the gist. And it’s this: pitching is an art. If you can’t deliver your logline with passion, conviction and simplicity then you’re probably screwed. You also need to be prepared with research to back up your brilliant idea. What’s the genre? Who is your target audience? What is your character’s journey over the next five seasons? You need to be able to build an instant rapport with the person you’re pitching to and keep them interested and engaged (i.e. No reading from paper; paper is dead anyway!). And, you’d better be on top of the marketplace. If a similar concept is already in development, or a show just like it was just cancelled – you’ll need a Plan B.
Most of us in the biz know (at least in theory) the importance of character, conflict, stakes, the relationship between characters, etc. in the development of story… I’ve certainly been to my share of workshops (including an excellent one in L.A. that Laurie did a few years back). But it’s rare – and extremely valuable- to be able to see the practice of pitching in action, to see for yourself what does and doesn’t work. That said, I actually think Laurie’s intentionally “bad” pitch for “The Celestial Gardener” lifestyle show about a gardener who plants stuff based on astronomy and phases of the moon could probably find a home somewhere, especially with the right “talent” attached. After all, as the women were quick to point out, ‘television is all about defined niche markets”!
The best news for potential pitchers is that there are so many opportunities now to sell content – for the web, for television, for mobile devices, etc. The key is to know what’s out there and where your ideas may fit in. TV movies and one-offs are a much harder sell than series (fiction and non-fiction/lifestyle). And it can’t hurt if your idea has global appeal and trans-media, multi-platform potential.
Laurie suggests taking advantage of all the free e-newsletters you can get your hands on. I was glad to hear at least one of my daily reads was on the list – Cynopsis – from Cynopsis.com. But I’ll be signing up for several more in the days ahead. Who knew there was site geared toward programming for viewers under 25? That would be Ypulse.com. Also on the list: DeadlineHollywood.com, Gawker.com, MediaBistro.com, and Adweek.com to name just a few. And if you’re looking to pitch a scripted series, Laurie says the Freaks and Geeks show bible is a must read – the “quintessential show bible.” It’s one of the few – and the best you can find online.
Knowledge is power – even in the world of pitching. Class dismissed.
About the Writer: Hannah Buchdahl, Women in Film & Video Member
Hannah is a freelance writer and producer for a variety of news, entertainment and corporate clients as well as the cofounder and chief contributor (as “Mainstream Chick”) to Chickflix.net, a relatively new site featuring movie reviews from unique female perspectives.