This was the opener shared with me and around fifty other guests at the Pitch to W.I.N. Seminar and Pitch Event, on Saturday, May 2nd, at Laurel Canyon Stages. Hosted by the Producer’s Guild of America Women’s Impact Network (PGA W.I.N.) and Stage 32, the event offered an educational panel discussion followed by one-on-one consultations and pitch meetings for PGA members. The panel was populated with industry executives from such companies as Lifetime Network, Vice Media, Rumble Films, Ramo Law, and Stage 32.
Moderator and PGA W.I.N. Committee Member, Carrie Lynn Certa, stated that the box office numbers affirm the statement made by Fithian, proving that female-centered narratives are dominating movie screens across the US. And the recent “news frenzy” surrounding the lack of, and prejudices against, women in the industry has made the topic a fresh source of discussion and debate amongst content producers. The erudite panel was already well aware of this endemic condition within Hollywood, and fervent in their reproach for the barriers that women face in film, and most importantly, united in creating a solution for the issue at hand.
Jennifer Breslow, Vice President of Scripted Series at Lifetime, proudly stated that she is a card-carrying feminist and “so happy to work at a women’s network”. She noted that even though the network’s content has become mainstream, there still is much to be done in the industry. The industry standard for female writers is 11%, whereas at Lifetime it is 43%. That is why Lifetime has created the Broad Focus initiative to raise awareness and lower the barriers for women in film. They are partnering with the Bentonville Film Festival and have promised to license and distribute one feature from the festival, and also take one script into their development pipeline.
“We know that in Hollywood the numbers are skewed heavily against women, but in the independent space, the numbers are about 50/50. So the real challenge is figuring out how to elevate women outside of the indie realm,” Mara Tasker, Associate Producer for Vice Media, added. “And in new media, women can take advantage of the same tools men can, and get their work seen.” As audiences (particularly younger generations) turn to digital devices for preferred programming, the easier it becomes for women content creators to build a following.
Not only was there a general sense of camaraderie in the panel discussion, but also some very candid advice offered for anyone pitching a project to production executives. The good news is that though the indie market has paired down the number of feature films it finances, content makers are now more interested in curating lasting, quality content, rather than star-studded casts and inflated budgets. This is good news for those who have felt or been told that their passion projects lacked mass appeal. Due to niche markets and an ever-expanding array of digital platforms, networks, and media brands, producers are seeing their competitors for buying original content go from five to more than fifty in the last five years. What was once seen as a story for too specialized an audience now has more traction with producers on digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
What are some important factors when pitching to an executive? According to Tasker, “Passion. When a person isn’t passionate about his or her story you can just feel it.” Everyone agreed that incisive development of the characters and world of the story is mandatory to a good pitch. Not only does this mean creating depth to the project, but also being aware of where the project might go in a series. A major change Breslow has observed is, “I’m not just getting a concept in a pitch. I’m getting five scripts to back it up. There is more developed material, because people are looking for series orders.”
“Always have something in your back pocket,” says Stephanie Wilcox, VP of Development at Rumble Films. “I had one screenwriter whose first pitch wasn’t quite right for us, and when I asked him what else he’s got, well, what he then gave me was something we actually made.” Though most major networks don’t take unsolicited material (meaning your agent or lawyer must submit) all agreed that if you are offered a general meeting, take it. And take it seriously. And never take “no” as a reason not to cultivate the relationship. Maintain the relationship, with politeness and propriety in mind, and there could be a bright future ahead in the partnership.
“Keep it simple,” was also emphasized in all manners of pitching to executives. Keep emails short and to the point with a strong logline and the script attached, and “it will more likely get read,” states Tasker. “I love show and tell,” says Breslow, “but don’t bombard me with visuals.” Some key art is always helpful, but refrain from quantities that would require two people to carry or would make the pitch seem overwhelming. And be sure that the key art is of high quality. One panelist recalled having once turned down a project that was intriguing because the proof of concept sizzle was terribly done. Lastly, don’t overthink the pitch process. Tasker advises, “Don’t make it into something it’s not.”
Joey Tuccio, President of Stage 32 Happy Writers, reminded everyone that, “we’re all just people, too. So remember that when you’re pitching to executives.” He also said that writers and producers should just be themselves in a pitch, not salespeople. Not only should you be your best self when speaking to the execs, but also when talking with their assistants. They are the gatekeepers after all and, “will be the executives one day.
A number of online resources were suggested for producers looking for scripts that have not been optioned, and for writers to post their screenplays for potential producers. These included The Black List, Cinando, and Scriptd (without the e). At the center of these suggestions was the newly launched social and professional network for those in the industry, Stage32. Founder and CEO, Robert Botto, was on the panel and explained that he created the site as a place for industry professionals to not only connect on a working level, but also conversationally. Topics and questions posted in the group forums actually get feedback and start an ongoing dialogue. “From making meaningful connections, to filling our cast and crew positions for a project, to classes designed to help you hone your craft, to pitching to industry executives, we offer it all,” promised Botto.
For more information on how to join the Producer’s Guild, go to http://www.producersguild.org
editor’s note: Out of the 55 PGA members who pitched, 41 of the scripts pitched were requested . That’s a pretty fantastic ratio!