Sunday, August 09, 2009

Writers Conference Update

Friday was a big day for me. I had arranged to have four pitches, and I had registered months ago. In that time, two of my selections canceled, and then one of the alternates canceled. Each time, I picked new people. Thursday night as I was double-checking the biographies and deciding what to pitch to whom, I saw that one more person had canceled. That was going to have to be fixed at the conference.

I had been reading various tips for pitching, and one thing that seemed to be very important was a one-sheet. This does have information about the film, but it also has your contact information, which is very important. At least at something like this, no one buys anything there. The best possible outcome is that they will contact you and ask for the screenplay, or give you their information to contact them.

Unfortunately, I could not find any sample one-sheets. I did find some descriptions, and they were talking about graphics and colors, and that was just not something I was going to pull off. I ended up just doing the film title at the top in 16 point font, the genre in parentheses right below, then a tag line, and then a short summary of the plot, with my contact information in the lower left. Apparently, I should also have come up with log lines. Well, next time I will know.

I have been having a hard time finishing Coulrophobia, but I really wanted to pitch it, and you don’t pitch unfinished things at something like this (someone with an established reputation could pitch a concept, but those people are buying pitches).

So the first point of business was to just push through and finish the script. I did that. Then I worked on one-sheets. I did them for Coulrophobia, Jade Mask, Hungry, and Dark Secrets, but I am calling it Past Present now, which I like better.

I was going to need to be up really early. I was only an hour later than originally intended for going to bed, which was not bad at all, but being glued to my chair, and concentrating, and nervous, left my thigh muscles really tight. That has not completely let up yet. That’s not usually where I carry my tension, but it might actually be better than in the back or the stomach. I have certainly had worse headaches.

I was worried about the logistics of getting to the conference, because Tri-met trip planner said there are no stops within walking distance of the Portland Airport Sheraton. I knew they had an airport shuttle, so I thought I could go to the airport and try that. As it was, I saw their sister hotel, Aloft, from the Max line, and got off at the next stop and walked down there, figuring the Sheraton would be within walking distance, because they share parking. Well, that wasn’t quite right, but there was a shuttle between the two hotels, and that got me there, and against all odds I had time to check in, and listen to some of a panel discussion before my first pitch.

The first pitch was the best by far. First of all, she was very kind and gave me good feedback. Also, she said she will contact me and request the one screenplay, so that is excellent. Still, it revealed definite weaknesses. One is that all of my careful selection was way off base. I thought Past Present would be the best for her, and it was not really something her company would do. However, she did like Coulrophobia, which was the last thing that I would have thought to pitch her. I only mentioned it because you have a strong female character, and she was really intrigued. For the rest of the day, I was wrong on what I thought people would like. (Though perhaps my instinct for picking producers was good, because she was one of my original choices, and almost everyone else was a reschedule.)

For my second pitch, I pitched Jade Mask. He didn’t want that because it was a CIA story, and there are tons of those since the Bourne Identity. The wheelchair aspect wasn’t different enough. I threw out Hungry then, and that was no good because everyone has vampire stories after Twilight. On the one hand, I was thinking that okay, but a vampire story can mean Twilight, or 30 Days of Night, or Underworld, or Let the Right One In, and those are all completely different, and Hungry is like none of them. For him, if you weren’t either something completely new, or taking an old genre and reinventing it, it was a pass. I believe in his case the issue is that he has access to lots of good writers who are known quantities, so an unknown has to offer something really different.

The third pitch was even worse. I guess I peaked too early. In this case, I pitched Coulrophobia, and his issue was that the stakes weren’t high enough. That a cop is trying to catch thieves who killed someone was not enough. His example was that if they were stealing nuclear warheads, where the earth was in danger, that could raise the stakes, or if her discomfort with clowns was because her father was a clown and was bad, that would raise the emotional stakes. Her life ending up in danger because of the case, and just her wanting to solve the case, was not enough. Honestly, I think those examples would both make kind of stupid movies, but he was thinking off the cuff. The point seems to be that he wants really big stories.

For those two guys (why, yes, I am avoiding giving their names), I don’t think I have anything at this time that they would be interested in. I don’t think I would pitch to number three again, but if I had the right kind of story, maybe I would for two. What was really bad though, was that it became clear very early that we were not going anywhere, but then I had to stick it out. It’s like having no chemistry on a date, but you still need to stick it out. Fortunately, it was speed dating.

The fourth was a little bit different. I pitched Coulrophobia, and he just didn’t think he could market it, because clowns means kids, but it’s not for kids, and he was just not sure he could find the right audience. I talked to him about Out of Step, which he agreed would be more marketable if I had a package. For example, if I knew Julianne Hough, and could get her attached, he probably would have taken it.

The interesting thing is that I talked about Out of Step with the first one too, and she did have some interest, but it did not sound developed enough to her. I think that was an issue not of the script being developed enough, though, but of my not being ready to talk about it because I had not planned on talking about it. So I think one key lesson is that I should have worked on one-sheets for everything I have, just in case. Because, again, I don’t actually seem to know who will like what.

That is one thing that I would hope to find in an agent—some skill in targeting pitches.

With number four, I can see that if I had tailored my pitch more like a trailer, it might have gone over better. With a big studio, they want to know that it will make a lot of money. With a small company, they want to know that they can sell it to investors, or it will never get made. Well, there’s a broader spectrum than that, but it makes a difference.

Overall, I feel good about it. I did learn a lot, and since I do have a job again, well, money will still be tight, but I should be able to get by a little longer. I hope things work out with the first one, and that she does buy Coulrophobia, but I have to be realistic. There’s a good chance it won’t sell, and if it does it could take several months.

For now, I should be employed through at least January. During that time, I want to focus on getting more written. I am getting better all the time, and having multiple different offerings available is important.

I do want to start making the agency calls again. A lot of it is fruitless, but it is dues-paying.

Those will be my main areas of focus through the end of the year. After that, I need to see where I am. Submissions will start to open up for the Nicholls fellowship, and I should have some choices on what to submit, but I might have made some money by then, in which case I would be ineligible. Maybe then I will need to switch my focus to networking, or even going back to school. Could I go to film school?

Anyway, I will work hard, and I will hope for luck. It’s like this job. I had no way of predicting or knowing that the position would open up, or that my resume would come up for it. However, by sending out dozens of applications, I increased the odds of it coming up, and by being a hard, smart working once, someone I knew making the decision was an advantage. There’s what you can control, and there’s what you can’t, but that’s just life.

I’ve handled life before.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What’s happening now

First and foremost, I have a job. It is a temporary contract at Intel. (I am to Intel as Michael Corleone is to the Mafia.)

I have several concerns. It is temporary, and although it is better paying than a lot of the jobs I have applied for, I am not sure it will be enough to pay all my bills. Still, there is a lot of elation. I do have something again. I will have money coming in. Also, it is at a place where not having a business wardrobe is just about as unimportant as can be. That helps a lot. For the work, it fits in well with my skills. I will need to learn some new things, but I can do that.

Some time ago I wrote about how I was not getting any good advice about jobs, because people meant well, but the rules were different in this economy. Having found something in this economy, do I now have any great advice? Not really. Ultimately, I think what helped was that I have worked with the hiring manager before. She knows me, and my work ethic, and my abilities, and that helped. We did know that connections were important, but if you don’t have any connections, I still have no advice for how to get them.

There is one thing I can say that may be helpful. I did not hear about the job from this person, because I have not been in touch with her. That part was largely luck, but the luck was at least partly based on my sending my resume out to every place I could find. Sending out a hundred resumes and hearing nothing is pretty discouraging, but it may be necessary.

I start on Monday, August 10th, so it will be after the Willamette Writers Conference, which I am attending Friday, August 7th. I bought four pitching sessions, and have already had three of the people that I picked cancel. The substitutions should be okay, but it’s easy to start getting paranoid. Anyway, I would gladly have started work this week, but it may be just as well that I can focus on getting ready for the pitches.

A pitch is basically a ten-minute session with a producer or agent where you can “pitch” your script and see if they are interested. I only picked producers. I do need an agent, but if I can sell a screenplay, getting an agent will be much easier anyway.

It’s scary because I feel like so much depends on this, but I do need to set expectations low. This is my first time pitching, and it takes a while to break in. Friday may be nothing more than a learning experience. Even if it goes exceptionally well, the most that would happen that day is that someone would request that I send the script. Then, if they liked it after reading it, they could make an offer. This is where having the job is great. It buys me some time for something to happen.

So my activities this week will focus on getting ready for that. I need to consider which project would be best to pitch to each person. (Ideally, I would like to pitch something different to each one, but ultimately I will go with the project that will have the strongest appeal for each, whether there are duplicates or not.) I need to have a one sheet write-up for each, and figure out what my key talking points are, studying the art of pitching. I have started this a little, but I need to really focus.

I also need really need to finish Coulrophobia, because I think that one is very strong, and it is not advisable to pitch an unfinished script. I wish I had more done, but I am still making good progress, even if I have a long way to go.

I will also try and spend some time with Karen, do some prep for the setup for a wedding reception (not mine, obviously), pick blackberries, and just get other little odds and ends done, expecting that I will not have as much time around the house.

Oh, and at some point I will need to take a drug test. At least there’s one thing over which I have no anxiety.