Tag Archives: pitching

The Bottled Water Tour of 2014 by Tony Lee

A very warm welcome to writer Tony Lee who is guest blogging this week on his experience as a Brit doing the meeting-rounds in L.A.

So a couple of weeks ago I was in Los Angeles for an entire week, partly due to the fact that I was a guest at the Gallifrey One convention but also for a variety of meetings, catch ups and get togethers across Los Angeles. This is my second year of solid meetings and I thought I’d talk a bit about them, and what I did – and more importantly what I learned.

First off, if you’re having meetings, make sure they’re booked. Don’t just rock up to a door and go ‘hi, any chance of a chat?‘ as cold calling doesn’t work in the main, as most production companies are on studio lots. Which means a studio security to get through first. That said, there’s every chance of being able to cold email someone going ‘hi, I’m in the area on Tuesday, any chance of a chat?‘ as long as they know you. How do they know you? Well, the chances are you’ve already spoken to them at festivals, conventions, networking days or even (as a couple of my friends have done) mild stalking on LinkedIn. Get to know them. Get a dialogue going with them. Then, when you’re in the area, let them know.

Now, here’s an important thing, don’t bother booking months in advance. These guys don’t know what they’re doing next week. So let them know a few weeks beforehand that you’ll be around, and then attack again a week before, nailing down some times. Don’t give them the chance to set the stage, give them two or three options.

‘Hey, I’m around on Tuesday. What’s best, 11am or 2pm?‘ If they say they can’t do Tuesday, ask if they can do Wednesday. If they can, offer to move things around so that they can be seen. Work to their schedule, but within your constraints.

It also helps if they know your work, or have seen your work. If they’ve never seen a single thing that you’ve written, rocking up with five pitches only shows you can pitch. Have a screenplay finished, something that you could even have sent in advance, as well as other ideas and pitches in your pocket.

Don’t be star struck. It’s difficult, I know. One of my meetings was upstairs from Aaron Sorkin on the Warner Lot, in a room with walls laden with movie props and awards. Remember that they’re willing to see you because you might offer them something they need. They’re not being a charity case here, they’re looking for product and you have some. Be confident. Drink the bottled water – trust me, you’ll need it.

Never sit in front of a window, if just gives them distractions. If you’re in a cafe or a Starbucks, lean in so that they unconsciously lean in as well. Don’t shut them out of the process, let them contribute to the story and take their notes on board – they might know better than you.

Now. The pitch. There are people out there who have done so many of these, and the things they always tell me are almost the same as what I was told in sales school twenty years ago. First off, people buy people. More importantly, within the first few seconds someone will decide if they like you or not. And if they like you, they’ll humour you more, allow for more mistakes. So, don’t walk in like a bulldozer. Talk to them, get to know them. The chances are that during this part of the conversation, you might learn that the pitch you have? Totally not right for them. This gives you ammunition.

The thing I tell everyone to do? When in LA, hire a car. Driving in LA is super easy. Yes, there are buses and cabs, but having a car (I’ve found) is an instant ice breaker. How is it driving in LA? How big is the car? Play up the Alien in Los Angeles, it’s an icebreaker. But more importantly, you give the impression of a writer who’s confident and comfortable in LA. Producers like that.

Never be late for a meeting, so before you confirm everything check the distances on Google Maps and double the time it says. That’ll give you enough time to arrive and get five minutes to plan your day. Learn what ‘Validate’ is – never pay for parking if you don’t have to. Try to keep your meetings in the same area, a bulk of Production companies are in Burbank, which makes things easy, but Burbank is a big place and you might accidentally find yourself on a Freeway. Not good. And one of my days was Santa Monica – Burbank – The Valley – Glendale – Sunset Strip. Plan for delays!

Have plenty of business cards, and never be shy in giving them out. You never know who’s going to be in the meeting. Ensure you have a working phone with a data plan, as well – meetings often get moved on the fly and if you have to wait for wifi to get your emails, it might be too late. I have an unlocked iPhone and I have a T Mobile US Sim. Every day I use it I pay $3, but I get unlimited calls, texts and 4G data. So I’m good to go.

If it’s a lunch meeting on site? Don’t eat a large breakfast. On one day I made the mistake of expecting a very light lunch and had a breakfast with some friends at 9am at the IHOP. That’s INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES, and should give you an idea of how big the portions are. At 10am I leave for Dreamworks and my lunch meeting at 12pm. But while driving I learn it’s now been moved to 11.30am. Which isn’t a problem to get to, but when we arrive I learn that Dreamworks give AWESOME lunches, full buffet affairs – and I’m two hours from a stupidly large breakfast. I ate light. And felt bad.

Always always ALWAYS find out what else the producer is up to, you never know what you can get involved in. One of my meetings ended with them talking about a series of books they’re reading and discussing which one of these books would be a good fit for me to adapt into a film. Another is working on a series involving a set of books that are my favourite books ever, so naturally by the time we finished discussing those, he knew that I was enthusiastic, quick with ideas and flexible – without a single word of any of my projects being spoken.

Enjoy the time between meetings. Look around the local sites. One of my meetings was at Hollywood and Highland, so I took some time to visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Two of my meetings were on the Warner Lot, and after the second of these I was able to stroll around the lot itself, watch some filming, visit a couple of stages. All of this reminded me exactly why I want to do this for a living.

Don’t kill yourself, but pack the time in. Explaining to a producer that I had twelve meetings in three days showed a) I was busy but also b) I was in demand. The fact that many of these meetings were PURELY because I was only around for three days is irrelevant.

I had twelve meetings between Tuesday and Thursday. One was a catch up at a comic company. Three were with television companies. One was an independent producer I met at San Diego who wants me involved on a project he’s doing. The other seven were with film companies who wanted to hear about my movie ideas. Of which I had one scripted, and one in treatment. Of those seven, five wanted to see the treatment when it was finished. Four wanted to see the film I’d finished already and three had other projects that, down the line I could be involved in.

If I get nothing from these, I still walk away with the same amount that I would have had if I hadn’t gone to them. And that’s what you have to remember. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And as I play the post-meeting email tennis, I know that I gave it my best shot.

Tony Lee is a New York Times #1 Bestselling author of comics, books, audio adventures and screenplays. Find out more about Tony’s work here and follow Tony on Twitter @mrtonylee.

 

Investing In Your Screenwriting Career

We’ve all heard that it takes 10,000 of practice to become a virtuoso piano player or tennis champ. While the hours might be debatable there is little doubt about the principle behind it; to get better at something you have to actually do it, a LOT! Are you really investing enough of your time in your screenwriting to make the progress you want?

notepad and paperHere are some of the best ways to invest in yourself as a screenwriter:

1) Join A Writing Group (locally or online)

Pros: It’s probably free, you can use it to make commitments about how much writing you’ll do in between get-togethers and get your group to hold you to it, great for peer review of each other’s scripts.

Cons: You might be in a group of writers with less experience than you so might feel you’re not learning very much.

Tips: Be open to meeting new people.

2) Take A Class or Course

Pros: You can find courses running a few weekends or a year or more, it encourages you to make a time and financial commitment so you’re more likely to put the work in, good courses set homework which further encourages you to get the writing done.

Cons: Although many courses offer some feedback on what you’ve written, the time pressures on course leaders means the feedback can be very limited, teaching can be a bit generalised.

Tips: Figure out what you want to get out of the course and then find one that best suits your needs.

3) Go On A Writing Retreat

Pros: It forces you to invest a chunk of uninterrupted time you might struggle to achieve any other way, being in a different environment encourages new ways of thinking so you don’t keep repeating thought patterns, improving your chances of producing something new and different, chance to meet other writers.

Cons: It is essentially a holiday so it’s a relatively pricey way of getting quite a short chunk of writing time.

Tips: Decide what’s most important to you (location, retreat leader, feedback opportunities) and then research what’s out there.

4) Attend A Screenwriting ConferenceLondon Screenwriters’ Festival, Screenwriters World Conference (L.A or New York), Great American Pitch Fest

Pros: Most have great pitching opportunities, committing to it gives you a deadline to polish work you can pitch there, intensive, immersive, chance to meet lots of other writers and hear from industry experts.

Cons: Might feel a bit pricey for a few days, though LSF has a payment plan to spread the cost.

Tips: Commit early then plan a schedule to get work ready, building in time to get feedback on your scripts / pitches and rewrite accordingly before you go.

5) Get Professional Feedback On Your Script

Pros: Notes should inspire a constructive rewrite, screenwriting advice is tailored to you and your writing strengths and weaknesses.

Cons: Can be pricey and quality of feedback ranges enormously.

Tips: Get recommendations from fellow writers and check out the credentials of those offering feedback.

6) Find A Mentor / Coach

Pros: A good mentor will give you personalised script feedback on a portfolio of work, set goals and deadlines with you, offer support and advice, they are interested in helping you develop as a screenwriter.

Cons: Pricey, you need to put the writing in to make it worth your time and money.

Tips: Make sure you give yourself enough time every week to do the writing so your mentor regularly has work to respond to.

 

 

 

An English Writer In Los Angeles!

A terrific blog post from Debbie Moon (creator of CBBC hit ‘Wolfblood’) on being a Brit writer on their first trip to Los Angeles.

Never Get Off The Bus

Well, my trip is over, and it’s time to share the results of my experiences! What’s it really like to be a British writer on your first trip to LA? Here are a few thoughts…

LA is probably an easier town to live in than to visit. What I mean by that is: if you live here, then unless you suddenly produce the hottest spec in town, you’re probably only taking a couple of meetings a week. But if you’re visiting, you’re trying to pack in as many as possible, and that’s going to give you an inaccurate view of how hard it is to get around and how stressful the general atmosphere of the city is.

So bear in mind that what you’re experiencing isn’t necessarily how things are for everyone else. Don’t try to pack in too much unnecessary stuff like sightseeing – enjoy your trip, sure…

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Screenwriter Interview – Chris Lunt

preyHayley: Huge congratulations on the green-light from ITV for PREY. Can you tell me a bit about the project and its journey from idea to production?

Chris: Hello and thank-you. I’m afraid I can’t talk too much about the specifics of the drama beyond saying it’s the story of a copper, Marcus Farrow (played by John Simm), who stands accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He goes on the run, desperate to clear his name for the sake of his family. I’d spent a long time developing various drama ideas, being a massive nerd and sci fi nut they all tended to be high-concept. I was working closely with Red Productions and one day they called me in. I was told that, regardless of how good my ideas might be, they’d be difficult sells in the current market, so I should try to come up with something a bit more traditional. I went away, had a think, then suggested we do something like The Fugitive, one of my favourite movies. I was also very intrigued by acts of bravery, how far ordinary people could be pushed in extreme situations. Marcus Farrow is an absolutely ordinary bloke; he isn’t a superhero or Bruce Willis type. That was a lot of fun, creating these incredible, high-octane set pieces then dropping an ordinary bloke in to the middle of them. The road from concept to production was actually quite smooth. I’d been writing since about 2001 but only became a ‘professional writer’ through redundancy in April 2010, I pitched the idea for Prey in May and then developed the first episode via a treatment, scene x scene and script. It was pitched to Steve November in Spring of this year, I think. They asked me to write a second episode, which I did in less than a month and they greenlit it very quickly after that. It was tough not to talk about it until the official announcement in August. We’ve been shooting for almost three weeks now; it has a phenomenal cast and crew working on it, and is looking absolutely great so far.

H: Can I take you back and ask, what was the first script you finished and what did you do next with it (agents, producers, etc)?

C: The first script I wrote was called MOONSAILOR and was a science fiction movie. That spun its wheels for a long time going no-where, as I didn’t really know what to do with it or how the industry worked. In the end, MOONSAILOR worked well in opening doors, I suppose it acted as a spec script demonstrating what I could do. It was quite character driven, but with action and adventure. I think it’s where I first started developing a voice. I firmly believe that someone should recognise your work without actually seeing your name on front of the script.

H: What was your experience of trying to get the industry to read your script?

C: I’ve usually teamed up with production companies, and have spent a lot of time cultivating those relationships. I’ve very rarely sent something unsolicited. I find that sending an email with a brief overview of the idea – literally a paragraph – is enough to gauge an interest. If there is interest I’ll write a treatment, anywhere between three and seven pages. I’d then hoped to be commissioned to write a more detailed treatment or script.

H: How did you get an agent?

C: This was when I was an amateur writer, say 2006. During that time I met various production companies to pitch ideas and managed to get a script for QUATERMASS commissioned by the BBC via Red Productions. While I was writing that we learned that the BBC had actually lost the rights, so it fell through. I’d realised that an existing IP was easier to sell than an original idea, especially high-concept stuff, so I went after a couple of IP’s, one of which was BIGGLES. By a happy coincidence, the owners of the rights to BIGGLES were looking to develop it as a TV series. I sent MOONSAILOR to the agency that represented the estate, got the gig and ended up signing to the agency.

H: Many new writers who want to write original drama for television are told that you won’t get a commission unless you’ve got writing credits on other people’s shows. Did you ever feel under pressure to ‘work the ladder’ writing for continuing dramas in order to get your own projects made?

C: I entered the industry pretty pig ignorant of the rules and regulations. My ambition was always to produce authored work. I wasn’t really interested in writing continuing drama. Even when I had an agent and the opportunity to be put forward for that kind of work it didn’t really float my boat. In the end, I stuck to my guns and it paid off. I’ve no doubt it’s the hardest route, you certainly have to have plenty of irons in the fire to earn a living wage, but I think writing stuff I was really engaged and enthusiastic about kept me going.

H: How many projects are you actively working on at any one time?

C: I’ve just worked this out and it’s pretty terrifying – I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’ve three script commissions I’m working on, three optioned treatments, and three projects I’ve been commissioned to write but need to schedule this next year. And I’ve not stopped yet. As a rule I can handle two scripts at a time. I’m also working with one of the broadcasters to develop a new and quite exciting continuing drama that I’d advise any new writer to try to work on!

H: Are you focused on television drama or writing for other platforms, like feature films?

C: I’ve recently had a feature film called THE MARTIAN AMBASSADOR optioned, I’ve also written the script for GETTING EVEN, a heist movie for Simon West, but that’s in development hell at the moment. I’ve become involved in adaptations somehow, two of the gigs I have lined up for next year are book adaptations. That wasn’t by design, but it is quite exciting work. THE MARTIAN AMBASSADOR is also a book adaptation. I’ve just remembered I’ve another movie to write next year, a thriller set in China!

H: Do you always have to write a spec script to pitch a project to a producer or are you pitching with a two-line idea or a treatment?

C: I have a very specific process which works well for me. I’ll either meet a producer to brainstorm or I’ll send them a paragraph outlining the idea – I’ve actually had ideas optioned from just that, so it’s a skill that’s well worth developing. I’ll then write a treatment, which is an overview of the characters and a synopsis – none of which is wholly set in stone. I think of this as a sales document, so it’s snappy, and I try very hard to make it reflect the tone of the piece. It’s now that I’d expect a production company to commit in some form to the project. I either then write an extended treatment / bible, or if I’m lucky I’ll then write a scene by scene. This is where the real hard work takes place. I’ll write the sc x sc in final draft, and it’s literally what it says on the tin, a scene by scene outline of the entire episode or movie. This document runs to pages and pages and certainly takes up most of the development process.  Ultimately, once the producer has signed off on the sc x sc it’s just a case of adding the dialogue and that can take almost no time at all. The strength of this process to my mind is that no-one should ever be surprised by the script. If they’ve signed off on the sc x sc then they know what’s coming, so although there’s still the usual dozen or so drafts, they’re never massively structural as a rule! Touch wood!

H: Finally, what advice would you give to new writers?

C: Network as much as possible, it’s a very small industry and a good network is essential. Be prepared to listen to Producers, they know what the industry wants better than you do. No one criticises for the sake of it, never take criticism personally, they wouldn’t bother if you were crap. Try to be original, try to make your script stand out. Work on creating a voice, a good script should be like a piece of music, you should recognise the composer. Find yourself a good script editor. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve worked with some brilliant script editors such as Richard Fee at Red Productions and there is no way on gods earth that PREY would be being produced if it wasn’t for Richard Fee, Nicola Shindler and Caroline Hollick. The third idea is always, always, better then the first two. Be prepared to work a decade to become an overnight success. I did. There are absolutely no short cuts.

H: Thanks Chris and we can’t wait to see ‘Prey’!

Chris is represented by Rob Krait at Casarotto Ramsay

Breaking Into Hollywood (from the UK)

Lots of UK writers have been asking me recently about breaking into Hollywood so here’s my advice.

Pretty much the same advice applies whether you’re breaking into your home market or a foreign market and my top tip for both is DO YOUR HOMEWORK!   Just as I’d expect a writer applying to write on ‘Holby City’ or ‘Coronation Street’ to watch the show and know it well, so you have to know the market you’re trying to crack, whatever and wherever it is.

If you’re a UK writer wanting to write UK films you’d be researching UK film production companies, right? So, do the same thing for Los Angeles. Learn which production companies and studios make what films. If you’re into the UK market you’d get Broadcast and Moviescope.  For the US market there are loads of great magazines and websites to help you keep track of who’s making what – try Deadline Hollywood, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.   There are also subscription sites like TrackingBTracking Board, DoneDealPro, ItsOnTheGrid and Screen International.

If you want L.A representation, find out who represents the Hollywood writers whose films you love. The websites that track film script sales always mention who represents the writer so you can build up a picture of the L.A literary agent scene pretty quickly.

Although you can certainly make approaches to Hollywood from the UK, in her ScriptChat Q&A, Los Angeles literary manager Jenny Frankfurt also recommends getting out to L.A and networking in person.  One great way to do this is through the Hollywood Field Trip.  It’s a bit pricey but the feedback from those writers that have been is that it was money incredibly well invested in their careers. Right now the guys have got 2 spots remaining on their October trip and are offering £200 off the price. Do get in touch with them if you’re interested.

If Hollywood is the market you want to write for then you should GO FOR IT – good luck and I’ll see you there!

 

Practise Makes Perfect

Watching the extraordinary achievements of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes this summer made me appreciate more than ever that if you want to be successful at something, you’ve got to knuckle down and practise.

For screenwriters of course that means practising your writing by simply writing – LOTS! But it also means studying your craft; analysing successful screenplays, reading books on screenwriting or attending seminars and talks by others who’ve analysed thousands of movies and screenplays. It means identifying areas of your craft that you’re not as strong on (story structure or character or dialogue) and finding techniques to help you get better at those elements.

But great writing alone rarely enables you to succeed and there are other aspects to being a successful writer that you’ll need to master. Perhaps you’re lousy at networking or pitching. If you hate pitching (and I know a LOT of writers who do) then practising is vital if you’re to get good at it – at the very least you want to be comfortable enough doing it that you don’t turn into a blubbering wreck when an Executive asks you about your new movie idea.  And who knows, you might discover you’ve got a real knack for it and find yourself desperate to go to a huge pitch festival and get on that stage to pitch with the best of them.

In an industry built so heavily on personal recommendation, networking is another aspect of the job that lots of writers dread. As with pitching, it requires practice so my advice is to get out there and get doing it!

The forthcoming London Screenwriters’ Festival is a great place to learn tips on your craft, practise your pitching and your networking.  I’ll be speaking there and, of course, networking too so come and say hello.  Don’t forget that if you use Discount Code ‘SCRIPTANGEL2012’ you can save £22 off the ticket price.  Let me know if you’re going and I hope to see you there.

Be honest with yourself, identify those areas that you’re really not so great at, and put the work in to get better at them. With hard graft in the right areas you’ve got a great chance of making it as a successful screenwriter.  Good luck!

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