The number one question on Script's readers' minds is "I've written my script, now what?" Who better to ask than the CEO of Virtual Pitch Fest, David Kohner Zuckerman, whose platform helps screenwriters get discovered.
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman: Tell us a bit about the history of Virtual Pitch Fest and what inspired you to help writers connect to executives? And how does VPF work?
David Kohner Zuckerman: Before starting VPF, I was consulting for writers through my site ScriptCoach.com. Oftentimes, after we had perfected a script, the writer had no idea how to get it into the hands of buyers. At the time, the best avenue available to writers who weren’t repped was to travel to a live pitch event, usually in L.A. or New York. Of course, this was expensive and really limiting for new writers. So, we decided to offer writers a similar concept online while charging only a fraction of what they were paying for live events.
Before consulting, I had produced a few films (Chump Change, Caught in the Act) and had also worked in development for Silver Lion Films where we did Club Dread, Man on Fire and Crocodile Dundee in L.A. As such, I was asked to hear pitches at many live events where I also spent time interfacing with other pros. These experiences led me to the realization that most folks in the industry actually prefer reading pitches to hearing them. With that knowledge, we created VPF to enable writers to send written pitches on scripts they’ve finished to the pros they select to query.
Thankfully, over the years we have become a trusted Industry Source and now have over 500 participating Studios, Networks, Producers and Reps. Besides the guaranteed access we provide and our success stories, a main reason writers like VPF is that we’ve made the pitch process very user-friendly. In a nutshell, after purchasing a pitch package, writers can pick which Pros they want to query and are guaranteed a response back to every pitch they send within 5 days. When the response is “yes, send me your script” the writer sends the script to the pro, who then hopefully likes it!
Jeanne: The most common question we get is "I've written my script, now what?" Especially when a writer is outside of L.A., new to the business, and has no network, what other options do they have to get their script read by executives?
David: Once a writer has completed their script and wants to get it out there, they can submit their script to sites like VPF and to screenwriting contests. We encourage competitions because receiving laurels shows attention and traction. Of course, writers can also “cold pitch” their script to any contact they find, but the industry has an incentive to ignore unsolicited scripts due to potential legal issues. VPF provides legal protection for both writers and pros and is probably the best option to get your script in front of decision makers who are there specifically to solicit scripts and acquire new properties and writers. In a sense, VPF takes the mystery out of that aspect of the process, as a VPF client knows exactly where their pitch ends up. Also, writers with positive reactions to their scripts are placed on our monthly VPF Hotlist and our annual VPF 50 lists. As well as being another success for the writer, these lists are also tracked by buyers.
Jeanne: What common mistakes do writers make when preparing their pitch (both in writing and in person)?
David: In general, a good pitch should find balance between logline and query letter. However, a big mistake writers make is sending out their script before it’s ready. As such, we suggest getting feedback from script consultants and/or people who don’t have skin in it (i.e. feedback from friends and family is nice, but feedback from professionals or even fellow writers is more helpful). A second mistake is not knowing your audience. A writer who has spent a lot of time and effort working on the script might have the tendency to think, “If I just convey the plot of my script everyone will love it.” That approach is like trying to sell a car on the specs of the engine. In reality, the writer is trying to convey their work to a specific audience who have their own position in the process. Keeping all of this in mind, I say be creative, be succinct and don’t tell us how the story ends. Make the pro ask to read the script to find out!
Jeanne: Are there any commonalities in the pitches that are successful?
David: I would say having a unique hook or a pitch that is “the same,” but different. A pitch that draws on the past yet is current. Let me explain these contradictions. A pitch might fit a traditional genre, but still be very different from what has come before in that genre. So the same, but different. Both familiar and original. A pitch might draw a comparison to previous successful screenplays but brings a current relevance with it.
Jeanne: What do you think execs are looking for, not just in a marketable idea, but in a writer themselves.?
David: They are looking primarily for creativity. They appreciate that writers are artists with unique perspectives. If there were simple formulas and methods they would have cut writers out of the process a long time ago. Instead, we see the writer as the genesis of all creative endeavors in film and television. They’d also like to see a writer they can work with. Filmmaking can be a somewhat slow and obscured process, so patience is a necessary quality. A writer should take the time to understand the stages of the process. A script is written, pitched, and read by decision makers. Then, a decision to move forward with it is made and the script is optioned. Once a decision is made to make the project (the green light), financing is arranged. Then there’s production, timing to market, and finally the screen. This is the simple version of the process that assumes everything runs as smoothly as possible. Unexpected events always throw off a project’s development and often make it loop back on itself. I believe a writer should be able to adopt two positions: Writer as “artist” when doing the creative aspects of screenwriting and writer as “professional writer” when integrating with the process of getting the written word to the screen.
Jeanne: Great points. It's also critical to understand who to pitch. What should a writer focus on when researching a person or company to query?
David: The writer should first try to get their script in front of the people already working in that script’s genre. At VPF, we have the pros tell us their current needs and genres of interest. I say this with the caveat that a good script will find a welcome in any decision maker’s hands. If they can’t move forward with it, they will find a peer in the industry who will. Good scripts will gain traction on their own, and industry professionals will not turn down the opportunity to help move a good project forward. Who is the decision maker? You’re really not going to find out by research. There are people delegated to be the first point of contact with the industry. Sometimes they can pull the trigger themselves, sometimes they are just the first hurdle before the actual decision maker. In general, the bigger the production company, the more people a script will pass through before it gets to the actual decision maker.
Jeanne: I always tell writers they have one shot at a first impression. What are your thoughts on knowing when a script is ready to pitch?
David: I’d suggest that yes, you have a first shot at an impression, but that does not imply you have only one shot with the script itself. Sometimes you’ll get a pass on a script because the timing just isn’t right, but you’ll find full acceptance of your pitch at a later date. Keep pitching it, particularly if you’ve seen a shift that implies a more welcome environment. A script is ready to pitch when you are able to put your best foot forward at the given time. Don’t grind yourself down with constant rewrites to chase a perfection that will never come. Write it. Ask yourself, “is this the best I can do right now?” Get feedback. Refine it based on the feedback as is needed and get it out there.
Jeanne: Can you share any VPF success stories?
David: VPF has many, many success stories. We have a page dedicated to them. Some of note that come to mind include a VPF client who sold his script to Amblin, and just recently one of our writers got their script “Midnight in the Switchgrass” picked up and produced by Emmet Furla Oasis Films. In fact it just wrapped production and stars Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsh, and Megan Fox. We have had other films produced via VPF connections and boast dozens of script deals. Additionally, many writers have landed reps through VPF. Our own measure of success is simple: Did we help a writer get access to the industry? Did we help a writer get their project in the hands of a decision maker? We find that success every day at VPF.
Jeanne: Wonderful to hear! Rejection is a huge part of this business. What advice can you offer a writer when facing repeated rejections?
David: It is rarely a rejection of the script or the writer as artist. It is usually a decision maker taking a pass for multiple reasons, the foremost being they don’t have the ability or the desire to move that particular project forward. Understanding this should give the writer solace. The rejection may be “the timing isn’t right” or “we are already working on something like this” or “I can’t get traction with this.” Rarely is it “I just don’t like this” as there is usually a reason they pass. That reason usually doesn’t come down to the script itself; it is more the script’s current place within the process. Knowing this, the writer should default to the position of persistence. You don’t need a hard shell to throw off all this rejection because nothing is being targeted at you as the writer or the script. You are not being rejected. Your work is not being rejected. It is just not matching the myriad of circumstances necessary to integrate in the process at a particular time and moment. Keep pitching it. Keep writing. Keep trying to move forward in the process. You are the only one who gets to decide if you are a writer; nobody can tell you otherwise.
Jeanne: Any general career advice for writers?
David: Live in and understand the world because your unique interpretation of this world is essential to the creative process. This is your “career” as a writer and artist. Spend a lot of time refining your craft. Your success in these endeavors will be measured by you alone. Did you reach for something? Did you transcend? An awareness of this within yourself as a writer will always transpose to success in a career as a professional writer. Decide where you want to go in your career. VPF would like to help you get there.