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Balls of Steel™: Checklist for Pitchfests and Conferences

Learn why screenwriting conferences can change your career & the top tips to make the most of pitchfests with the proper preparation the Balls of Steel way.

How do you best prepare for a screenwriting pitchfests?

Next week I’ll be in L.A. for one of the best pitchfests and lecture opportunities -- Scriptfest.

Networking, teaching, meetings, oh my!

Time to make a to-do list and start checking things off.

But before I get to The List, allow me to answer one important question I keep getting: “Why should a screenwriter attend a conference?”

To advance your career, improve your craft and build your network. Really. It’s that simple and that powerful.

Most conferences have amazing classes taught by the top gurus in the industry. This is your chance to pick their brains face-to-face. These instructors have read thousands of scripts over their careers and can help elevate your work to a new level.

You can also connect with them as peers. A few years ago I volunteered at a pitchfest event where I was Pilar Alessandra’s go-to girl, doing anything she asked of me to help her presentation. I remember lugging boxes from her car in awe of her beauty and knowledge. Who would have guessed just a couple of years later she’d be interviewing me for her On The Page podcast (Balls of Steel episode #196)?

balls of steel, pitchfests, conferences

While rubbing elbows with gurus is appealing, don’t dismiss the writer standing next to you in line. Yes, they may be unproduced now, but some of them will break through those velvet ropes into Hollywood glamour. Trust me, any writer worthy of your friendship will remember those who climbed the wall with them. I know I will. Be genuine. Be real. Be yourself. Be someone other people want to help.

You’ll also meet executives at the pitching event. There are several execs I’ve met over the years who are now my personal friends. In fact, Scriptchat would never have been created if I hadn’t pitched to Zac Sanford at EXPO in 2007 and stayed in touch with him. The key to creating friendships with execs is to be professional, show your personality, don’t stalk them, and write well so they have faith in your ability. Basically, don’t be crazy.

Improving your craft + building your network = successful career.

Those are the reasons I go to conferences and pitchfests. It’s all about relationships and making yourself the best writer you can be.

Now for The List of what I do to prep for a pitching event:

1. Travel arrangements: If you haven’t booked a flight yet, plan to stay an extra night. You’ll be exhausted after the event and need time to chill. But if you can get that extra day in L.A, it’ll also give you a chance to take a meeting with one of your old or new contacts, solidifying the connections.

Regarding car rentals, if you’re staying at the hotel where the event is, don’t bother renting a car. Super Shuttle is super cheap and picks you up right at your hotel. Save your money for a drink at the bar with your fellow writers. You’re welcome.

2. Your pitch: You typically have 5 minutes with each executive, so you’ll want your pitch to be no more than 2 minutes. I like to keep mine to one minute, if possible. That leaves plenty of time for an introduction of yourself, the pitch, and then follow-up questions. Remember, you are selling YOU as much as you’re selling your idea.

Michael Hauge is a fantastic consultant I’ve used in the past to improve my pitches. He’s giving one-one-one pitch consultations at Screenwriters World Conference West. If you need help, sign up to reserve your spot. Once you have your pitch, don’t forget to practice… but don't be too polished. A conversational and relaxed style is more effective than memorizing every word.

3. Pitch Survival Kit: Along with your perfect pitch, you’ll need to bring marketing materials and pitching supplies, namely business cards and one-sheets. I usually bring at least 20 one-sheets and a hundred business cards. Stuff some cards in your lanyard so you don’t have to dig through your bag to hand one out. You'll also be collecting a lot of cards, so have either a business card holder or a baggie to keep them all in one place.

Also pack a notepad (or app on your phone or iPad) to jot down comments on each pitch as not to forget who wants to read your script or just write down the executive’s reactions. Their comments can help you improve your work on a rewrite.

Pitching survival requires nourishing your body as well. Bring a refillable bottle for water and don't forget a boost for your blood sugar – almonds, chocolate, and mini bottle of bourbon. Actually, that’s not a joke. Once, I pulled out 3 mini bottles of bourbon at the end of a conference and sat with the organizers, chatting about screenwriting and how I might help their company in the future. I stayed in touch with them and ultimately got a job out of it two years later.

For more tips on pitching survival, read Balls of Steel: Pitch Tips and Your Burning Pitchfest Questions Answered

4. Research the companies you’re pitching to. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t want to be pitching a rom com to a company that thrives on teen zombie films. Be smart. Which also means don’t waste a producer’s time. Know what the company is known for, or better yet, know their sleeper film. They’ll be impressed you took the time to research them. Stalking can be flattering when done right. Danny Manus has a great book with advice from an executive's perspective. It includes his own to-do list for prepping for pitchfests.

5. Look at the classes offered. You’ll have a choice of classes, so try to choose a range to learn the most you can. When I go with a writing partner, we split up to double our opportunities to learn and then meet back up to share notes.

6. Clothes: Leave the suit and tie at home – screenwriters wear jeans, sneakers (or flip flops) and t-shirts. One step above PJs. Comfort is key, especially when you’re on your feet all day. I kind of dig this part of a screenwriter’s life. Most of the executives will be in jeans and t-shirts too, don’t sweat it.

7. Psych yourself up: Bringing positive energy to the room is key to your success! As I said before, you are selling yourself as much as you are selling your story idea. I recently watched a great TED talk on how body language changes who you are. It is a must watch for anyone, regardless of profession.

If the pitching ends with not as many script requests as you hoped for, don’t get discouraged. Read Balls of Steel: Hope vs. Faith where I discuss what keeps me in the game despite years of rejections. We are writers. Creating art is what we do. It’s our air. I know without a doubt I would die without my words.

8. Have fun! Conferences and pitching will leave you reenergized and excited about the possibilities for your writing career. We need to drag our unshowered selves out of our caves and into the light.

Live your life. Put yourself out there. Enjoy the highs and lows this career brings. Celebrate your successes and your failures. For I truly believe it is in failure we learn our most valuable lessons.

For all who are venturing to Screenwriters World East in NYC on April 5-7th, tweet me @jeannevb and say hi. We’ll have a Scriptchat meetup at the bar after the Pitch Slam. You can see if I really do drink tequila…

Please share your pitching and conference advice in the comments. I’d love to know your tricks for networking success!

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