I love writers.
I had the honor of meeting a gifted, dare I say brilliant – though I don’t want it to go to his head – screenwriter who agreed to be a guest blogger. So, I’m pleased to present *drum roll* the produced, working, Atlanta-based award-winning screenwriter Michael H. Harper and his insights on how to How To Get In The Room
P.S. At the very end, after his bio, watch the clip- then, let me know what you think!
In November, Linda posted a well-considered and helpful “how-to” on what to do when pitching a new manuscript to a potential publisher, literary agent, or manager entitled “You, too, can have Pitch. Pitch On!” In the comments section, I added my two cents’ worth, based on my own pitch experiences in the film business. Shortly thereafter, Linda asked me to write about pitching for film, specifically a few ways a screenwriter might land the ever-elusive meeting with a producer. What follows is a short list of tactics I’ve used to get in the room; I hope it helps…
How To Get In The Room
Aim for the right door. Most screenwriters will never get the chance to pitch to Steven Spielberg, Joel Silver, or Brian Grazer; they’re some of the biggest producers in Hollywood. So don’t hang your hopes on landing a pitch meeting with them … yet. There are tons of lesser-known, but reputable, producers out there; set your sights on them. Find a film on IMDb similar in tone to your screenplay, and contact the producers listed lowest in the credits; they’re the most likely to respond. But for best results, look outside Hollywood: go smaller, local, and more independent; just get produced. Successful experiences with smaller producers lead to future opportunities with bigger producers.
Knock. Put yourself out there. Writing is a somewhat antisocial undertaking. We lock ourselves away, alone in our offices, and create fictional worlds full of imaginary people. But filmmaking is a collaborative effort and a “who you know” industry. You have to meet people. Almost every town has some sort of film community. If yours doesn’t, consider moving to one that does. I’m not kidding; to be “in” the industry, you first need to be near it. (I’m not just talking about Hollywood. The Atlanta film scene has grown by leaps and bounds the past few years, and there are thriving film communities in Austin, Chicago, and many other cities across the country and around the world.) Industry events; film festivals; premiere screenings; they’re full of producers looking for new projects. Be there. Meeting potential producers in a social setting reduces stress, and leads to better networking opportunities … including pitch meetings. And many films have been greenlit from “off-the-cuff” pitches at these types of gatherings.
Climb in the window. Work on other people’s projects. Making a movie is like going to war. A big part of a producer’s job is pulling together the team needed to fight that war, and producers want to surround themselves with people they know they can trust to do good work. Get your name on that list; take smaller jobs on smaller crews, and do those jobs well. The next time that producer is looking for a crew, she’ll remember you’re a team player. Building a relationship through work is a great excuse for you to mention your script. “You know, I’m a writer, and having watched you on set, I can’t imagine anyone else producing my screenplay. I’d love to schedule a pitch meeting…” A lot of today’s Hollywood royalty started out as Production Assistants on other people’s sets.
Build your own door. Do it yourself. Produce a film from a screenplay you’ve written, and travel with it to film festivals. Now you’re a writer-producer. This opens doors to other, more experienced producers; some are more inclined to take a meeting with someone who has an idea of what it takes to produce a film. At film festivals, I’ve watched scores of writers speak with other writers, directors hang out with other directors, and producers rub elbows with other producers. If you’re a multi-hyphenate, you can move in all circles, expand your contacts list, forge relationships, and make scheduling those pitch meeting appointments a bit easier.
Go big; then go home. Travel to Hollywood. If you think you’ve got the next summer blockbuster or mumblecore darling in your desk drawer right now, head out to the left coast and attend a pitch summit. Inktip.com is hosting their third annual pitch summit at the end of March; I’ll be there this year, pitching two feature screenplays and a television series I’ve co-developed. But be warned: pitch summits are controlled chaos; 300 producers sitting in a ballroom as writers “speed date” their way through five minute pitches. Timekeepers, bells at the ready, keep the lines moving. It’s also an expensive undertaking; with airfare, hotel, registration, food and miscellaneous expenses adding to the tally, I’m spending well over a thousand dollars for the chance to pitch to as many producers as I can in one afternoon. (Some local film communities also hold pitch summits, if the trip to Hollywood is too big a leap.)
As stated above, this is but a short list of some of the ways a screenwriter can meet potential producers. I’ve heard all sorts of wild stories about how this producer found that project, and I bet a lot of them are true. There’s no “one, right” way to get in the room; there’s not even “one, right” room. There are thousands of producers looking for their next project right now; it might as well be yours, right?
–Michael H. Harper is a produced, working, Atlanta-based screenwriter who’s been pitching projects to producers for almost five years. He currently has three films in various stages of development; two in Atlanta, and one in L.A. In 2010, he produced and directed the award-winning short film Take Me Out, based on his original screenplay. Now a sometime-producer, he’s been on the receiving end of several pitches; he heartily prefers the writer’s side of the table.