Last weekend I traveled to Los Angeles to pitch my book, Finding My Invincible Summer, to Hollywood studios. It was a bold move and took a lot of effort. My publisher “invited” me to take part in the event a few months ago – for a fee. Officially, it’s called the Book-to-Screen PitchFest Los Angeles 2013, and it’s sponsored by Author Solutions, a division of Penguin Books. I figured I’d never know if my book was screen-worthy unless I gave it a shot, and I also thought it would be a chance to sharpen my skills at talking about my book. So I signed up.
I was not disappointed. It was a fantastic experience. Ours was the third event of its kind. It was attended by over 100 authors and representatives from at least seven Hollywood studios. We were told that several authors’ works had been tapped for consideration at the previous two PitchFests.
Getting there, however, was an ordeal. During the month running up to the event I spent most of my time talking myself into a nervous tizzy: fretting over the content of my pitch; consulting a hypnotist to calm my nerves; looking for appropriate clothes; getting my car serviced (I hadn’t driven to LA alone in six years); having my hair done—and on and on. I even ordered a satin pillowcase to protect my ‘do while sleeping in the hotel. Yet it seemed as if nothing went the way it was supposed to. The items I ordered on line either came in the wrong size or color or never arrived at all. My dogs, picking up on my trepidations and the open suitcase, got visibly nervous and started acting out. And the coup de grace was a blow to my shin two nights before my trip that sent me to the ER—possibly a clever subconscious attempt on my part to get out of the trip.
But I did it. As I drove up, I practiced my two-minute pitch in my head for nearly four hours. My husband’s niece Vanessa was waiting for me when I arrived at the hotel (the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on the Avenue of the Stars). She lives in LA, and I had invited her to be my guest at the reception. Being with Vanessa calmed me down enormously, but I was still quaking in my boots as we walked to the reception. I was sure I was going to either faint or do something really embarrassing. At the reception we met several fellow authors and I began to feel more at ease.
The speakers at the reception talked about what we could expect from the studio representatives. The first step in the development of a Hollywood project is an option to explore the idea. The author may receive as much as $500 in exchange for exclusive rights over a fixed period of time, typically 18 months. If the project moves forward, there will be further compensation down the road, but that could take years. They said that the “gestation” period for a Hollywood project can be as long as a decade. I had no idea.
The good news is that studio reps are looking for ideas and asking to come to the event. As I mentioned earlier, they optioned several titles at the previous two PitchFests.
Our registration packet contained an article by a Disney executive emphasizing that the best way for studios to turn a profit is to skip the mega-budget movies and focus on “high concept” ideas that can be developed into “stories that make us care.”
“Most important . . . is the need to create one or more central characters who confront something elemental about themselves by the end of the film. This applies to the whole enormous and extraordinary range of film experience. Name any truly successful movie and you will find that this is the case.”
After citing several films, the author concludes:
“These films didn’t just involve transformation . . . they involved transformations that were affirmative and uplifting. More than anything else, I believe that these are the feelings that audiences seek out when they go to the movies. These are the feelings that audiences want to take home with them and treasure.”
I began to feel more reassured, because my book certainly fits the desired model. I also heard that they’re looking for true stories. They want authenticity. So I wasn’t in the wrong place after all. I went to bed more relaxed, telling myself that it would all be over this time tomorrow night.
Brringgg!! At 5:30 a.m. four different bells went off in my hotel room to make sure I’d be up, packed, and ready for the breakfast meeting by 7:00.
Over breakfast we listened to more advice and met more fellow authors, and then we broke up into groups to practice our pitches. I liked that part the best. As we watched, the facilitator listened carefully to each pitch and skillfully pinpointed the elements that deserved the most focus while gently suggesting the parts that could be eliminated. Everyone’s story was interesting. The variety of concepts was amazing. The facilitator’s comments to the other authors gave me ideas about where I could refine and change my own pitch. When my turn came, he told me to drop my log line (one-sentence summary) and start immediately with my scene, and he made a few other good suggestions as well.
After lunch, we were on our own to refine and memorize our pitches until our appointed time with the studio reps. It was also a chance to chat with some of our fellow authors. We bonded instantly – we knew that we shared a huge experience in common. They all loved my title.
My pitch went well. I delivered it at seven different tables, four with one rep and three with two reps sitting across from me.
If there’s any interest in my story, I will be contacted in about two weeks. I will also receive feedback on my presentation; each of the reps was asked to fill out a quick form on each of the authors.
Whew!! It was finally over. I drove home relaxed and satisfied that I was richer for the experience. And I had faced and conquered my fears.