I had the honor of attending Pitchfest this past weekend in New York City. Pitchfest was a book-to-screen seminar where independent, self-published authors like myself were taught how to turn our novels into a two minute pitch and then pitch that idea to studio/production representatives from movies and television.
The event was hosted by Author Solutions, a company that provides services to self-published authors. They saw a need in Hollywood for the myriad of ideas from independent authors that was virtually unknown to them. That’s why they put together their first Pitchfest. Since then, they’ve done these bi-annually to get authors that two minute chance to sell their book idea to the silver screen.
With the expanding television audiences emerging from small, online production companies associated with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, the need for new ideas is paramount. The guest speaker, Bob Kosberg, is known as the “King of the Pitch” and he was an honor to learn the business from him.
One of the most influential quotes he told us was by former Disney CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg. “I the dizzying world of movie making, there is one fundamental concept … The idea is King!” That said, everyone has an idea or concept, but making it into a compelling story is what makes the pitch.
You start off with the set-up, putting your ideas to a particular genre, comparing it to other stories out there, like “this is Alice in Wonderland but set on Mars.” Then you go into the inciting action, what gets the ball rolling in your story, followed by an introduction of your main character. Here is where you being to really sell the idea.
Lastly, you have to lay out what’s at stake and then resolve the plot. All of this I two minutes, and they do mean two minutes.
We were put in what can only be described as “speed dating” as we walked into a room with several tables with one-to-two reps per table. One we sat down, the two minutes began and you started your pitch. At two minutes, the buzzer sounded and you shifted to the next table on the right. You had maybe a couple of seconds to finish your last few words, but then it was on to the next. You got up and shifted to the right, starting your pitch all over again to another pair of reps. This process continued until you end right back where you started from.
By the fourth pitch, my mouth was so dry I could barely speak, but I pushed on until I was done. It took less that 15 minutes but I made all my pitches. I’ll find out in a few weeks whether or not any of the reps want a copy of my book, then it’s really a waiting game from there.
As Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions Senior VP for Marketing, explained that the process was not a quick one. If a production company wants to option a story, they’ll pay an author between $500-$1500 to reserve the rights for a year to 18 months while they start developing the concept. Authors can offer to help by writing the screenplay or just wait until the project fully develops. It can take anywhere from 3-5 years or more for a project to culminate in a finished movie or television show.
A great example he gave was the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova. It was self-published in 2006 through iUniverse. It was opted for the screen and was finally released in 2014 starring Julianne Moore (Hunger Games movies, Hannibal, Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World) for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
I had a blast learning so much about the movie business, but more importantly, how to condense my novels in the Forever Avalon series into a two minute pitch. Why two minutes? It’s the average time spent in an elevator. So if you walk in an elevator with Steven Spielberg, you have your pitch ready to go. After all, it only takes one idea to make movie magic.