This weekend is the Great American PitchFest, where aspiring screenwriters get the chance to meet one-on-one with industry professionals and pitch a screenplay. The catch? A ticking clock -- a concept every screenwriter should be familiar with.
You get five minutes. Go.
Answer: You don't.
I've had the privilege of running a Pitch Boot Camp practice session at GAPF and other pitch festivals around town. People fly in from all over the world with their single-spaced two-page synopsis thinking that pitching is reading a description of each and every scene in their movie.
Example: This college nerd, Mark, goes on a date with a girl named Erica. It doesn't go well because he talks like he has ADHD. He insults Erica and she breaks up with him. So he goes back to his dorm and gets drunk and blogs about her. She sees the blog and gets really pissed off. Then Mark hacks into the university's computers and creates a web site that lets people compare pictures of all the female students. It becomes so popular that same night that it crashes the university's server. That gets the attention of these wealthy twins in this exclusive club that Mark wants to get into. They approach him, Mark, to build a web site for them, but he...Time! Thank you. We have your contact information. Don't call us, we'll call you. Next!
If you're pitching The Social Network, you want to sit right down and say, "This is about Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in history. He invented Facebook in his college dorm room while drunk. It connects 500 million people, but ironically, the guy who invented it is incapable of connecting with anyone in real life. In fact, his business partner and only friend is suing him for half the company after Zuckerberg shut him out."
That pitch tells you about the protagonist, the theme, the conflict, and what the script's hook is.
So if you're going to be at GAPF this weekend, remember: Don't pitch the chicken!
2015 UPDATE: GAPF has been rebranded ScriptFest. It will be held at the Burbank Marriott, May 29-31.
(Portions of this article first appeared on Five Sprockets on November 7, 2011.)