Date: Friday 25th – Sunday 27th October 2013
Venue: Regent’s College University, Regent’s Park
i) To spread the love among my writing peers for the Reply To All short ahead of our crowd-funding campaign.
ii) To test the water for a possible expanded feature-length Reply To All movie with UK and Hollywood movers and shakers
10am: Bumped into a lovely actress who was one of the 450 who applied for the lead role of Becki, but didn’t quite get to call-back. Awkward? It could have been, but she was great about it and is not short of work – having had a very productive 12 months. She said that the role had appealed to her because it sounded like a whole lot of fun.
10:30am: So I’m sat in the lecture theatre listening to Hollywood Producer X tell us all about how to create a killer logline pitch. He gives us an example from a couple years back: turns out some dude walked into a Hollywood studio with a one sentence pitch that basically amounted to Zach Galifianakis (the beardy one out of The Hangover) and Reply To All. The Hollywood studio bought it in a trice. The audience at LSF get it too, and laugh. Me? I freeze. The Hollywood machine is gearing up to make my high concept comedy, with one of the biggest names in comedy attached.
What to do? Do I run off, cry in the corner and shout “It’s not fair!”? No. I re-gather myself, take encouragement that we’ve got a solid gold, Hollywood-approved, movie idea that people will want to see and vow to beat them to the punch. The Hollywood machine can move remarkably slowly – with the help of my team, collaborators and backers I can make this happen much quicker.
Besides, the execution of both our films are bound to be different – so there’s no conflict.
Nevertheless, I’m curious. What stage of development is their film at? How much money are they throwing at it? I try to pull up IMDB on my Blackberry, but the 3G here is crap. Will look later.
1:30pm: I chat with aforementioned Lovely Actress and a fellow screenwriter (both of whom were in the earlier presentation) about the coincidence of the Zach Galifianakis film. They both agree: no big deal – go ahead and get it made anyway. Take it as a compliment.
4:40pm: I manage to door-step Hollywood Producer X about the Zach Galifianakis Reply To All project. What does he know? How close is it to production? Should I be encouraged or discouraged? First of all, no I shouldn’t be discouraged. There are so many examples of “similar idea” films clashing, it doesn’t stop people from buying them. X uses “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” as an example. Epic Producer Y chips in: he says that once there were no fewer than 3 Hollywood volcano movies released in the same year. I think of “Big” and “Vice Versa” being another example. X compares Hollywood to a big oil tanker, the bigger the production the slower these things can move. He says he’s not aware of the rival project’s progress at the moment – Zach’s in huge demand, it may be on the back-burner – so no point me holding back, go ahead and make my film. Life’s too short to procrastinate over these kind of things.
9pm: Tell various writers about Reply To All in the Final Draft-sponsored marquee bar. Everyone gets it. Instantly. Everyone loves it.
11pm: Get home and Google “Zach Galifianakis Reply All”. Turns out the deal was done in June 2010. With a big-ass studio too. However, there is no mention of it since. I look on Zach’s IMDB – and no mention either, not even as a work in progress/pre-production. Sounds like it’s on the back-burner. Or possibly in what they call “turnaround” ie. being touted around for other studios to take on. Game on!
12:30pm: I talk to Nathan Gael York, a French writer and Assistant Director who likes the sound of Reply To All, whilst I’m in the queue for…
1:00pm …THE ELEVATOR PITCH. We’ve all heard about it – as some imaginary blue sky opportunity where you’re in an elevator and in steps Steven Spielberg on the 5th floor. You need to pitch him your solid gold screenplay idea by the time he exits on the 10th – but how many people have actually done it? I have. Two years running at the LSF. The deal is you get a brief elevator ride with a mystery executive, pitch to them and try to leave with their business card.
The tension in the queue is unbearable. Like a rollercoaster queue where you get to the front and think “Should I just drop out now?” and walk away, while praying you don’t throw up in mid-air. Now that really wouldn’t go down well in an elevator pitch. They mark you down for that kind of thing.
You’re mulling this all over when…they call you. You’re next. Hang about! THEY CALL YOU! They don’t even do that for rollercoasters. Like you’re about to see the doctor. Or the executioner. The doors slide open and I’ve got 45 seconds (the length of time it takes the lift to get to the second floor and back down) to pitch my expanded feature-length vision for Reply To All to a mystery exec…let’s call her Hollywood Agent Z. The pitch was a bit rushed to be honest – I’d planned on it being 60 seconds like it was last year (older, slower lift, obviously) and at the end of it Agent Z revealed she is working with a writer on developing a TV show also on the Reply To All theme. Based on a true story, apparently. So, no business card.
Instantly disappointing but again – in the long run – further proof we have a solid gold concept which people in the Hollywood game clearly rate. Obviously our execution of it would be different, so once more there’s no clash there…and I’m left puzzling why someone would actually propose this as a TV serial? Especially when it’s based on a true story, which must run out of steam at some point. Surely Reply To All is better suited to a traditional film narrative: Problem – Complications – Solution. Not sure how they can spin it out as an ongoing sitcom or serial. Unless it’s a TV movie? No matter. Not my problem. Onwards and upwards. A half-fitting metaphor for my Elevator Pitch experience.
6:30pm: THE PITCH FACTOR. If the Elevator Pitch is a white-knuckle ride, then The Pitch Factor is a white-knuckle ride with sharks. Great Whites. An audience to watch. How does it work? Like a cross between X-Factor and Dragon’s Den to be honest: one stage, 3 judges and an audience of 500+ of your fellow writers who had enough common sense NOT to do what you’re about to do.
Which is: take the mic, pitch your project in 90 seconds and stand back to take the feedback. To enter, you put £5 into a hat (actually a champagne bucket) – and the pitch adjudged the best wins all the cash. Once more I pitch the feature-length version of Reply To All. Once more Hollywood Agent Z is on the panel (darn!), and so are Hollywood Producer X and Epic Producer Y who have also heard about the project already. To an extent, I’m on a hiding to nothing, but go ahead and deliver a confident pitch – engaging equally with audience and panel – which raised some solid laughs in all the right parts.
It’s gone down well with my fellow writers, but what of the panel? Z concedes it was a good pitch, but naturally pours cold water on it by pointedly reminding me that her client has something like this in development. She’s changed her story from earlier though – the project she mentioned was barely comparable – so I wonder if I’m beginning to bug her as she realises I’m not going to back down on this project or be intimidated into not making it. With my indie set-up I’m probably going to get my project made (the short) sooner than her client will. X tells me it was a great pitch, especially the ‘smaller’ elements of the story (which is basically the ‘Becki’ story from the Short film). Y just looks me in the eye and drawls “You’re getting very good at this, aren’t you?”
8pm: So, I didn’t win the Pitch Factor – I’m sure that Z wouldn’t have let that happen even if the other two guys wanted it. I get the feeling we’re on the verge of becoming each other’s Festival nemeses. But nevertheless I’m getting some very positive feedback from my fellow writers in the Festival bar. (Which is actually a marquee. With chandeliers. And the lead singer from Morcheeba is over in the corner singing movie soundtrack classics. Woo-hoo!)
11am: Time for THE GREAT BRITISH PITCHFEST – a formal pitch session, where writers circulate and sit down with Producers in a speed-dating format. As this is mainly for pitching completed feature-length screenplays, I park Reply To All and focus on selling some of my other features. With some success, too :-)
I continue to get some good feedback throughout the day on my performance at last night’s Pitch Factor - from my fellow writers and from one of the Script Consultants from Euroscript.
7pm: In the unofficial farewell drinks at Baker Street’s The Globe pub, I have some very productive chats with numerous writers about future collaboration. Not least, with a freelance PR & Marketing professional and prolific Tweeter – who has volunteered her services (and considerable energy!) to be our runner and source of positive word-of-mouth vibes during our upcoming Reply To All crowd-funding campaign.
What a weekend!