One of the highlights from last year's WGFestival was our first-ever pitch competition. In the weeks prior to the event, attendees were asked to submit loglines of their projects, which were reviewed by the WGF team. The writers of the top ten loglines were then chosen to pitch live in front of an audience and three judges, Matt Dy of the Austin Film Festival, writer Edward Ricourt (NOW YOU SEE ME, MARVEL'S JESSICA JONES), and WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart, who provided feedback and crowned a winner (or in last year's case, winners).
We're bringing the pitch competition back for WGFestival 2017. But first, our 2016 winners, twin sisters and writing partners Lisa and Gina Gomez, give a first-hand glimpse into what it was like to pitch in front of an audience as well as what they did with the first place prizes.
In order to be considered for the pitch competition, you have to send in your logline. I know, terrifying, right? You have to send the idea for your script, or the idea of your already written script, in just one or two sentences. Except you’re actually going to send it to someone. Someone is actually going to read it. All of the hours pitching the idea to your friends, or to your mirror, or to your mom, or writing it on a Post-it note and slapping it on your computer screen is going to boil down to sending this e-mail.
An e-mail that can change your life. And it will change your life.
I personally didn’t want to send it. My sister Gina gave me the courage. I must’ve typed up the e-mail five or six times and each time I didn’t send it. I told her, ‘There’s no way they’re going to pick our logline’. She said, ‘I know. But we have to try.’ So, at the very last minute of submission, I sent the e-mail.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to all of you prospective pitch competition winners is to practice your pitch. Practice it over and over again. Practice it until it’s right. Practice it until it makes sense. Practice it until it is concise, to the point, but most importantly, practice it until it sounds like a story that you would be dying to see on the big screen.
Gina and I are infinitely lucky because we have each other. We divided the pitch and practiced only a section of it. But we had to make sure both sections flowed well into the other one and that it made sense.
If you're alone, however, don’t despair. Pitch it to your friends. To your mom. Record yourself on a voice memo on your iPhone.
When you’re practicing your pitch, this is when your ego needs to be put aside. You need to stop lying to yourself and be honest with yourself if your pitch isn't good. If it doesn’t make sense, make it make sense. If it’s too long, make it shorter. Get to the meat of your script.
Tell a story. That’s what you do. That's who you are. Paint the picture of your story. Give us a reason why we should care about your protagonist. Give us the very clear goal that the protagonist wants to achieve by the end of your script. Give us a very clear conflict and a very interesting antagonist. The clearer your points, the easier it’ll be for everyone in the audience and the judges to understand. Clarity is what makes a screenplay great. If you can give everyone a clear logline and a clear pitch, you’re halfway to writing a great script.
The actual pitch itself. Wow, what a moment. I’ll never forget it.
Throughout the entire day, Gina and I kept rehearsing the pitch during every single break that we had. But we felt like it was useless. There’s no way they’re going to pick our pitch, right? There were hundreds of incredible and aspiring screenwriters here. What were the odds?
The pitch competition started and there was the terrifying prospect that you won’t know that you’re going to pitch until they call your name. There was a tangible buzz in the air of excitement, nervousness, but above all, incredible support.
After listening to incredible pitches, there was only one more person left to pitch. They said, “This one is from a writing team.” I swear, Gina and I lurched in our seats. “Lisa and Gina Gomez, The Starry Night”.
It felt like a dream. It was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life. As we walked toward the microphone, I looked back at Gina in amused and shocked disbelief.
But we were ready. We practiced. We practiced until we got it right.
Christopher Lockhart asked what else we did and we mentioned that we were singers. He asked us to sing and we sang some of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to amazing applause. Lockhart liked it. I’m going to be honest, that definitely took the nerves out of my system.
So if you’re an incredible comedian, start with a joke. Paint a painting. Juggle. Just kidding. Be a storyteller. That is what you were born to do.
When we were pitching, there were audible gasps in the audience. I was almost taken aback by it, until I realized that it’s because they liked our idea. They liked it. The future of the industry. The amazing, aspiring and talented screenwriters that will make up our future movies and TV shows liked our idea. That was enough validation to withstand anything the judges could say.
But to our shock, the judges loved it too.
After they announced the third and second place winners, Gina and I held hands in support. We didn’t think we’d win. When they announced who won, well... I just didn’t believe it. It felt like an out of body experience. It was the greatest honor and thrill of my life.
You’re going to be in a room surrounded by talented screenwriters who are just as scared and excited as you. You’re going to pitch in front of esteemed members of the industry. It’s terrifying but I promise you, they’re on your side. Everyone’s on your side. What’s most important is that you need to be on your side.
The prizes that we have received have been incredibly instrumental to our success. The confidence that we had gained from everyone in the room liking our pitch, from our logline even being in the top 10 to actually winning the pitch competition... All of that alone meant that we at least had an idea worth exploring. That newfound confidence gave us the courage to continue working on our script, and not give up on it.
The confidence of winning the pitch competition led us to write every single day for months. We went from having one draft of our script before the competition to having five drafts in the course of three months after the competition. This burst of confidence made all the difference.
We sent our script to get coverage from the Writers’ Store and that led to us getting a Double Recommend from one of their professional Readers. Because of that, our script got sent out to managers and agents. One of the biggest agents in the industry reached out to us because of that, and that was our first real taste of getting an email from a manager!
But it didn’t stop there! Our script ended up placing in the Top 50 of the 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, the Top 10 of 2016 Final Draft’s Big Break Contest in the Historical genre, placing in the Semifinals of PAGE, and being a Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.
We’re still not done with the script, and what we noticed was that in each draft or revision we made, we kept placing higher and higher in different competitions. We would not have had that tenacity to keep going if we didn’t know we had an idea worth fighting for.
Besides confidence, we also received free Capital Badges to the Austin Film Festival. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, where we networked with fellow screenwriters and had an absolute blast. It was incredibly inspiring, and gave us insight to what our next scripts should be, and what prospective agents and managers were looking for in a screenwriter.
We also received three months of free hosting on the Black List’s website, and two free evaluations. We have yet to put up our script on the Black List’s website, but once we are done with a final draft of our script, we will, and we can’t wait to see what helpful notes the evaluations will give us.
The next prize we received was free access to Writer’s Guild Foundation events for a year, which has been incredible. I’ll never forget going to the panel on “How to Navigate the Screenplay Contest Circuit”, because at that time, Lisa and I had just found out that we made it into the Quarterfinals of Nicholl. It was such a helpful experience to talk to Andrew Lanham and Michael Werwie, who had both won Nicholl in 2010 and 2012, respectively.
The last prize was getting a meeting with WME’s Christopher Lockhart to talk about our script and to receive advice on our career. It was a 2-hour meeting, and it gave us our first true taste of Hollywood. Although he didn’t like our script, he gave us different ways of approaching it and notes that we hadn’t heard from anyone else. But one of my favorite things he said was, “Hey, don't listen to me. Tell the story you want to tell.” And that was wonderful to hear, and showcased the fact that, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live with the story that will hopefully get picked up one day. Follow your heart and intuition, because, at the end of the day, no one knows your story more than you do.
Many people alway say “Find the note within the note”, and that meeting made it very clear that something about our script wasn’t working. Maybe it wasn’t simple or clear enough. Maybe the stakes need to be even higher. Maybe we need to focus on one theme. But if I’ve learned anything from winning the WGFestival’s Pitch Competition, it’s to keep going.