Ken Rotcop, Award Winning Screenwriter on Pitching

On Saturday, April 19th, WinGateFilms attended a public screening of the short film, “Nothing But Net” at the historic Keith Albee Theater in Huntington WV as an Official Selection of the 2008 Appalachian Film Festival. Featured speaker at the Festival was Ken Rotcop, an award winning screenwriter and teacher of screen writing, former creative head of four studios (Embassy Pictures, Hanna-Barbera, Cannon Films, and Trans-World Productions), founder of Pitchmart (as featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the award-winning feature-length documentary, “Talk Fast”), and author of “The Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Yourself and Your Movie Idea to Hollywood.” Ken was kind enough to ask several questions about NBN during the brief filmmaker Q&A session following the screening.

Pitchmart is a semi-annual event that arose from Ken’s weekly screen writing workshop series in the LA Area, at which graduates of Ken’s screen writing workshop who have had their screenplays approved by Ken have the opportunity to pitch 1-on-1 approximately 25 studio executives looking for film projects to produce ( Ken emphasized that the most important quality in a 2-minute pitch is to “suck in the executive to listen to you, by asking them a question” that forces them to concentrate on what you are saying, and engaging them in your presentation. It is all about getting them to focus on you, instead of on the last pitch, meeting, or phone they heard, or what they plan on having for lunch.

According to Ken, studio executives are envious of writers’ ability to create and need you as much you need them. Even though it is their job to read scripts, too many executives hate to read. As a result, many times a writer will be asked to submit a 1 page synopsis of a script. Ken emphasized that a writer should never send only a 1 page synopsis, which could not possibly do justice to a well-written screenplay. Instead, Ken shared that some of the writers with whom he has worked have experienced success at responding to such a request by sending a polite cover letter requesting that the executive “please take 8 minutes to read the first 10 pages” of the script, with an offer to send the rest of the script if then requested. Apparently, the latest hot trend in LA is to hire one of the emerging companies that transform a feature-length screenplay into a comic book for executives to read.

Ken recommended looking into submitting screenplays to screen writing contest in NY or LA only, as many others are scams to collect registration fees. He also cautioned against submitting screenplays to some of the online writing websites for comments, as it may be difficult to protect one’s authorship from misappropriation. The best and safest way to submit a script is through an agent.

Some of Ken’s practical advice for writers:

– Keep first-time scripts under 100 pages

– No camera direction in reader scripts (that is for shooting scripts)

– Readers want to read vertically, not horizontally (white space is your friend)

– Easier to sell contemporary pieces than “costume pieces” (however, many Oscar films are “costume pieces”)

– “Hanging Elevator” plot device, where audience knows something that character doesn’t and which raises the stakes and increases the excitement in the story, is often helpful

– “If you go in knowing every executive will lie to you 100% of the time” you may avoid getting hurt (attributed to William Goldman)

– Advises against pitching using comparisons to other successful films (as some may advise), urging that your story should stand on its own merit

– Advises against pitching using potential A-list actors for main roles, as a first-time screenplay will rarely ever have access to this level of talent

In selling a screenplay, the general rule of thumb is that a script sells for about 5% of the production budget. An option on the script typically pays about 1-1.5% of the budget, with the right to renew often at the producer’s discretion, not the writer’s. An option is a right granted for a limited period of time (typically 6 months to 2 years) for a producer to lock up a script so that financing can be sought, with the rights reverting to the author at the end of the option period, if the option to purchase is not exercised within the applicable time period.

Best of luck with your pitches!


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