Film Festivals

LAS VEGAS SCREENWRITING CONFERENCE July 11 – 14, 2002

By • Jul 20th, 2002 •

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At a recent film festival I talked with an elderly couple. The woman, who was a retired surgeon from the Midwest, had written a screenplay. She told me the story and it was heart-warming and clever. What did she do to prepare for writing a screenplay? Did she read books, take a screenwriting class, buy FINAL DRAFT?

“Well,” she said, “I watched 1,000 movies!”

This is the wonderful democracy of screenwriting. Anybody can do it! And nearly one hundred hopeful screenwriters spent four days at the Tropicana Resort Casino at the second annual Las Vegas Screenwriting Conference (LVSWC) (www.vegasscript.com) to learn the secret codes of script writing, get advice, and pitch to agents and studio executives.

At the end of the Conference I talked to attendees who had successful and poorly received pitch meetings, seen lousy pitches actually improve, and found out that 20 projects had interested the studio executives and agents who were present. Attendee Joe O’Brien made five successful pitches to three people and all five projects garnered serious interest.

Pitching to industry executives sounds tough and, as Bette Davis once famously said about getting old, “It’s not for sissies.”

So why not let Robert Kosberg do it for you?

Hollywood pitch expert Robert Kosberg hosted a pre-conference pitch class.

The Conference began with the full day pre-conference class, ‘In The Room With Robert Kosberg’. Called “The Pitch King,” Kosberg teaches the fine art of “pitching,” the technique of sitting in a room for a mere few minutes with a Hollywood executive and trying – in an imaginative, pleasurable, seductive, interesting, and entertaining way – to sell your idea for a movie. Since there’s so much money at stake and a major life change for the screenwriter, this can be a humiliating experience for the unprepared. ‘In The Room’ was the essential preparatory class for the chance – at $35 a session – to actually pitch an idea, story, or screenplay to a top producer, executive, or agent for a full, uninterrupted 15 minutes.

By Thursday morning, attendees – having done their homework – had locked up all 200 pitch sessions.
This was my first exposure to the concept of “pitching” and Kosberg was honest, forthright, and extremely inspirational. He offered to be our “Bridge to Hollywood.” He defined exactly what Hollywood was looking for – “The High Concept Idea.” Half the attendees had pitches ready to try out on him, and by the end of the morning, Kosberg had motivated several others to pitch ideas they had just dreamt up. One pitchee, Joe Bays, had such a good pitch that Kosberg not only took Bays’s finished script to read on the plane, he promised to make calls for him. On Sunday, Bays told me Kosberg called his wife twenty-four hours later with good news.

Kosberg gave out his phone number and offered to be everyone’s partner in Hollywood. He suggested we send newspaper clippings and ideas to him. Kosberg had attendees glowing with enthusiasm.

Only one industry insider – a female agent who runs her own agency – was temperamental and irate. Apparently shanghaied to the Conference under false pretenses, she was adamant about not wanting anything to do with attendees who had not paid for fifteen minutes of her time. She had nothing even remotely positive to say. In fact, her appearance on the last day’s panel was so negative, I’m certain it was the only reason other agents said, “Okay. Send me query letters. I read every one of them.” The panelists, including Jack Allen (of the Robert Greenwald Agency and author of Marilyn By Moonlight), Frederick Levy (Marty Katz Productions), and Alex Ross (founder of www.writemovies.com) were far more encouraging. At least they offered attendees a glimmer of hope.

A bonus class was held Thursday evening from 7:00 to 10:00 PM by USC and UCLA Professor Richard Krevolin on film and script analysis and moderated, to everyone’s delight, by TV writer/producer Steve Young (www.greatfailure.com).

FRIDAY

The Class Schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday was impressive. There were four classes offered Friday morning: Richard Krevolin’s Intro to Screenwriting; Richard Stefanik’s Story Design: Creating Popular Hollywood Movies; and Bill Martell’s Dialogue to Die For (Session 1) and a panel discussion on How To Get Representation and Get Produced. The second set of morning sessions offered were Krevolin’s Intro to Screenwriting (Continued); Stefanik’s Story Design (Continued); and Martell’s You Have the Wrong Idea. After the lunch break, there were two 90-minute panels to choose from: High Concept: Have I Got What It Takes and Breaking Into TV Land. From 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM there were two other sessions: Dialogue and Characters/Film and Proper Script Format For Film and TV. At 6:00 there was a cocktail mixer attended by writer, producer and director and the Conference’s 2002 Banquet honoree, George Gallo.

SATURDAY

Saturday’s program began with Richard Krevolin’s two sessions on Advanced Screenwriting; Richard Stefanik’s two sessions on Writing Exciting and Unpredictable Scripts; Bill Martell’s two sessions on Story Form and Structure and Act Two Made Easy; and How To Get Representation and Get Produced.
By the time I left Stefanik’s sessions I was certain I could write a megahit movie. Stefanik has analyzed every megahit and explained, with clarity and precision, how to structure a $200 million dollar grossing movie. His sessions on story design and creating popular Hollywood movies were brilliant.
A “Power Lunch” was held with industry guests at each table. The afternoon panels were Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? Writing the Comedy Film and Writing The Sitcom and Comedy Skit for Television. At 4:00 PM, attendees could select either Tailor Your Film Career or The Drama Series and TV Writing.

Conference organizer Michael Herst awards George Gallo his award.

The Awards Banquet began with Steve Young’s hilarious take on ageism in Hollywood. Young advised us that certain words, clothes, demeanor, and appearance were verboten in Hollywood. He counseled the audience to gravely admit just turning thirty and being heartsick over it.

Michael Herst, Las Vegas Screenwriting Conference’s founder and Executive Director, introduced honoree George Gallo, who was given the Outstanding Achievement and Contribution to Film & TV award. Gallo, best known for “Bad Boys” and “Midnight Run,” was a gracious honoree and charmed everyone present. Gallo was easily approachable and willing to talk and offer advice. Gallo, who was accompanied by his beautiful wife, is also an accomplished artist and has won several awards for his landscape paintings.

SUNDAY

Sunday’s program began with Krevolin’s Structural Analysis of Wizard of Oz, Stefanik’s two sessions on Creating Humorous Characters and Scenes, and Martell’s Dialogue To Die For (Part Two) and Act Two Made Easy. Martell’s sessions complimented Stefanik’s megahit theory by breaking down movie scenes and explaining why certain plot points are necessary. Since Act Two is typically problematic for first time screenwriters, this session was particularly enlightening.

Stefanik and Martell have formulated the key points needed to write a high concept Hollywood blockbuster. I recommend screenwriters visit Stefanik’s (www.megahitmovies.com) and Martell’s (www.scriptsecrets.net) websites. Martell’s website gives free script tips every day.

Screenwriting attendees listen to top Hollywood panel.

After lunch there was a panel on The Business of Writing. This class was well attended since it was the chance for last minute advice and summarized what was really important to attendees – how to get an agent to look at their scripts.

The Las Vegas Screenwriting Conference was a huge success for attendees. Michael Herst made sure the Conference ran smoothly and attendees were not disappointed. I asked Christopher Lockhart, Executive Story Editor at ICM (International Creative Management) what brought him to LVSWC. He said that it was his way of giving something back to the industry, he enjoyed meeting first-time writers, and especially, knew “how hard it was breaking into the business.” Jeff Arch, (best known for writing “Sleepless in Seattle”), and Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz (“10 Things I Hate About You” and “Legally Blonde”) were on panels and available to chat with. Attendees were also given the opportunity twice a day to win (by placing their names in a baseball hat) over $6,000 in screenwriting books and software. Five copies of Movie Magic’s Screenwriter 2000 software, five copies of Dramatica, The Ultimate Creative Writing Partner, five copies of StoryView, and five copies of the leader in screenwriting software, Final Draft, were provided.

Herst is considering organizing an East Coast screenwriting conference and has already signed up agents and executives for the 2003 LVSWC. The next LVSWC will also give attendees the chance to practice pitching with Desiree Richmond of Aaronde Entertainment. Richmond has agreed to be a “Pitch Coach,” so that attendees can properly prepare before sitting across from the agent who will hopefully say: “I like it. Here’s my card. Send me your script.”

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