How I Got My Screenplay Optioned Thanks To Lab and Script Feedback at LondonSWF by Tim Guest

As a result of pushing myself to get as much from the Festival as possible, I ended up with invaluable script feedback and advice which has helped me to get one of my screenplays optioned by a production company – which was a fantastic result.

I’m not the world’s best pitcher, nor the most confident networker or even the best joiner-in in the world, by any stretch of the imagination.

Last year I went to the London Screenwriters’ Festival for the first time in years. I’d always enjoyed it before – attending the lectures and catching up with other writers I knew, but those times I always left with a sense that I could have got more from the experience. I think I went with the expectation that something would happen as if by magic, just by me being there.

The Festival is an amazing platform – but I realised you need to bring your best work and your enthusiasm to get the very best from it. At the very least, you’ll find that if you absorb a huge amount, and your work, and the way you market yourself, will be transformed.

So at last year’s Festival, I decided to throw myself fully into it and take every possible opportunity the three days offered – even though the prospect of some of the more pitch-y, network-y activities made me my bum squeak slightly (but not audibly, thankfully).

I had three feature screenplays I felt were ready to promote, so looked for every opportunity to either market them, get feedback on them, discuss them with other writers, or learn more from professionals about how I could improve on them.

So for what it’s worth, here are my tips for getting the very most out of the Festival – before, during and after:

Polish your work till it shines

Everyone is at different stages with their writing. If you have finished work – a feature screenplay, a developed TV series or pilot – then great. Make sure you get it up the very best standard it can be, so you’re really proud to shout about it. Make sure you have your killer loglines, one-page outlines and any other supporting material ready to go. Someone will always ask for a one-pager, or a two-pager, or a paragraph – and it’s sod’s law they’ll ask for the one you don’t have. So make sure you prepare all of them – and if they’re not used, you’ll find the process of forcing yourself to tell your story in a limited number of words will sharpen your premise and pitch. There’s tons of advice on this site, on Bang2Write and other places online to help you with formats if you’re not sure.

The more you prepare, the more confident you’ll be in selling your project. You’ve got a fantastic opportunity to hook people with your work, so make sure it shines. You want your pitchees and others to be blinded by your brilliance; rushed to the nearest emergency eye doctor, screaming in agony, but also overcome by the amazing idea they’ve just heard that they simply have to read more about.

If you don’t have anything you feel you can market right now, then you’re in an equally good place. Be open to everything you hear, and find out what producers are looking for. Find out what’s selling at the moment, and pitch your ideas to other writers in the networking sessions, when you’re waiting for a talk to begin, or in the queue for a coffee. You’ll come away brimming with ideas about where to take your writing next. There’s an amazing wealth of advice on offer, so try to absorb as much as you can.

Sign up for everything… . ‘Doing it’ is the best practice, even if it may not seem like it at the time.

Make sure you read all the updates as the Festival draws nearer, and put yourself forward for everything you think will help you either market your work, or help you learn more. That includes Script Labs, script consultancies, table reads, and anything else that presents itself. Join the Delegates Network, talk to the other attendees about what they’re doing, and keep a keen eye on all the speakers as they’re announced. Research the pitchees and be ready to book your slot online for the most advantageous pitching session.During the Festival, put yourself forward for things that you’d usually avoid like the plague. I queued up for the elevator pitch, even though the thought of it made me faintly queasy.

After I’d spent several toe-curling minutes trying to pitch a psychological horror screenplay to a producer looking for children’s TV series ideas, I wondered what the point was. It turns out she wasn’t looking for a sinister new version of Teletubbies with a side order of dark mind-games. But no matter – just being on the sharp end of a hopeless situation had polished my pitch like nothing before. In my desperation to sell my entirely inappropriate idea, I’d inadvertently discovered a great hook for the pitch. I used it the next day in my pitching session and got a read request from a producer. ‘Doing it’ is the best practice, even if it may not seem like it at the time.

Practice and prepare for pitching

The pitching sessions are an amazing opportunity. To make the most of them, get together in advance with another attendee and practice your pitching again and again. In the run-up to last year’s Festival, I Skyped with another writer friend and we pitched to each other till we were blue in the face – and I’m sure neither of us want to hear anything about the other’s script EVER AGAIN. I MEAN IT, Gemma. But at the end of the practice sessions, we were much more confident about sitting down in front of producers and agents, ready to whip out a one-pager, two-pager, paragraph or full script if they requested it.

And don’t be worried about getting your pitches wrong or changing them on the fly. Some of the best angles can come from your mistakes. I pitched to a producer, and saw by her facial expression that she was much more engaged by a detail I thought was entirely inconsequential, so I flipped my next pitches and put that up front for the next pitch. I got much more interest that way.

If you can’t find another writer/willing victim to listen to your pitch, contact someone on the Delegate Network. Everyone wants to make their pitch as good as possible – and pitching to a stranger will certainly help you focus on the essentials of your story.

Listen to feedback

I was lucky enough to get on the thriller Script Lab, and I also got a script feedback session from the Script Surgery. The advice from the Lab leader, Hayley McKenzie, and the other writers in my Script Lab, and from Ellen Stein from Euroscript was invaluable, and helped me see my script from a completely different angle. I absorbed as much feedback as I possibly could, and used it in a re-draft of my thriller after letting it percolate in my brain for a few days. As a result of that work, the script has now been optioned. The advice and feedback I got at LSF in no small part helped me to sell the script.

The LSF is an amazing opportunity for you – wherever you are with your writing.

You’ve paid your money, you’ve got your ticket. All it takes now is for you to bring your game face, get the very most from it – and above all, enjoy yourself. It’s all out there waiting for you.

Tim Guest

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