Liam Beatty (2018)
Pitch title: Don’t Forget Your Dress
Michelle Lehane (2017)
‘Pitch your movie to anyone who’ll listen and adjust accordingly. You never know what valuable information you can learn from a stranger with a blank expression’. (Syd Field, Save the Cat)
A great pitch is the perfect DNA for a great film. A lot of writers argue you must perfect your pitch before you write a word of your screenplay, because if there’s a fault in your story, something lacking or confusing, you’ll find it there in the pitch.
This was the advice I took the day before the competition when some friendly strangers asked me to pitch them my idea in the hotel bar. ‘What now? Here?!’ I stammered, there was no way. If you can’t pitch to us, how will you pitch to a room full of strangers and a panel of judges? They produced a watch to time me and I knew they were serious. I took a deep breath, hands shaking, and started the opening line.
Winning the competition was an incredible honour and it helped to open the door to producers, and I found a production company interested in taking it on. I was also invited by the Writer’s Guild to a workshop with Neasa Hardiman and from that was selected in the top ten for intensive training with Sabille Kutz to learn more about the world of pitching and selling for professional screenwriters. I’m currently working on my second feature film script and hope to continue to work as a screenwriter in the future.
For anyone interested in entering the competition, I highly encourage you to get involved, and here are my top two pieces of advice:
Tip 1: You’re a writer- write your pitch. Every single word. For the final, 90 seconds isn’t long enough for you to improvise, it’s a one hundred metre sprint and every second counts, every turn of phrase. So sit down with your 120 page masterpiece and think carefully on how to condense it down to its most basic elements. Find the essence of the story start to finish in 300 words or less, and make the audience want to see it.
Tip 2: Forget you’re a writer- sell it to me. I know, you might prefer to leave the drama on screen, but if you don’t sell it like it’s the God-darn Shawshank Redemption, no one will. Rehearse your pitch until you feel comfortable start to finish without scrambling for notes. Remember- It’s your story and you’re the storyteller. No one is more qualified to tell it than you.
Janet Hayes (2016)
I developed my script during my MA in Screenwriting in the Huston Film School in NUIG. I had my first draft done prior to the Fleadh so the challenge was to condense a 90 minute script into a succinct, engaging 90 seconds. Winning was a huge honour as I was up against some stiff competition. Since winning, I’ve had “Edges”, the script that I pitched optioned, and got the attention of some heavy hitters in the industry. I’m working on the next draft of “Edges” and I’m also writing a 6 part dark comedy drama series I hope to finish mid 2017.
Luke Morgan (2015)
What did winning the Galway Film Fleadh Pitching Award mean for me?
I’ve just used a classic pitching technique. Opening with a question. And now, you’re waiting to hear the answer, aren’t you? (another question…bingo!)
Pitching a 120-page project in 90 seconds is invaluable, even if you don’t win. Why? Because it forces you to get to the core of your movie. You might be dwelling on a cool chase sequence near the end of your script, or imagining how the whole thing is going to be shot with a fish-eye lens…heck, you might even be imagining that your protagonist is going to speak like Humphry Bogart. But what is your script really about? That’s what a 90 second timeslot does to you. It shakes you by the shoulders, slaps you across the face, until you can nail it in one short line.
A rat that wants to be a chef. (Got it!)
A Detective who has to try and solve his own murder. (Got it!)
A jaded dad who starts to turn into Santa Clause. (That sounds familiar…)
First and foremost, this is what participating in the Galway Film Fleadh Pitching Competition did to my script. It focused me, helped me to see past all the clever tricks and frills and concentrate on the heart of my film.
Since winning the Pitching Award, I have had two of my feature-length screenplays optioned by production companies in Ireland (including the script that I pitched). On the strength of the award, I was accepted into a much-coveted Screen Training Ireland course. The course involved a week’s training in the art of screenwriting, as well as 10 weeks of one-on-one mentorship with a script that I am currently developing.
My 90 seconds is nearly up, and so I’ll conclude with a final piece of wisdom in the form of an inspirational quote: if you’re thinking about applying, “just do it…make your dreams come true” (LaBeouf, 2015).
Cian McGarrigle (2014)
2014 was my fifth time submitting to the pitching award at Galway and it was the first time I’d made the shortlist. So perseverance pays off I suppose. 014 was also the year that the format changed to an elevator pitch for the first time. This meant more finalists but a much shorter pitch from each of us. Ninety seconds is all you have and it’s not even enough time to regurgitate your five hundred word entry. I aimed for three hundred words but, even though I could get through it in practice, on the day with pauses and nerves factored in I just couldn’t get through it all in time. A handy trick I had up my sleeve though was a snappy closing line that I could jump to and finish on whenever the bell went.
It’s difficult to condense that plot you’ve meticulously crafted down to two hundred and fifty words or so. How do you hit the major plot points, draw the characters in broad strokes and still give a flavour of the tone in ninety seconds? It’s tough but trust your audience, they will paint in details around your carefully chosen words. After agonising for quite a while over how to get a particularly complicated section across succinctly I ended up boiling twenty or so pages of plot down to just five words: “Double-cross follows double-cross.” Save the detailed who, what and where for when you’re pitching your idea to an interested producer in the rowing club that night. In the elevator pitch you just don’t have time for all the details.
Finally, practice. Practice. Practice. Run your pitch over and over, out loud – to anyone who’ll listen. With only ninety seconds there’s little room for mistakes and corrections when you’re standing in front of the audience and the panel. By the time the Sunday morning arrived my wife had heard my spiel so often I think she could have got up and pitched in my place. Also, despite it being held early on Sunday morning the pitching awards are always busy. So if you’re not used to speaking in front of an audience try and get some practice in somewhere before the Fleadh. It might also help to record audio of yourself pitching and listen back to it. As you run it more and more and become more comfortable with the material you’ll hear the difference.
Winning the pitching award is a huge boost, and for me it meant a great deal as I’ve been involved in or attending the Fleadh for fifteen years. Even before the judges’ decision was announced people were interested in talking to me about what I was working on and one or two producers who’d missed the morning session asked to hear my pitch one-on-one.
Oh yeah, did I mention you should practice?
Jacinta Owens (2013)
Winning the Pitching Award is fantastic. But that goes without saying. If you’re reading these winners’ accounts, you’re probably either pondering entering or you’ve been shortlisted. I can only say that if you’re pondering entering – do it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Make the 500 words count. Choose the story you love and write from the heart. Fit in the beginning, middle and end as economically as you can and with a lot of punch. Don’t mindread: you won’t know who’s reading your entry and what impresses them, but it makes sense that a good story with something a bit unusual about it will catch anyone’s eye. If nothing else, you’ll have a nicely formed synopsis for your future (or existing) script.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who has been shortlisted – congratulations! From beginning to end, the whole process was exciting, if a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions. The Sunday morning I pitched was the hottest day of the year, I think. I was hoping that Joe Public would be either in bed with a hangover or eating ice cream in Eyre Square, but no, they kept on filling the room until there was only an odd seat unfilled here and there. I was nervous but ready. The only defence against nerves is not heavy drinking, as you might think, but preparation. Disclaimer: I’m not an expert, I’m only going on my own experience of the process. But it’s a pitching competition, all that matters is the pitch. Write a pitch and then practice it on people you trust. When you decide on the pitch that feels best and gets the best feedback in practice, film yourself delivering it, watch it, take notes and time it. Yes, it’s horrible. Yes, you’ll promise yourself cosmetic surgery and/or a personal trainer with the prize money, but it is really important. You’ll have a set amount of time and you need to use it wisely. If you include that lovely little quirky character that has one brilliant line, oh and that family with all the cool names that live beside the quirky character, you’ll bore everybody who doesn’t live inside your head, i.e. everybody, you’ll run out of time and you won’t get to the great ending that makes the story really unique. Filming yourself also takes the sting out of standing in front of a crowd of people if you’re not used to it, like me. You can learn to accept how you’ll look and sound delivering your pitch, which diminishes that particular worry on the day.
Don’t bother with visual aids – the panel will naturally spend half the time looking at them and not listening to you. If you love your story, they’ll love your story, so just tell the story.
Winning is fantastic – did I mention that? I’m now working on two feature films and studying an MSc in Feature Film Production, which I can attribute in the most part to winning the Pitching Award, and hopefully I’ll be at the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh watching my name roll up in the end credits of a feature film.
Hannah Patterson (2012)
I’m a big fan of pitching events. In particular, the ones that take place in front of an audience. When you watch the people up on stage, you invariably learn as much about how not to do it, as you do about how to do it well. And when you take part yourself you realise how much work actually goes in to it in order to make it seem easy.
The Galway Film Fleadh Pitching Award has a great reputation in the industry, and an enticing 3000 Euro prize money, but it was the opportunity to pitch to a large audience that was the real draw for me. To try out my story – set during the second world war, and based on true events – on a diverse group from different sectors of the industry. To see if they found the central characters and their world were as fascinating as I did, and if, ultimately, they would want to spend two hours of screen time in their company.
I’ve been underprepared before – luckily in fairly benign circumstances – so I’d never pitch again without practicing a lot first. Even though I knew my story inside out, I did a lot of honing and tweaking prior to the event to make sure that it felt fresh. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the actors I’d like to see in the roles and the directors and producers who might respond well to the material. All of this definitely paid off when it came to the actual pitch. Not only did the panel think it was an inspiring story that should be told, they said they could imagine watching it in the future.
Prior to the announcements, several people in the audience came up and said they’d like to read more about the project, which was great for moving it forward, and the subsequent prize money proved really beneficial, allowing me time away from other work to concentrate on completing a screenplay draft and also a new draft of a play, which has since been staged.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Pitching Award to anyone with a great idea for a screenplay looking to try it out.
Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair (2011)
Winning the Galway Film Fleadh pitching contest was a huge confidence boost for me. I’d been out of college only a year and had spent that year ambling around, tinkering with ideas and trying to get on my feet as a writer. DEATH RATTLE was an idea I had for a film since college that never materialized into screenplay or treatment form but when I was involved in the ENGAGE European Media program, I met producer Joseph Atkinson, who became a development producer on the project.
With the project gathering momentum in workshops across Europe, we decided to enter it into the Galway Fleadh for the Pitching competition. Pitching, especially in front of a large audience, was the most terrifying situation I could think of facing. I was horrified of having to successfully communicate to a crowd this hybrid famine western idea that had been rattling around in my head for years. On a Sunday morning, in front of a banquet room of peers, friends, colleagues, producers and industry representatives, I pitched DEATH RATTLE for a full 8 minutes, followed by a Q and A from the judging panel of some very esteemed individuals. It was such a great feeling to have Kate O’Toole call out my name at the award ceremony later that evening. I remember feeling and looking somewhat like a deer in the headlights on the Town Hall stage. When you’re just out of college and you want to be a writer for a living, it can be very dissuasive and discouraging to envision, considering how tough it is to get money in the field you want to work in. Screenwriting is a particularly challenging and often unrewarding profession but I absolutely love it and can’t see myself doing anything else.
Winning Galway made me realize that I was at the start of that career, that I was in fact going to do what I always loved to do…tell stories. I think every young writer and screenwriter needs a boost like this at the start of their careers, an affirmation to tell you that people want to hear the stories that you have to tell. Since Galway, I’ve been very busy. I’ve gotten a job as a part-time Development Assistant for Blinder Films in Dublin and am also currently working as a writer on a feature film project with a Dublin-based director. Working with Blinder in Development has been such a fantastic experience. I’ve met so many amazing and talented screenwriters at various levels of experience who share my love for good film and television. I’ve worked with them and helped them to realise and develop their work into feasible film and TV projects. DEATH RATTLE as a project, is on the shelf for the very busy time being, for only for now!
Len Collin (2010)
“My Brothers” opened the Film Fleadh in 2010, the fact that it had won the Pitching Award some three years before did not go unnoticed. The pressure was on for the 2010 final five of which I was one fifth – Yvonne Keane, Tony Flynn, Pat Comer and Thomas Hefferon made up the other four fifths. Yvonne was the brave soul who decided she would go first. Then Thomas would be followed by Tony, me and finally Pat. Tony’s idea about the death of an ordinary man causing a stand off between heaven, hell and earth had everybody laughing in the aisle’s. I sat nervously thinking with some dread “I have to follow that?” it was a tough ask.
My own pitch was for a project that would be “As Gaeilge agus as Bearla” in Irish and English. Concerning a young farmer who discovers the body of a murdered woman on his land. He doesn’t call the guards, instead he takes the body home, washes and dresses the wounds, puts his old mums clothes on her and starts a conversation in Irish. “Dumpáilte” [Dumped] then becomes an investigation into how the woman died and an exploration of Donal’s mental health. It is funny, dark and has a strong flavour of noir.
The room was filled with over two hundred audience members many of whom were industry professionals. I wondered how they would take to a guy with an English accent pitching an Irish language project. Thomas had learned his pitch by heart and had delivered without notes. Tony had made everyone laugh, Yvonne had won everybody’s hearts, now I was talking about the loneliness and isolation of a farmer in the Gaeltacht and his relationship with a corpse. The panel of judges – Lelia Doolan, Bingham Ray and Ros Hubbard- departed to debate the merits or otherwise of the projects and the winner would be announced by Kate O’Toole later that evening. It was an amazing moment when my name was called out, in a difficult year this was my personal highlight. I mumbled something on stage, then went to watch the rest of the world cup final on TV in the Rowing Club. I can’t remember who won that particular competition.
So what happened next? Well winning the Pitching Award doesn’t necessarily open doors, but it does unlock a few. You still have to knock loudly and do the work, it won’t come to you; not in these difficult economic times. Dumpáilte has been optioned by John Phelan at Bootstrap films. He is a wonderful producer who gets the script and has moved the story on [it’s now in it’s fifth draft.] I got turned down for a First Draft Loan by Bord Scannán Na hÉireann, but lines of communication are open with them. Had a meeting at TG4 who were great, but all that was on the table there were the rich tea biscuits. Ultimately it may take longer than three years to get Dumpáilte to the screen, but it will get there because I [and John] have absolute faith in the story. That’s why I won the pitching award, because I was passionate about my project and passionate that it should be as Gaeilge. I’ve been lucky to earn my living as a scriptwriter I’ve won awards before, but none to date have meant as much to me as the 2010 Galway Film Fleadh Pitching Award.
Gary Mitchell (2009)
‘There’s the Pope Burner!’ A man’s voice called from across the street as I walked, hand in hand, with my wife Alison away from the Town Hall Theatre in the centre of Galway on the night of the 12th of July 2009.
Now if I was hearing this story some years ago in my own home, as a child of the troubles in Belfast, I would have expected this to be followed by scenes of angry Irishmen, wielding pitchforks and lighted torches, attacking the accused, ‘Pope Burner’ and eventually putting him to death, chopping his head off and parading it through the streets of Galway for all to see and cheer and of course to serve as a warning to any other Protestants from the Black North who might dare to venture west. So, imagine my surprise when whistles and spontaneous applause followed this shout and people wished us well and congratulated me on my triumph.
I can still see the proud smile stretching across my wife’s face because she understood what was going on. You see the reason I was walking away from the Town Hall Theatre in Galway, was not, as many might have suggested when I was a boy, because we had planted a bomb and needed to make good our escape but in fact it was because I had claimed the pitching award at the Galway Film Fleadh!
Yes, I had to tear myself away from all the trouble and controversy that occurs at this time of year in Northern Ireland as either side of the religious divide take up their traditional, opposing, positions for the marching season. Instead, I went to Galway with my pitch, ‘Get the Pope’ set at precisely this time of year and, that’s right, a film all about the trouble and controversy that occurs…
On the drive to Galway I may have been sticking to the speed limit but my mind certainly wasn’t as it raced on ahead of me determined to get the event over, win or lose, it didn’t matter. It was more important to stop the sickening feeling of churning nerves in my stomach.
I met the other ‘winners’ of the pitching award at the venue and we all agreed that we were in fact winners just to get this far, to have been selected for the final but sitting trembling, sweating, listening to the other pitches didn’t make me feel like a winner at all. In fact it was more like the time I had to pitch my idea for an overdraft to my bank manager – didn’t win that one.
I don’t remember anything about my pitch at all. In fact, it was as though someone else pitched it and then woke me up after the judging panel had their fun like Simon Cowell and Co. Then I was informed that we would find out the winner some hours later at another very public event – the awards ceremony itself.
By the time I got to the ceremony my wife had tried on three different outfits and I was just a mess of nerves constantly practicing how to lose with dignity and hold myself together should I need to congratulate someone else. Then the big moment arrived and the winner of ‘everybody’s favourite award’ was announced. A round of applause actually gave me a terrible headache as I suddenly realised I hadn’t prepared any type of ‘winning’ speech.
It went something like this: In 1974 after we lost our first ever effigy of the Pope from the top of our bonfire and I was selected as the boy to go and get it back, I wonder how many people would have believed that some 35 years later that same boy would pitch a movie idea about his ordeal, at a film festival in Galway, and win the first prize?
Oh, and did I mention that the Irish Film Board are now backing the first draft?
Barbara Deignan (2008)
The Sunshine Group is a comedy-drama about 17 year old Conaill whose attempts to avoid dealing with his father’s death lead him to run away from The Sunshine Group; a sickeningly wholesome bereavement camp on the banks of the Shannon.
It’s a story that’s been rattling around my head in one form or another for about two years and I was delighted to get the chance to pitch it at the Fleadh, not least because it would be a chance to whip it into shape and get some feedback on it. I had worked solidly on my pitch before the Fleadh but still hadn’t managed to finalise it as the train rolled into Galway on Thursday evening. After a vat of coffee and some practise runs pitching to the fridge and dishwasher, I finally had it down and was ready to deliver it to the audience in the Cinemobile on Sunday Morning.
The night before the pitch I met up with Will Collins, an old college friend who had won the pitching award in 2007. Will’s advice was simple “above all else be passionate about your story”. I took this nugget into the pitch the following morning. I had it down to a tee. I had the highs and the lows; I factored in the laughs and the tears…that was of course, until the moment that Ralph Christians introduced me to the audience and I choked “Barbara Deignan with The Sunshine Group”…..GULP!!! Everything that I had prepared, every paragraph, sentence and punctuation mark all flowed freely in one enormous wave and before I knew it…it was over.
The best advice I can offer to the next lucky batch of Pitchers is to keep it simple. Break your story down to its core and just deliver the main points that drive it along. You can’t account for the nerves you’ll experience at the pitch but keeping it simple is one way of avoiding them. Of course be passionate about your story.
William Collins (2007)
I will never forget the Friday morning I got the call to let me know that I had been selected as one of the finalists for the Pitching Award, it made me sick. Seriously I got so worried and stressed that I actually got sick, for a week.
‘My Brothers’ is the story of Noel and his two younger brothers who, using a ‘borrowed’ bread van, embark on an epic quest to replace their dying father’s watch; grinding gears and screaming at each other across two counties to get to an arcade machine in Ballybunion. The story had been rattling around in my head for about a year and I had been developing it slowly. One of my goals for the year was to submit a half decent pitch document but I never expected to be short listed.
On the day, the competition was strong. I was last up and the ‘Rescue Remedy’, which had been working wonderfully, started to wear off fifteen minutes before my big moment. My mind started to search desperately for the pitch, which my girlfriend Karen and friend Billy had coached into my very bones, but all I could conjure was the mocking image of an empty white page, no story.
By the time Ralph Christians introduced me I had discovered a new mantra ‘Whoever is looking after me, look after me right now.’ I must have repeated it a hundred times in thirty seconds. I stood at the podium and words starts to wobble out of my mouth. It’s still a bit of a blur, but I knew that I gave that pitch everything. All the belief and passion I felt for the story came out and I knew that I was connecting with the audience. It wasn’t until when the judges were asked for their questions and the first thing that Lelia Doolin said was ‘Wow!’ that I started to think that I must have done something right. And guess what? I won.
There was immediate interest in the project and I had been given an extra drive to follow it through. By the end of the summer I had submitted a treatment to the Irish Film Board and by November I received the ‘First Draft Loan’ to develop the feature screenplay. With the encouragement of the IFB and help from my excellent script editor I’ve produced a script that I’m really proud of which still makes laugh and cry even when I’m sick to the teeth of looking at it. I hope that one day I will be sitting in the cinema and looking at ‘My Brothers’ on the big screen.
There are few ‘Big’ moments in your life that changed things. Well, winning the Pitching Award was one of those ‘Big’ moments for me and my little story. I would recommend the Pitching Award to anyone trying to get a story out there. Boil it down to its essential parts, focus on the story you want to tell and practice the hell out of it. But most of all, be passionate about your story and people will respond to that.
Mark Wale (2006)
Pitching is scary, there is no doubt about it.
When I turned up for the finals of the Stella Artois Pitching Award last year with ‘Physical Memory Dump’, an action adventure about a teenage girl who escapes her repressive policeman father by becoming a cycle courier, the five of us that had been selected had a huge different range of experiences, from relative newcomer to seasoned old hand, (I was in and around the middle), and I can safely say every one of us had the shakes.
I had been fortunate to attend a few pitching workshops and a lot of screenwriting courses over the previous few years, all of which helped in shaping the one-page which got me selected. The most important thing for me was the advice I had been given to ‘sell the story, not tell the story.’ I worked very hard, mapping out my ten minute pitch to present myself, introduce my main characters and get the audience rooting for them, take them through a couple of the big story twists and leave the audience with a big question that got them wanting them to know how the story resolves. I wandered round Galway on the morning of the final, running through the main points in my head, determined to pitch without my notes, before heading over, mouth dry and palms sweating, to face the jury and audience.
I think, in the end, what did it for me in the face of very strong competition was the fact that I had a fresh new idea that I still felt very passionate about, and my passion came across through all the structural stuff I had done to prepare myself. People respond to passion.
Five grand is fantastic. It buys you a load of writing time. The trophy is pretty cool as well. Even better is getting meetings with producers who were too busy to see me before the award. But best of all for me was the feeling that, yes, I can come up with a great idea, good enough to be made into a feature. The adrenalin buzz alone kept me going as far as Christmas.
It’s April 2007 and I am still working on the step outline, but I have had several other writing projects this past year that brought some money in and so took priority, and I can safely say the award has opened doors for me.
I would recommend any writer to try for the Stella award. It is a great way to get your project focused and to practise convincing other people to be as vibed about it as you are. And who knows, you might even win!
Keith Bogue (2005)
When I submitted an idea titled Rugby Days I had for a film about a GAA Inter county star getting banned from playing because he head butted the Referee and then getting inspiration from the heroics of the Munster Rugby team and forming his own rugby team I had no idea where the whole thing would end.
When Celine Curtain phoned me to inform me that I had been short listed for the final I was gob smacked. When on the day of the event itself I sat in the cinemobile and listened to the other finalists pitch their ideas I was a nervous wreck! When I won, I thought it could not get much better. I was wrong.
Using the €5000 prize from the inaugural Stella Artois Pitching Award for Rugby Days I brought the idea to first draft stage. It was with this draft that I approached Ralph Christians at Magma Films in Galway. Magma Films took an option on the script. Following further work on the script of Rugby Days was submitted to the Irish Film Board who has now come on board with development funding for the script. In the mean time, I successfully completed the Masters Degree at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media NUI Galway. In December 2005, I went to the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield to develop my next project with Peter Ansorge and Farrukh Dhondy. At present I’m working on this script and Rugby Days. Moreover, to cap what has been a perfect year since winning the Stella Artois, Munster won the European Cup in front of a capacity crowd in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and I was there!