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Students, Alumni Pitch Their Way to Success

Nine Emerson College Los Angeles students and seven alumni spent 90 seconds trying to pitch their television, movie, and web series ideas to a panel of three alumni judges. Winners of the inaugural pitch competition, sponsored by the screenwriting software company Final Draft, were Dondre Taylor-Stewart ’15, Elizabeth Ruddy ’16, and Evan Yee ’16.

The evening began with a panel discussion featuring judges Liz Alper ‘08, a staff writer on Chicago Fire, Sean Barclay ’99, senior vice president of television at The Gersh Agency, and Thomas Pettinelli ’13, director of development at Branded Pictures Entertainment. Zach Ehrlich ’11, who won the Austin Film Festival’s pitch competition in 2011 and works as a writer’s assistant, moderated the panel.

Pitch competition judges Thomas Pettinelli '13, Sean Barclay '99, and Liz Alper '08 with panel moderator Zach Ehrlich '11. 

As a writer, Alper advised the audience to think of more than just a great pilot and pitch ideas that have legs. When it comes to actually making the pitch, she told the audience to speak with clarity.  

“It’s the writer’s job to figure out the cleanest way to pitch an idea as concisely as possible,” said Alper.

Barclay gave the audience advice on what makes a good pitch work.

“What makes it current and why are you the one person on the planet able to tell this story?” said Barclay.

Pettinelli emphasized how you carry yourself in a pitch meeting. As talented as someone is, he said, if you can’t articulate your pitch, it won’t get sold.

Alumni pitchers. From left: Daniel Houbrick '15, Jacob Davison '12, Bryce Fallon '13, Charvelle Holder '13, Dasha Fayvinova '14, Mike Sellari '12, and Rio Contrada '13. 

The student and alumni pitches covered a wide range of stories: from a sports doping movie to a Space Jam sequel featuring Beyonce, a dark teen drama about a boy’s quest to attain perfection to an action-adventure pitting family members against each other. The competition was the brainchild of Emerson Associate Professor Jim Macak, a visiting Visual & Media Arts faculty member this semester.

“I didn’t really learn about pitching until I was a finalist in the Austin Film Festival screenwriting pitch competition in 2007,” said Macak. “I realized this is a skill my students need to know.”

Assistant Professor Jim Macak speaks to the audience. 

Macak won the competition in 2008 after heading to the men’s bathroom and rewriting his entire pitch from scratch. Dondre Taylor-Stewart ’16 did the same thing with his pitch for All My Skinfolk, about a teen who joins the surreal Black nationalist underground at his parents’ alma mater in search of his racial identity.

“I rewrote the pitch this morning because I pitched it to my Writing Television Pilots class and I was afraid of some of the language I was using,” said Taylor-Stewart, who has been working on the pitch since the summer.

His class encouraged him to use the language he had originally written, but to state it confidently. It worked. At the end of the evening, he had a business card from a representative in the audience.

Elizabeth Ruddy '16 gives her 90-second pitch.

Yee pitched an hour-long TV crime drama about a maple syrup cartel while Ruddy pitched an hour-long sci-fi drama about a young woman who enters a virtual, Matrix-like role-playing game in search of her missing sister and ends up playing for her life. Ruddy not only won the Final Draft software, but was also awarded the audience favorite prize, a $40 gift certificate to Delancey’s Pizzeria.

Many of Macak’s former students were competitors in the competition, including Jacob Davison ’12, who pitched an adult animated action series. Davison says he learned a lot about pitching while interning at SyFy Films as a student at Emerson College Los Angeles. While Davison has pitched before, he was particularly excited to do it at ELA.

“It’s great practice to pitch in front of an audience of my peers—and a good time,” said Davison.

Other alumni pitchers included Rio Contrada ’13, Bryce Fallon ’13, Dasha Fayvinova ’14, Charvelle Holder ’13, Daniel Houbrick ’15, and Mike Sellari ’12. Other ELA students who participated in the competition included Marissa Bickford ’16, Christina Catucci ’16, Ben Ellenberg ’16, Maxwell Friedlander ’16, Charles Greenwald ’16, and Tim Lawson ’16.

Student pitchers. From left: Dondre Taylor-Stewart '15,  Christina Catucci ’16, Ben Ellenberg ’16, Elizabeth Ruddy '16, Tim Lawson '16, Evan Yee '16, and Charles Greenwald '16. 

At the end of evening, both Macak and Ehrlich waited around for pitchers on the stand-by list to compete for prizes in a separate competition. Ehrlich said he was happy to participate in the competition.

“This is a great opportunity for Emerson students to get a taste of one of the most fundamental concepts in entertainment,” said Ehrlich. “It was a great mix of theater and education.”

Pitch competition judges and winners. 

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