The Bill Bordy Media and Conference Center at Emerson College Los Angeles was packed on March 23 as 15 students and alumni pitched their ideas for screenplays, television pilots, and web series in 90 seconds to a panel of alumni judges for the third annual PitchFest.
This year's winners were Brad Beideman '16, David Carliner '17 and Alexis Bradley '17, who also won the audience favorite award. Stefanie Mandel '17 won the standby competition.
Sponsored by the screenwriting software company Final Draft, PitchFest winners were awarded gift certificates for digital downloads of Final Draft 10 valued at $250 each. As the audience favorite, Bradley walked away with a $150 gift certificate to the Writers Guild Foundation.
PitchFest winners share a hug. From left: Alex Bradley '17, Stefanie Mandel '17, David Carliner '17, and Brad Beideman '16. Photo/Daryl Paranada
The evening began with a conversation about pitching between the judges Stephen Christy '07, president of development for BOOM! Studios; Stefani Robinson '14, staff writer on Atlanta; Keto Shimizu '07, writer and co-executive producer on DC's Legends of Tomorrow; and Tesha Kondrat '13, staff writer on Robot Chicken.
“My job is to take graphic novels and comic books and then to pitch them as television shows and movies,” said Christy. “So I deal with pitching every day because I'm the one going to studios and telling them why they should make these comics into feature films.”
Kondrat, who recently sold an adult animated pilot to FX, said she created a bible for her show that she worked on for months before her pitch meeting. “I focused my pitch on exploring, 'This is why this show is important now, and this is why I want to make it.'”
Back row, from left: Stephen Christy '07, Alexis Bradley '17, Brad Beideman '16, David Carliner '17, Keto Shimizu '07. Front row: Stefani Robinson '14, Tesha Kondrat '13. Photo/Daryl Paranada
When asked if it is better to stay conservative about ideas in the writers’ room or to share them even if they might seem bad, the judges’ advice was unanimous. “Staying silent is the worst thing you can do”, said Shimizu, who has worked as a writer on a variety of shows over the last seven years.
“There is no punishment for a bad idea” added Robinson, “There is punishment for not saying anything, which is called ‘getting fired.’”
Before the pitches began, the judges offered some last-minute advice on pitching. “It's important to show enthusiasm, but don't get lost in the specifics of your story. I want to know about the emotional core of the story first,” said Shimizu.
And with that, the competition began. This year's pitches covered a wide variety of topics, including a young adult fantasy series, an animated show about a man who was turned into a cat and the owner who adopted him, a dramedy about an evangelical megachurch in the South, a comedy screenplay about conspiracy theories, and a drama screenplay about a stripper who attends Harvard.
Alumnus Brad Beideman '16 makes his 90-second pitch. Photo/Daryl Paranada
The judges found winner Brad Beideman's comedy pilot, Domain, incredibly topical. His story follows the death of social media platform Vine, and how in this day and age everyone can be famous.
The main character in his story returns to his hometown to find that everyone he knows is now Internet-famous.
Beideman included the log line “It's like House of Cards for retweets,” which the judges enjoyed. “I loved how casual you gave your pitch,” said Robinson. “It felt like it was setting the tone of your show.”
Winner Alexis Bradley's television comedy pilot, Olders Pod, focused on anxiety and retirement communities. Her main character is a radio broadcast school student who drops out due to anxiety issues. Because of a current trend in society, she moves into a retirement community, where she meets several senior citizens with quirky personalities and decides to do a podcast with them.
The judges praised her originality. “It is a great concept about characters that you don't usually see on TV,” said Shimizu.
ELA student Alexis Bradley reacts to winning the audience favorite award at PitchFest. Photo/Daryl Paranada
Comedies were the trophies of the evening, culminating with winner David Carliner's television comedy pilot, Out Scout, which tells the story of a 17-year-old gay leader of a neighborhood Boy Scout troop. The main character feels blindsided when a gay leader from another troop moves into his hometown and decides to run against him for his leadership position.
He finished his pitch with the log line, “Out Scout is about how awkward it is to be young, gay, and working on your 37th merit badge.” Tesha Kondrat asked about how personal the story was to Carliner, to which he responded “I have my Eagle Scout ID in my pocket, and I am gay, so, yeah!”
A standby competition of seven students and alumni took place after the main competition with judges Kondrat ’13 and Mike Carrier ’08. Stefanie Mandel ’17, who pitched a story about orphans making their way in the world, won the competition.
PitchFest winners show off their certificates! From left: Stefanie Mandel '17, David Carliner '17, Brad Beideman '16, and Alexis Bradley '17. Photo/Daryl Paranada
Other students who participated in the main competition included Andrew Miles Allen '17, Megan Miller '17, Jonathan Houbrick '17, Serena Koo '17, Sunny McDermott '17, and Joann DiBuono '17. Alumni competitors included Ariana Sigel '13, Jacob Davison '12, Robbie Goodwin '13, Connor Tracy '13, Evan Yee '16 and Pilar Duralde '16.
“I feel extremely grateful and blessed. There were so many amazing pitches,” said Bradley, who is hoping to turn her pitch into a comedy series one day. “It's really gratifying to have others get excited over your ideas and the stories you want to tell.”