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Art of the Pitch: Five Students, Alumni Take Prizes in Annual ELA Competition

Zoom screen showing pitchfest winners and judges
Winners and judges of PitchFest 2021.

Fourteen Emerson Los Angeles students and alumni attempted to sell a panel of alumni judges on their TV pilots, screenplays, and digital series, in turn getting valuable advice about pitching screenplays and selling scripts at the eighth annual ELA PitchFest on November 4.

“I could tell from the start of the event that it was special,” said Mallory Shofi ‘22, who pitched a thriller TV pilot about a dark presence in a small Connecticut town that must be destroyed. “The advice the judges gave was so valuable and helpful, and hearing the other pitches really inspired me.”

Nearly 100 people attended the virtual event, sponsored by Final Draft and the International Screenwriters Association (ISA).

Shofi won a special first-time award as the judges’ Honorable Mention.

“When I found out I won, I was so surprised because the award I got wasn’t listed originally. It felt wonderful to know that the judges saw something in my pitch,” she said.

Other winners included Samia Doumit ’93 (Outstanding Alumni Award); Adina Kruskal, MFA ’23 (Outstanding Student Award), Sean Jacobson ’20 (Outstanding Runner-Up); and Billy Brodeur ‘21 for the James Macak Audience Favorite Award. Winners received a free digital download of First Draft 12 and a free, 12-month membership to the ISAConnect program. 

Zoom screen of alumni judges
Moderator Kara Lee Burk, top left, and PitchFest judges (clockwise) Sean Barclay, Alexandra Milchan, Kevin McKeon, and Felicia Pride.

Before the contest began, alumni judges offered advice on pitching in a panel moderated by faculty member Kara Lee Burk.

“[Pitching’s] a very exhausting process and yet super fun,” said executive producer Alexandra Milchan ‘94. “It’s a rush when it goes well, it’s a total downer when it doesn’t sell. My job is to hold everybody’s hand and make sure they’re ready.”

Other alumni judges included Sean Barclay ’00, a partner at The Gersh Agency; Kevin McKeon ’07, vice president of production at Mattel Films; and Felicia Pride, MA ’05, a TV writer/producer and an award-winning filmmaker.

When asked about what advice he’d give to pitchers, Barclay reassured students and alumni that they weren’t the only ones feeling nervous. 

“If you’re feeling any nerves or anxiety, I know it well. I was nervous to show up on the Zoom a little bit. We all kind of feel it. Even this fancy agent,” said Barclay. “Take a breath, knock it out of the park, and then we’ll beat you up.” He joked.

McKeon emphasized the importance of personal connection while making a pitch.

“I really respond to that. It makes you seem like there’s nobody else that’s effective enough to write this script other than you,” he said.

Collage of headshots of PitchFest contestants
All the contestants.

That was advice that resonated with Doumit, who pitched a project about a teenage Lebanese-American girl exploring her sexual identity in the 1990s goth-punk scene who soon discovers she has superpowers. Inspiration for the drama TV pilot came after losing a close friend.

“I realized how instrumental [my friend] was in providing an uncommon support of unconditional acceptance as I defined my identity, sexuality, and space in the world, creating the foundation of who I am today,” said Doumit. “As I wrote a story to honor his life, I discovered that it was really honoring mine.”

“I was really impressed. I thought that had everything, I want to hear more,” Barclay told Doumit after she finished her pitch.

Throughout the competition, the Zoom chat was filled with comments cheering on participants and words of encouragement offered by family, friends, and fellow Emersonians. 

“It was such a warm and supportive space, with great energy and good vibes,” said Doumit. “It made me proud that I had chosen an institution that created such a well-organized event with a strong intention to foster an environment that’s creative, providing tools for success, real opportunities to improve your craft and connect within your industry.”

“It’s very special to have so many creatives in the same space supporting each other,” added Shofi.

There were so many top contenders for the prizes that the judging took longer than expected, ultimately resulting in Shofi’s honorable mention.

For the pitchers, receiving feedback and advice from the judges was invaluable.

“Hearing perspectives on pitching from the writing side, the agent side, the producing side—it was so illuminating,” said Kruskal, who pitched a TV drama pilot about a woman who finds herself making a deal with a demon after losing her husband. “Felicia Pride said something that I loved: that you can’t control what the market wants, or what individual people listening to your pitch want. All you can control is making a great story, and showing up prepared and passionate on the day of the pitch. And that makes sense to me.”

Pride broke down her process for pitching during the alumni panel and told the pitchers to be confident and have fun.

“I sort of set an intention for myself before pitching. I want to go in and tell a great story I love. I can’t control anything out of that,” said Pride. “Do your job and do your job well. Everything else is out of your purview.”

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