April 30, 2021

Writing Students Go Online for Their "First Pitch"

By Hugh Hart

"It's kind of like speed-dating." That's John Wells Division of Writing for the Screen and Television Chair David Isaacs, describing the pre-pandemic iteration of First Pitch. Since 2002, the annual rite of passage has brought together graduating SCA students with industry executives at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. "I'll say a few words, an alum from the school, will speak, and then it's essentially 'Go!'" explains Emmy winner Isaacs. In a conference room typically filled with reps for Amazon, Anonymous Content, Apple, HBO, Plan B, UTA and other heavy hitters, students rotate through a series of brief encounters. "You have seven minutes at each table," Isaacs says. "You pitch a script. They may ask you if you have something else. Someone yells 'Time!' You have a minute or two to get to the next table. There's food, we take a break - - the whole process takes about an hour and a half."

Students from the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television at their First Pitch event.

That process has helped kick start careers for First Pitch participants like Jordan Weiss '15, who created Amazon Prime's new series Dollface; Zavier Sinnett, a writer for ABC drama Station 19; and Ibet Inyang, who writes for CBS sitcom Bob Loves Abishola. One of the more spectacular success stories belongs to Victoria Aveyard '12. Producers she met through First Pitch advised Aveyard to develop the idea that would become her Young Adult bestseller Red Queen. She's now promoting Realm Breaker, slated for May publication. Aveyard says, "Both from a career standpoint and a mental standpoint. First Pitch, and the training I did to get ready for it, really prepared me for challenges down the road, especially now that I’m doing some form of pitching almost every day to launch my new book."

Aveyard did her homework ahead of the First Pitch sessions by taking professor Trey Callaway's Pitching 101 course and researching each industry professional she'd been assigned to meet with. "Some execs got the big zombie Western feature, others got the Gilded Age teen drama pilot," Aveyard recalls. "It’s important to tailor the presentation to the person, but you also back up your key project with other pieces to create a whole image of who you are as a writer. It wasn’t so much the project I was trying to sell, but myself."

Talent manager Jamie Wager started attending First Pitch after signing SCA grad Jon Worley '08, whose TV credits now include Justified, SEAL Team and Iron Fist. Wager, who runs Capital Creations, says, "I don't think there's any school that does a better job of preparing its students for the real world of screenwriting." To that end, First Pitch helps forge relationships between student writers and experienced deal makers. Wager says.  "It's not just about getting a snapshot of one particular script. First Pitch is a way for those of us in the industry to get to know new writers and the kind of stuff they want to pursue."

 Writer/Producer Erin Levy ‘05 (Mad Men, Counterpart) hosts a First Pitch event

First Pitch 2021, set for May 3 and 4, differs from its in-person predecessors. This time around, First Pitch, adapting to COVID 19 social distancing protocols, will take place remotely with an expanded network that now includes New York-based executives. Industry Coordinator Madison Haynes '21 and Event Coordinator Alex Rubin '21 have organized 10 to 14 Zoom meetings each for 73 SCA students from the classes of 2020 and 2021. During the two-night event, hosted by Isaacs and Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, BFA and MFA scribes will videoconference with industry executives from their home computers. "The greatest difference between the in-person event and the virtual event has been our ability to open up more opportunities for SCA’s writers," Rubin and Haynes explained in an email. "For the first time, First Pitch will take place over two nights instead of one, giving the industry more time and opportunity to meet the writers. Additionally, due to the online nature of the event, East Coast industry figures have been invited to participate for the first time ever."