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May 12, 2009

Fast Talk

Students Make Most of First Pitch ’09

By By Jimmy Kelly

Representatives from 41 of the industry's leading agencies, management firms and production companies got first crack at the latest scripts from SCA writing students on May 4, as 52 writers showcased tales from every genre during the eighth annual First Pitch event.

Hosted by Brian Peterson (M.F.A. Writing 1997), writer and executive producer of the CW's Smallville, the posh invite-only evening affair at the Four Seasons Hotel Ballroom in Beverly Hills featured 20 rounds in which the soon-to-graduate scribes delivered impassioned synopses of their film and television projects.

"First Pitch was created by students and is run by students. Many organizations have copied this format, but there really is no one who's duplicated it," Writing Division chair Jack Epps, Jr., told the industry guests and undergraduate and graduate students.

"I like to tell my students that movies are really about endings and new beginnings. And for our students tonight, this is very much the ending and the new beginning. They are ending their advanced studies and beginning their professional careers," he added.

Smallville Writer/Executive Producer Brian Peterson, M.F.A. 1997, welcomes First Pitch students as they take their first step in the tranistion from school to industry.
Peterson sought to put the anxious participants at ease, sharing the journey of his own career and making it clear that there’s no downside to relaxing and trying your best when opportunity calls.

"The one piece of advice that I got that I probably remember every time I pitch is that the person sitting across the table from you really wants you to succeed," said Peterson. "They want to hear the best pitch they've heard in months. They want to bring to their bosses the best idea they've ever heard."

And with that, he declared the first round open. The students had been practicing for weeks in advance of this moment through a series of "tune-ups" organized by SCA and a volunteer staff of grads and undergrads headed by Jacob Michael and William Nedved, both second-year M.F.A. writers. Michael and Nedved ceded control of the big night to their intern staff, all of whom will be pitching themselves next year, as they geared-up for a long night of meeting and greeting.

"I had a great event," said Michael. "Everybody really seemed to have a good experience and the industry people were fantastic. I feel like I was very successful, a lot of script requests."

Sarah Tarkoff, B.F.A. 2009, pitches her latest work to representatives from Epigram Entertainment.
Since its inaugural session in 2002, First Pitch has drawn representatives from some of the entertainment industry's most prestigious firms, including CAA, William Morris, ICM, UTA, Paradigm, Endeavor, Fuse, Management 360, Sony, Paramount and Thunder Road, to name but a few.

The format features a series of rapid-fire five-minute sessions in which the soon-to-graduate writers advance from table to table for meetings that match their stories with the specific interests of the industry representatives.

A sampling of past First Pitch-ers who parlayed their USC experience into careers includes: Caroline Dries (Smallville), Christina Kim (Lost), Kam Miller (Law & Order SVU), Brad Riddell (American Pie Band Camp) and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (Numb3rs). Miller, the founder of the event back in 2002, was on hand at this year’s fete and looked back on how First Pitch got its start.

"I literally looked around at all my classmates and I thought they were the most talented people I had ever met and there was no way to start their careers," said Miller. "It seemed like a no-brainer that we put together a pitch festival." That pitch festival would prove directly responsible for Miller and several of her classmates finding both exposure and representation. Miller can even trace her present-day agent to the inaugural First Pitch event. Besides the location (the Robert Zemeckis Center was the initial venue), little has changed since 2002, including the high success rate.

Graduate student Lizette Clarke went in knowing full well that she too could have First Pitch be the start of something big, but didn't let nerves get the best of her.

"I think it went great," said Clarke. "It was very nerve-wracking in the beginning, but once you got the hang of it, you saw how easy it was, it became kind of fun. I was surprised at how quickly it went. It did not feel like 20 rounds at all, it felt like 20 minutes."

Those 20 short rounds later, an excited, albeit exhausted group of students left the Four Seasons, having made their mark on Hollywood. When asked how successful she thought the night was on the whole, Clarke was optimistic, but pragmatic.

"Time will tell."

First Pitch 2009 was sponsored by the A/H Foundation and Albert and Andrea Friedman.