Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book to Screen Workshop Review ...

 Book to Screen Workshop
by Anne Gafiuk (Calgary Chapter member Guest Column)

“Anne, skip the book.  Go straight to screenplay,” said my friend, Susan, back in November 2011 as I read her a couple of excerpts from a story I am writing. 

“You need to find a producer.”  This came a few weeks earlier from Paul, a colleague, with experience in television and film.

I thought:  “Me? Really?  My tale is worthy of consideration?  Friends and family have confidence in me and are supportive....but no...I’ll just wait...I’ll keep working on my World War II piece....and other projects, too.”

A few months later, on another author’s Facebook page, I see: “Sounds like a great opportunity,” she wrote.

I click on the link and read:  a coming together of Calgary/Southern Alberta television, film and digital platform producers with writers and publishers’  Do I sign up?  Susan and Paul’s comments return to me.  I register!

For the next two days, I work on a synopsis and a mock-up of a movie poster, approaching family and friends again.  I need their feedback, guidance and assistance.  I submit the file.  And then I wait....and wait...and wait.   An email finally appears in my inbox.  I have not been selected to do ‘the pitch’.  Oh well, I think, go!  Listen and learn.  And:  I can have a good night’s sleep!

I show up about twenty minutes early, am chatted up by another attendee, both of us fresh and eager to discover the process.  We exchange business cards. 

About sixty people attend the workshop, including ten hosts/organizers/panellists. Quite a mix of individuals: playwrights, screenplay writers, producers, writers, novelists.  Why are they all here?  To have their book or story make it onto the small or big screen.  Some like me:  sitting, watching, and learning.  Others:  to offer support. And let's not forget: people are here to, included.   The seminar begins.  I watch, I make copious notes and then feel relief I am not selected as one of the four people to present their pitch!  By the end of the three hour workshop, I am exhausted! 

The panels, made up of award-winning producers, stress the length of time it will take from concept to completion.  It could be years!  The timing might not be right for some themes, they say. The key:  have a producer lined up.  Make sure that this is someone who loves the project as much as you do....someone who is like-minded, someone who will invest the time and effort into the project. Do research as to what a producer produces.  The history and reputation of the writer, filmmaker, and producer also are major players.  (Yikes! I am an unknown!)  And go out to forge relationships!  Opportunity, preparation, and luck, too, play important roles.Do not give up!” they advise.

The time arrives for the four pitches.  The audience has a certain anticipating energy.  A chair, the ‘hot seat’, I call it, is placed in front of us virtual strangers and next to the four panellists...all wearing dark clothing of various hues of black.  Is this an omen?

The first person to pitch was eaten alive for her presentation but then the panel seemed to like her story...had she only just told it.  The second admits to being “scared shitless”.  He is amusing, initially, and then his nerves get the best of him.  The panel likes his main character and tells him he needed to have rehearsed the pitch to know his story inside and out.  The third:  shy and quiet speaks to the outline provided by the organizers at registration, but also has been listening and learning.  The panel is not so hard on him.  They ask questions.  The fourth:  again, having the experience of the first three, wows the panel.  He delivers! All four individuals receive 'constructive criticism' and congratulations for their benefit and for us in the audience. 

While all this is going on, I cannot help but think of Dragon’s Den or So You Think You Have Talent.  I am so happy not to have been up there.  Then I realize: missing from all of the pitches is a visual...the movie poster or the book cover we were asked to create.  No one had one...and the teacher in me knows to always have a visual! 

We are given business cards as well as some literature from agencies:  Alberta Film , Canada Media Fund , as well as the Harold Greenberg Fund for further information.

In summary:

  1. Be concise, clear, and appealing.  Try to capture ‘the pitch’ in 30- 60 seconds.
  2. ‘The Pitch’ is all about the story.  And both had better be great!
  3. Make your characters ‘real’.
  4. Make sure the story is topical, as it could take between 2-4 years to bring the project to fruition.
  5. Make eye contact with the panel.
  6. Rehearse ‘the pitch’.  Time it.  Run it past friends and family.  Ask them to be brutally honest and have them ask questions.
  7. Know your story inside out and backwards.
  8. Come ‘ready to play’.
  9. Create a relationship within the first three minutes of ‘the pitch’,
  10. Never apologize.
  11. Wear black!

So what did I come away with?  A great appreciation of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to bring text to the screen.  More knowledge...and that can’t hurt.  Now what do I do?  Work on my story, add some spit and polish....put me out there, and meet more people!  Oh, also get my name known by doing things like this guest column.  And don’t forget to wear black.
More from Anne Gafiuk at


  1. THANKS for sharing this Anne - valuable insight and great points to use especially when working on a freelance query pitch ... as PWAC professional working writers the art of the query/pitch is necessary to sell ourselves and our work daily.
    I welcome all PWAC members to send me Guest Blog Posts anytime.

  2. Great article, Anne - informative, concise and enjoyable to read. Your enthusiasm for the craft shines through.

    -Andrea Tombrowski
    President, PWAC-Calgary chapter

  3. Thanks! It was a very interesting workshop.