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INTERVIEW: InkTip's Jerrol LeBaron

With the InkTip Pitch and Networking Summit II event rolling into Los Angeles (July 22nd and 23rd), we thought this would be a good time to check in with inkTip founder Jerrol LeBaron to find out what they've got in store for us all this time! 
 
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Jim Cirile:
Hi Jerrol! Thanks for taking the time. The title of the event has changed to Pitch and Networking Summit. Tell us a little about that.
 
Jerrol LeBaron: Hey Jim, well first off, thanks for the interview. Always love working with you. Yeah, the name did indeed change. It sort of had to, really. The event has just been organically growing into something much more than just a “pitching” marketplace, so we felt the name should reflect more of the event's dynamic. In fact, there is a film currently in pre-production right now as a direct result of the networking opportunities at the Summit.
 
JC: Is the venue the same as last year's?
 
JL: Nope. Changed the venue too. Ha. After last year, it became pretty clear that we needed more space, so we’ve moved it to the Los Angeles Marriott in Burbank for 2011. Though the popularity of the Pitch and Networking Summit with execs went through the roof this year -- more than 40 studio execs and studio-related production companies are already among the 300-plus attending professionals, so we're negotiating with some very unique and amazing Hollywood venues for 2012.
 
JC: What lessons did you guys take away from last year? What worked, and what didn't?
 
JL: Ah, OK, the tough questions. Well, our executives worked! Unlike any other pitching event, we don’t pay our execs to attend. We do this for a couple reasons, but first and foremost, we do it so the only execs attending are those who are seriously looking to buy scripts and hire writers. If I knew I was getting a hundred bucks and a free lunch, I’d be willing to hang out with others and listen to some pitches regardless of if I’m looking or not. We knew we were taking a risk since it’s been status quo up until now, but we felt as safe as we could because also unlike other events, we work with these executives year-round, not just one day out of the year. The executives know us and know that we have good writers... it's a mutual trust. And from just one Summit, we already have 2 films in pre-production. About 17 writers optioned their scripts, were hired or are in development with production companies from that one day alone. No pitching event has yielded a produced feature-length film, nor that many successes, so right there we know we’re getting the job done. Now it’s a matter of smoothing out any kinks.
 
JC: I love The Kinks. Oh, wait. What kind of kinks are you talking about?
 
JL: The kinks in this case were all traffic-related. I have to take full responsibility for the delay we ran into in the morning, which slowed us down in checking in the executives. If I had 50 to 100 execs, no biggie, but we had about 310 execs check in when all was said and done. We just lacked the staff needed. We’ve drastically improved that system for July’s Summit, so we’re excited to see things run very smooth. And instead of getting 17 successes, we know we will get a lot more.
 
Also, it became pretty clear that some lines would get too long due to the popularity of a company. My buddy, Ryan, over at Lionsgate was a very popular dude that day. This time, we’re working to bring in several execs from major and mini-major studios and studio level production companies. For example, we already have three or so RSVPed from ABC, and three or more from Lionsgate; we’re looking at having one studio-level executive every other table or so. So, it will be much easier to pitch those more popular companies since the lines will be more evenly dispersed. This should also lead to a higher average number of companies pitched per person.

JC: Sounds great. Now at all pitch events, there are always a certain amount of buyers who RSVP but can't make it. Is there anything you guys can do to anticipate this and maybe lesson the impact?
 
JL: Like I said, we actually had 310 attend last year, so we just make sure that our number of confirmed companies are in range. We expect to have about 300 this year and about 400 writers. No one has ever had a ratio of writers to producers like that. We really want to make sure our writers are able to pitch lots of producers, not a mere 8 or 15.
 
JC: Talk a little bit more about the success stories from last year's Pitch Summit. I met my girlfriend there!
 
JL: Glad we could help! Haha. We’ve had tremendous success. Some 17 options and writers getting representation, but there are a couple we’re really proud of. One is that a buy offer was actually made at the event! Pretty sure that’s another record set. Of course the success story I love is the fact that we’re the only pitching event to lead to feature films going into production, and it’s only going to get better this year. “In the Belly of the Whale” is being packaged with A-list talent now, and indie film “Broken Doll” starring a close friend of mine, Fernanda Romero, is also in pre-production and slated for release late 2011. Your readers can look up InkTip and Summit credits on IMDb (InkTip [us] for most of our corporate credits, and InkTip Summit Events [us] for the two in prepro now).
 
JC: What kind of work goes into putting something like this together? Seems a Herculean effort.
 
JL: Yikes, that’s a big question. Simple answer, hard work. There’s a lot of prep and care that’s taken on even the smallest details, but I’d say something that puts us in our own league is the attention to our relationships; making sure we take care of both our executives and writers before, during and after. Corny, I know, but it really is the truth.
 
JC: Thanks again, Jerrol. Tips for writers who are going to participate?
 
JL: Be happy and be daring. Be willing to go big in a pitch, but focus more on the potential relationship between you and the producer. Maybe they like your pitch, maybe they don’t, but if they like you personally, they’ll be much more willing to talk through different ideas and work with you in the future.
 
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Jim Cirile is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and the founder of Coverage Ink (www.coverageink.com) and Writers on the Storm Screenplay Competition (writerstorm.com). He writes regularly about the biz for Creative Screenwriting and Script magazines and also coordinates the Cyberspace Open writing tournament. His film LIBERATOR is in production now and stars Lou Ferrigno, Peta Wilson, Michael Dorn and Ed Asner.
Written by: Jim Cirile
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