Daniel Longyear lives on an old boat in Beaufort, South Carolina with his wife Patricia and their two dogs. Up until last week his only connection to Hollywood was the TV Writers Vault online where he learned to hone his ideas for pitching, hoping the few original ideas he had for a reality TV series might connect with Producers at the site. There, he got eyes from Producers and Execs at 7 major companies, including Relativity Media and Eyeworks. Then, after we promoted the Napa Valley Film Festival to our members and followers, he entered the NVFF annual pitch competition run by myself, David Glasser (COO/President, The Weinstein Co), Ennis Hensley (Head International Distribution, The Weinstein Co), and Peter Belsito (IndieWire) to invite new Creatives with great stories and ideas to compete for a meeting with The Weinstein Company in L.A..
IT WAS HIS OWN PERSONAL MANIFEST DESTINY, AND IT PAID OFF BIG TIME.
When the idea he submitted was selected, inviting him to the event, nobody could have guessed what would eventually unfold. Daniel had no Hollywood connections, no experience, and no basic finances to support the trip. He took out a title loan on his car for just enough funds to hop a plane, and still he had no place to stay once he got to Napa. But Daniel’s belief in his idea and his spirit for adventure drove him to make the cross-country journey. It was his own personal manifest destiny, and it paid off big time.
At Friday’s semi-finals in the Lifestyle Pavilion in downtown Napa, Daniel and fifteen others pitched their ideas to Peter and I. We then gave feedback on their concepts and verbal pitch to ready them for the finals, should they make it. The audience voted, and Daniel and his idea for a docu-style reality series made it to the top ten. This meant he’d be face to face with The Weinstein Company execs joining us on Sunday, but it also meant he’d have to survive by the kindness of strangers for two more days in downtown Napa. He made use of the time reworking and honing his pitch for his big shot.
“I’M GOING TO BUY THIS IN THE ROOM”
Sunday morning arrived, and as David, Ennis and I made our way in to meet Peter in the studio, we could see the mass of people outside in cue to attend the event. Under lights too bright for a Sunday morning after late night dinner parties, and camera’s rolling for live broadcast, Daniel had his moment. He took to the microphone, and spoke from the heart. With a soulful voice, trembling with emotion, he shared an idea with us that was original, clear in format, with specific and emotional stories, all in well under three minutes. David’s feedback after Daniel’s pitch was reserved, but he immediately spoke of brand integration, and then only giving a restrained “very interesting idea” as any positive note. After the ten finalists made their bids, we left the room to deliberate. Two film ideas were chosen as the official “co-winners” who would make the trip to L.A. to meet with The Weinstein Company’s acquisitions and development teams. The Winners were Sean Sullivan, and Jeffrey Gold, each with feature film ideas that are stellar in their own right. And then David shifted gears. He focused in on Daniel’s idea, and said to me, Ennis, and Peter, “I’m going to buy this in the room“.
“I DON’T LIKE YOUR IDEA…I LOVE YOUR IDEA”
As the results for the film ideas pitched were read, I was scanning the audience trying to spot Daniel, but couldn’t find him as he was hanging out way back in the shadows of the studio behind the seated audience. David began to speak of the countless festivals he attends, and the amount of projects he sees. And then he said, “but there’s one today that’s shocked me, and I have to tell you, its a great idea. Danny, where are you?“. He goes on to say that he and Harvey have been looking for ideas like this, and added, “I don’t like your idea… I LOVE your idea. I love your idea so much that I want to sit down and figure out a way to buy your idea from you.“. Daniel stood, hands shaking, humbly absorbing what was being told to him. David continued with other details, and then added, “I understand from my colleague down here (Scott Manville) that your journey was an interesting one to get here. So, no matter what happens, because we do have to negotiate, whether we can make a deal or not, I’m covering your expenses for coming to this film festival. And thank you for your idea. It was fresh, it was original, the pitch was great, it was honed. Well done. I’m really excited about that idea.”
There were some tears, including my own, and it was a moment of magic that manifested to prove that not only are there good people in this terribly competitive industry, but that IDEA IS KING, and if new producers and writers understand that Idea is the core commodity sought after by the leaders of our industry, they’ll never get bogged down in doubt or other hurdles that only distance the idea from its true potential. Everything else is just forcing square pegs into round holes. What edge did Daniel have on the masses of Producers fighting to get their carefully calculated projects in good favor with one of the most successful independent studios in film history? He didn’t know any better, and he had the right ingredients with his pitch.
UPDATE: I was pleased to position Daniel with an agent at UTA, and his deal was delivered. Daniel did close his agreement with The Weinstein Company, and executives are now in the process of casting.
Our pitch competition set the groundwork for a pure and open connection between an ordinary person with great creativity, and the biggest powers in the industry. We’re not a business of dreams, we’re a business of connections and applied creativity. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
To learn more about pitching original concepts for television, visit the TV Writers Vault for extensive insight, insider interviews, and access to our industry’s online marketplace where producers scout new TV show ideas from people like you.
You may also want to absorb our slate of executive interviews published sharing insider info from many of our top television producers and network executives.
(Video left to right: Scott Manville, Ennis Hensley, David Glasser, Peter Belsito)