Many new screenwriters looking to establish themselves in the industry and build relationships seek out the infamous OWAs as that opportunity.
OWAs, or Open Writing Assignments, are projects in development at production companies or studios, in need of a writer to help bring them to life.
Agencies keep in touch with the various studios, collecting updates on the hundreds of projects currently listed as OWAs, so that they can reach out to the teams behind the projects and pitch their clients for the opportunity. There are also ODAs (Open Directing Assignments), which are projects in need of a director. OWAs and ODAs can also be looking for other attachments, such as acting talent, in order to get a green light.
How Do I Get Invited to Pitch?
While your agent can pitch you for an OWA, studios and production companies typically invite writers to come in and pitch. These invites first go to writers who are established in the industry and in the genre that the project is. So while new screenwriters may be eager to nab one of these spots, they should understand that it’s not “open” right out of the gate, usually.
Once the studios have gone through the “big” names, they will eventually work their way down to other writers or, if your agent has a strong relationship with the producer on the project then they may be able to get you in sooner.
If you do get a pitch time and that pitch goes well, you will have to pitch it again… and again… This is because every producer involved will have to sign off on you, and most times the higher-level executives won’t do the first rounds of meetings with writers who aren’t as established as others. There are always “point” producers (you’ll hear them listed in the trades as “overseeing” or “shepherding” a project for a studio) who will meet with everyone and whittle down the list before sending the writer up the ranks.
Your best opportunity to generate an “invite” yourself is organically when you take a general meeting. If you click with a producer you meet with, they could tell you about a project they’re taking pitches on.
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What Do I Include?
The first thing you include in any pitch is your perspective. If you’re pitching a rewrite, your representatives should have told you if the producers have any opinions on what is or isn’t working in the current draft, so that you can agree with that opinion and then pitch solutions on the parts that aren’t working. Your perspective and connection to the material will help sell them on the solutions, and you’ll share those solutions as you tell the full script story.
If the pitch hasn’t been written yet, it is likely based on some kind of material, whether that’s a news article, real events, a Twitter thread, a franchise installment, or a full novel or graphic novel. In those situations, you’ll research the material and find out what makes you the best writer for that project. Then shape your pitch of a complete screenplay from start to finish.
You likely landed this OWA meeting, no matter your experience level, because of your voice. Whatever genre and special skillset you have, that’s what they want to hear in the pitch if they’re bringing you in, so lean into that.
Your pitch needs to know the ins and outs of the character, the world, and the plot. While you shouldn’t be writing the script or even an outline, you should be able to answer questions as if you have. If you think visuals will help, then feel free to bring them, but always remember that you’re not getting paid yet. You don’t want to spend a lot of time creating a project since you could potentially be up against a lot of other writers and since it is not in writing, what you pitch could still be used even if you aren’t hired for the project.
Understand Your Odds
As said before, the first calls and invites go to established writers, and once they do look at those with shorter resumes, they’re bringing in tens of writers to meet with and hear their “take.” So while your pitch should include how you connect with the project and why you’re the perfect writer for it, you also don’t want to dive in so hard that if you lose out on the opportunity it will break your heart. There’s actually probably plenty of great material in what you pitched that you can parse out and use in something completely different that you create on your own.
If you’re up for an open writing assignment, take the opportunity to make a great pitch and a great connection, because that’s what you love to do. Work with your representation and whatever guidance they have to make the best impression possible, and hopefully, level up in your career.