Maximize your time, know the opportunities.
A great series can last decades. This means producing hundreds of episodes and spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Due to this lengthy and expensive process, television is a relationship based industry. A show idea can take years to be developed from a pitch into a script and make it to the first day of physical production (one famous HBO series, for example, was in development for 10 years before they began shooting!). The few ideas that do finally make it in to production can then consume the entire lives of their cast, crew, and executives. If you’re going to spend years working with people, and spend millions of dollars in the process, it is important to have a strong team that you like and trust.
This uniquely collaborative creative process behind the creation of episodic programming leads to the core distinction between film and TV - and highlights the key difference between film festivals and ITVFest. Film festivals showcase finished film products for sale; ITVFest showcases ideas and series concepts in their nascent form looking for a team to further its life. Selling a film is largely about how good the film itself is. Selling a series is largely about the personalities of the creators as well as the quality of the idea.
For decades, TV had been closed off to independent creators but rapid advances in technology over the last decade opened the opportunity for new storytellers to emerge. The combination of more accessible camera and production equipment paired with the advent of direct distribution via the internet permanently changed the game.
What hasn’t changed is the fundamental reality of what it takes to create a series: ideas, time, money, and talent. ITVFest is purposefully designed to allow creators, producers, and executives to get to know each other and find people you want to potentially work with for years ahead.
Maximizing your time at the festival depends on your goals. If your goal is to show up in Vermont, sit down at a table, meet a buyer, pitch your show, and sell it before you go home, then you are likely setting yourself up for failure. That type of straightforward business transaction may occur at film festivals, but remember, ITVFest is a television festival! You are not arriving in Vermont with a completed product to sell to someone, you are bringing a proof of concept of an idea that requires further development and work. You may have already shot a few episodes of your series or written the script, but that’s only the beginning of the life cycle of your project.
The value of ITVFest lies in the open doors it gives you to short circuit the seemingly impossible process of accessing people in the industry. This is why the festival is set in a small Vermont town over five days with centrally located venues and a daily schedule of events from morning to night. Everything is designed to create opportunities for you to make connections that you can build on and strengthen over time. It can take years of living in a major city before you find a way through the maze to reach the right people in the industry - but at ITVFest in Vermont, they're sitting next to you at the theaters and standing next to you at the restaurants.
There's no "pitch speed dating" here - just simple conversation about you, your ideas, and how you should stay in touch after the festival ends and everyone goes back to work. Maybe the person you meet is the right buyer for your show - maybe they aren't, but they know someone who is. That's the most amazing part of the TV industry: buyers all know each other and will pass projects to other buyers who might be a better fit.
Each executive has a different approach to how they find the shows and talent they want to work with. Some like to watch produced pilots before they meet you, others prefer to hear your story authentically from you first before they read a script or watch a trailer. That's why the process always seems so mystical and impossible to navigate: every person does things differently.
Last year, there were at least five deals that came out of relationships made at the festival. All of these deals happened months after everyone left Vermont. Two of these deals were from official selections, one from a network notes meeting, one from a pitch workshop, and another from a series that had no involvement with the festival at all (read her story here)!
Come to ITVFest to meet people. Manchester is a very small town, so the concentration of executives here this week is the highest percentage of execs in any town in the country. Spend time outside your hotel room meeting as many other people as possible throughout the day. The "Marketplace" isn't just 15 minutes in a preset meeting, the Marketplace is every day from breakfast to late night, talking with the person sitting next to you at the coffee shop or grabbing a drink at Seasons.
It might just be exactly who you were supposed to meet.