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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Want Access? Ask Larry Meistrich!

I recently learned about Larry Meistrich's most recent film venture, NEHST Studios. For those unfamiliar with Meistrich (and you should be familiar with him), he founded The Shooting Gallery, and has produced nearly 100 films, including Laws of Gravity, Sling Blade, You Can Count on Me and Belly. I spoke with Meistrich recently to learn more about his new venture, which should be of interest to most of my readers.

Following the shuttering of The Shooting Gallery's doors in 2001, Meistrich started Film Movement, a subscription DVD of the month club featuring foreign and independent productions. He eventually sold out his stake in the successful company and launched Nehst along with some colleagues he'd previously worked with in other capacities. (The name, by the way, is pronounced "Next," and is the Old English spelling of that word.)

I wanted to know why he and his partners started Nehst. What does Nehst offer that is unique? The answer came down to one word: access.

"There are 3 parts to the filmmaking system right now," says Meistrich. "With traditional production and distribution in place, the third part is access. Hollywood is using the same 200 people for everything, and if you’re not represented and you’re not one of those 200, it is hard to get in and have your ideas read. So the films that Hollywood is making are a lot blander than they could be."

To overcome this problem and tap into the vast pool of talented people with no ability to get their work seen, Nehst has an open pitching policy, and has created a process by which anyone can easily pitch their ideas to the company. There are multiple ways to do this, including virtual pitching online at their website PitchNehst.com, weekly one-on-one pitch sessions every Tuesday, and periodic full-day pitch sessions. They even hold weekend-long movie boot camps that teach the "reality of filmmaking, not just the theory." These weekends culminate in a pitching session.

The one-on-one pitches are held alternately at NYC's Four Seasons Hotel and in Edgewater, NJ, which means if you are one of my readers from the Northeast you have particularly good access. Registration is on the Pitch Nehst site, and scheduling is handled over the phone.

The full-day pitch events are scheduled for various locations around the country, with a schedule also available on the website. In them, they spend the first half of the day teaching participants the skills needed to pitch effectively, then spend the second half of the day listening to open pitches from those who are interested in doing so. Meistrich says there is no need to be scared of such events. "We’re not American Idol. We don’t embarrass anyone, and we don’t say yes or no right then. If we’re interested, we contact people afterwards to tell them directly."

So far, Nehst has held about 5 such pitch days, each capped at 60 people. Meistrich has been amazed at the quality of pitches they've heard. He says on average 30-50% of the pitches they hear in a given day are good enough for them to follow up for a read. At one recent pitch day in Sacramento, that number was closer to 80%.

Another benefit to pitching Nehst is that the equal access opportunity extends to the vetting process. They do not use readers for the projects that are submitted. While this means turnaround time is slower, it also means that each piece is read by the executives who make the final decisions.

And the process seems to be working well for parties on both sides of the production equation. The company was started in March, and has already purchased (or in one case optioned) 10 projects -- 6 features and 4 web series. Considering his past, I asked Meistrich if he was looking exclusively for indie style works. He was quick to point out that he's produced projects of a wide variety in the past, and they are looking for equally diverse properties at Nehst.

"We’re just looking to fund good ideas. They could be for film, web series, TV series, whatever."

Meistrich says they are "particularly looking for writers." So far, they have stuck with the original writers on the features for rewrites. But since the TV/web series have often come in from non-writers, they will need to staff the projects with writers. He encourages screenwriters to bring in completed spec screenplays, pitches or writing samples for consideration as a writer for hire.

Among the web series they are developing is an irreverent cooking show aimed at college students, called Cook U. Meistrich described the positive reaction the show received from an agent at William Morris Agency. She had to agree when Meistrich pointed out that series creator Rafi Marcus never would have gotten past the WMA switchboard had he not brought the project to Nehst.

"The Bruce Beresford, Annette Bening, Jessica Biel picture for $10 million is easy to make." But the established players won't listen to ideas from people like Marcus, or James Eschricht and John Infantino, creators of Dribble Kick Throw. The latter project is one of Nehst's highest profile projects, and is described as The Little Rascals with sports.

Among the projects they've bought, there is a traditional indie, comedy, horror, animated, documentary, and a "crazy action film." The web series came in as TV pitches, and will be made with full production value, ready to move to TV should the opportunity present itself. But the company embraces full web technology, and its initial plans are to air these series on a self-branded website, supported by advertiser dollars. They have partnered with a major advertising agency (to be announced shortly) to bring the top brands in the world in as sponsors.

Some of the projects came in from people inside of the industry who still lacked representation or the proper access, while others came from complete unknowns. People from out of nowhere who had no real aspirations of working in the industry and just had a good idea.

"We’ll take pitches from everybody," explains Meistrich. "We have a somewhat onerous agreement so we don’t get sued. And there is a slight fee of $10, which helps to weed out the total crazies. Plus it helps create a more manageable number of people."

But that "onerous agreement" is more to protect themselves than to shortchange the works' creators. Purchase deals are negotiated independent to that pitch agreement. And Nehst has even helped connect some of their writers with representation.

Nehst's production level aims at making projects in the $2-50 million range. Quite the range, but not unlimited. The one option (as opposed to purchase) deal they made was for a film with a budget around $150 million, for which they will be seeking co-financing. So where has the funding come from? Private investors. And Meistrich and Nehst plan a major announcement to coincide with the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, publicizing the amount they've raised. Meistrich kept mum on the amount, but referred to it as a "big number."

Nehst is also seeking completed films to distribute. They've already picked up two such films, and are negotiating for another. They will looking to make more such deals at Toronto. The company is also keeping an open mind regarding distribution channels. Properties may get a theatrical release, go straight to DVD, or be released on cable or for direct download, depending on the specific project.

In addition to PitchNehst.com, the company is using other self-created web outlets to get the word out. They do their casting via screentest.biz, which is currently listing casting calls for two features, two web series and a TV series.

One of the most common complaints developing writers have is about the difficulties of breaking down doors to take their first steps. Larry Meistrich and Nehst Studios have lowered this barrier to entry significantly. Now all you have to do is create something good and hope they find it worth their while!

(Hat tip to new friend Dave McCrea for the heads up about Nehst!)

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Anonymous Julia said...

I actually pitched an idea at one of their one-on-one pitches, and they provided me with much needed and appreciated feedback. It was a great and, to be honest, life changing event. I've been keeping an eye on NEHST, and I'm really looking forward to see what they do next.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thanks for the comment Julia! I'd love to hear more about your pitch, and how it was a "life changing event." Let us know!

1:57 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

I'd also like to give a quick welcome to all those of you visiting the blog via the Pitch Nehst website! I hope you'll poke around a bit and come back for more visits in the future.

4:18 AM  
Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Thanks for the info, Funjoel. Sounds interesting.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

4:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does Nehst option a pitch if they like it, or do they just wait for you to write the script to make you an offer?

9:47 PM  
Blogger James Moen said...

Cut and pasted from a post by Larry on the simplyscript.com message board (he posted a few times over there):

It doesn't have to be a script, a youn guy pitched an idea, a tv/series idea, he doesn't have the power to do it, I do , it is going to come out after august, big huge market, fantastic idea, I already involved movie stars, sports stars, and we will open the set in august. You will hear about this, it is going to be national/international series.

Hope that helps. I'm sure Larry or an intern dressed as Larry will provide farther details when they get a round to it.

30-50% good enough for a follow up read? Ugh.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Anon -- I think the deals are determined independently. They might buy a pitch, or they might wait for you to write it. Just like with other companies. Probably depends on how much they like the idea.

James -- not sure what that "ugh" was about. Do you think that number is high or low? I think that if you listen to pitches from an open selection of anybody who wants to pitch, and 30-50% of them are worth seeing to the next step (i.e. reading a script, etc.), that's pretty good. My guess is that if you look at most "pitch fest" type events, the percentage of people who pitch projects worthy of being read is much lower than that. So the fact that they are seeing that percentage that is of at least a certain degree of quality is somewhat notable.

10:40 PM  
Blogger James Moen said...

Too high.

I don't see how 30-50% (up to 80%!!) is a good thing. The pitch is a weeding out process. When you have every Tom, Dick, and Harry pitching you expect a lower % that are worth seeing to the next step, not a higher one.

As you said, a normal "pitch fest" has a low percentage, I'd say probably somewhere between 5-15%. Those are pitch fests with a high buy in and, probably, a more enthusiastic and professional pitch. If you put down big money, you probably spent some time polishing that pitch.

So the numbers don't add up to me.

Of course, a high % is great publicity. I've read more then a few posts about people that went to a Nehst pitch and got a read. Told others about it. Got them to do an online pitch. It gets Nehst name out there. Nothing wrong with that.

Unless, of course, you are the person riding high that you got a read and find out 80% of the room you were in got a read. That'd be a downer. Heck, might make you question Larry's abilities to judge pitches. Was your pitch really that good?

Not trying to rain on Larry or Nehst or what they are trying to do -- which, based on what they say in interviews and posts, I'm more or less indifferent to because it doesn't sound anything that isn't currently going on in Hollywood.

Except now I gotta compete with the guy who delivers my pizza too. He's got a load of ideas for movies and my 3$ tip.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I was lucky enough to witness Larry's pitch sessions in that all-day event at the Sacramento Film & Music Fesstival (80% - wow!!) and I can testify personally that Larry is attentive, supportive, and honest (sometimes brutally so) in his pitch sessons. From the first filmmaker to the last, Larry's interest, curiosity, valuable feedback and attention never waned, and every filmmaker received valuable information and direction from him. It is a chance of a lifetime to get onboard with Larry and Nehst Studios now, as this is a groundbreaking opportunity for filmmakers coming to life, and Larry is seeking the best to come along for the ride.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Leann said...

I think Larry & NEHST Studios are awesome opening up so much potential & incentive for the unknown talented.

Great idea ...kind of like the American Idol selection process! No doubt they'll experience great pitches and a lot of other pitches that if only could be captured for video streamed Bloopers, or a good old reality show like "America THINKS They Got Talent"... how funny would that be?!

There's a great pitch! NEHST here I come!

And thanks to Larry for letting us in!

...and for taking such good care of my sister in NY!


10:21 PM  

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