By Matthew Fleischer, Los Angeles Times
6:00 AM CDT, May 13, 2013
On a warm, Friday morning in Beverly Hills, 150 prospective television producers from around the world gathered at PitchCon 2013 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to try to sell their projects to 50 of Hollywood's top industry professionals.
At one table in the center of the room, Charla Young, 40, of Louisville, Ky., calmly pitched a television executive the idea for her inspirational talk show "Power to Change." Having already obtained regional syndication in her home state, Young had come to Los Angeles to find national distribution for her show.
"I've always felt this show was destined for a wider audience," she said.
For an aspiring television mogul like Young, this was the place to be. PitchCon is a two-day training seminar for television hopefuls, granting them rare face time with media professionals from across Hollywood. The annual event is the work of the industry group NATPE, the National Assn. of Television Program Executives.
After a day of Hollywood training, PitchCon culminated in a mass pitch session called PitchPit, in which each of the 150 hopefuls got 10 minutes to chat with a media professional, or "catcher," in hopes of selling their projects.
Young had thus far been the breakout hit of PitchCon after winning a pitching contest the previous night against 70 prospective projects. For her effort, she will be invited to private meetings with executives from production company Lionsgate, talent agency UTA, and others.
At another table nearby, meanwhile, Jan Dixon Sykes from Kansas City, pitched a reality project she called "Cattle Country" — or, alternatively, "Cattle Battle," she couldn't decide — about a family ranch in Nebraska.
"This show is so wholesome your mouth will sour from milk breath," she promised one production company executive.
"Three minutes remaining!" went the cry over the loud speaker. "Three minutes!"
Dixon Sykes made no pretense about her folksy demeanor. In fact, it seemed to be a selling point: "On the eighth day, God created the cowboy," went her tagline for her pitch.
"You get some real eccentrics here," said executive producer Ivy Brown — one of the 50 "catchers" at the event — who runs the production company Spring Theory with her husband, Greg Spring. "They're from all over the country. They're not polished. They're not savvy. They're raw. Which can be really refreshing."
Spring Theory is largely looking for unique nonfiction projects
"This event is perfect for a small production company like ours," said Spring. "We usually meet with about 20 people at this event and make a deal with one person every other year — which is pretty good odds if you think about it."
In the three-year history of PitchCon, no project pitched at the event has made it to air thus far — something NATPE President and CEO Rod Perth said he hoped to see change this year.
"We're a nonprofit, so we do this largely as a training exercise to let aspiring talent learn the language of Hollywood," he said. "At the same time, one of our pitchers just came to a verbal agreement on a deal. In the real world, a pitch has about a 1,000 to 1 chance of being picked up."
"Power to Change" producer Young said she came to Los Angeles not knowing what to expect from the event. Now that she has found some initial success, her hopes have skyrocketed.
"I want to do more than just connect," she said. "It's time to make something happen. I want the power to change my pocketbook."
Dixon Sykes too, was excited about her prospects for making "Cattle Ranch/Battle" after one particularly enthusiastic meeting with a production company exec.
"I got a business card," she said. "But more importantly, I made a personal connection."
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