It’s safe to say that 2020 was one hell of a year! From an apocalyptic type pandemic, to a hot and heavy political climate, to our economy nearly crashing, it really had it all. Unfortunately for me, I was one of the unlucky ones that found myself out of work. This turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise though, because it gave me more free time.
During my down time, a friend of mine asked me to read the first draft of his feature script, and I happily obliged. Reading his script and giving him feedback inspired me to dust off an old script I started back in 2013, God Loves Chris, and take the plunge into actually finishing the dang thing. I had no idea how intense this process was going to be, or what the rest of the year had in store for me by starting this venture.
God Loves Chris follows Christina Quintanilla, a lesbian who grew up in a religious household who has since been ostracized from her church and kicked out of her home for being gay. The film follows her journey of accepting herself for who she is and working through her faith to find peace with God.
This story was very much inspired by events that I went through as a lesbian who grew up in a super conservative church where homsexuality was very much frowned upon. Unfortunately this is still a big issue around the world today, and the negative comments I’ve gotten on social media for even talking about my “gay Christian film” proves that. It wasn’t easy going on my own journey of accepting and loving myself, and cementing the belief that God loved and created me exactly as I am. It was worth it though, and now I was in a point in my life where I could truly give this story justice and help others in the LGBTQ+ community that went through similar circumstances.
Those of you that have taken on the crazy endeavor of writing a feature script (or multiple), know exactly how hard and excruciating it can be, especially the first time. I was determined though and I worked through the pain and the desire to quit until I had the first draft done. I was so elated I cried. That wouldn’t be the last time I cried over this script, re-writes can be just as painful as getting the first draft done, but I didn’t know that yet.
I had a finished draft, and I knew I wanted to get this thing made, I just didn’t know what the next steps were going to be, so I asked for help. I found a consultant that understood more of the business aspect to film and he gave me some pointers. One of them was to check out the film markets, one of them being The American Film Market. I didn’t even know film markets existed, let alone that AFM had a pitch competition, but I decided to try it out, why not?
Thanks to Covid, AFM, which is normally held in Santa Monica every year, was all online. Not only did I save money, I got to experience everything the market had to offer right from the comfort of my own home. As I registered, I found out all of the info to get into the pitch conference, I had to submit a less than 2 minute video talking about my film. They gave us a few formats to use in order to pitch so I practiced a few times and got the video done within a take or two. The next part was just waiting around for an answer. A few days later I got that answer…”We regret to inform you that you were not selected…” I was disappointed but trusted that it would work out. Within 24 hours of that email I received another one, “We’re so sorry, you were sent the wrong email and in fact you were selected.” I was so excited!
Now the only thing I had to do was perfect my pitch so that I could win this thing. I knew that by being selected to pitch, I was able to get in front of a lot of executives that I never would’ve been able to without this opportunity, so I had to make this thing good. I searched for previous winners to see if I could find their pitches to study. I came across the 2016 winner on YouTube and literally typed out what she said word for word. I wanted to create a formula that I could follow in order to do well and to captivate the judges’ attention.
The formula I created from her pitch goes as follows:
Every pitch session is going to be different depending on who you’re pitching and where, but this has definitely helped me pitch at AFM and with other executives on Stage 32. So with this new formula in hand I perfected my pitch and felt confident that I would do well.
The big day came quickly and I was a mass of nerves like I was in the Eminem song “...palms are sweaty, knees are weak, arms are heavy…” and I did everything I could to keep my heart from beating out of my chest. A day before they sent us an order of the contestants so we knew when we would be up. As the judges progressed down the list though, I was completely skipped over. Panicked, I messaged the admins and after a few painstaking minutes, was informed that the judges were using an old list and I would still be able to pitch, they just didn’t know where I fell.
So I waited...and waited...until finally at the very end of everyone else, it was my turn. At this point, its a miracle I didn’t have a new ulcer burning through my stomach lining and revealing my insides to the world, because my stomach was wrecked. Thankfully I was able to calm myself enough to stand up and pitch my heart out. I did it just like I had practiced but I was able to use the nerves to show the judges my passion behind my story and why it was so important to me.
Because everything was on zoom, there was no applause or gratification from an audience, but I did get some great feedback from the judges and they seemed to really like my pitch. I literally felt like I was playing the NBA Championship game, ten seconds left on the clock and I had the ball and took the winning shot. I left everything on the court and by the time I was done with the pitch I was exhausted. I didn't realize they were going to announce the winner after they allowed a handful of the audience members to pitch. I knew I needed food and to chill out for the rest of the unforeseeable future.
I didn’t even find out I had won first runner-up until an hour or so later when I hopped into another virtual room to watch a presentation. Another attendee messaged me and said “Congratulations!” Not knowing what they were talking about I said, “Thank you, for what?” “You won first runner up in the pitch conference!” I was so surprised! I knew I had done the best pitch of my ability and really let the love of my story flow through and it paid off!
I am so grateful for my AFM experience and being able to tell executives that I’m the first runner up of the 2020 AFM Pitch Conference, definitely helps in getting their attention about my script. Currently I’ve been able to pitch numerous executives and create relationships with people that can help get this thing made including a few here on Stage 32. I’ve also been doing a lot of those dreaded re-writes that make you want to pull your hair out and curse the day you were born, but I know they’re necessary in making sure that my script is the best it could possibly be before we get to production.
My journey with God Loves Chris continues, and I’m so grateful for all of the resources Stage 32 has available in order to make my film a reality. It’s been a wild ride and I’m excited for what the future will bring.
If I could leave you with one piece of advice for pitching your story, it would be to fall truly, madly, deeply, in love with your story. Let your story literally be a part of who you are. Let your characters be family, and treat them as such when you speak about them. I wish you all the best on your journey, we got this!
1st runner up at the 2020 AFM Film Conference. Lesbian filmmaker looking to get funding for feature God Loves Chris. A drama geared towards the LGBTQ+ community.
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