“I meet a lot of crazy people in Vegas,” says Marcus Hanftaler. “So why not make a show out of it?”
Hanftaler, a German indie scribe living in Vegas, brought a question and a treatment with him to Los Angeles. His question: What happens when a con artist takes over a casino? His treatment: prose for his show “Vegas Chaos,” which made its way to the National Assn. of Television Program Executives’ PitchCon this past week.
Joining Hanftaler were 24 other hopeful creatives — all floating their pitches as semifinalists in NATPE and Sell Your TV Concept Now’s Hollywood Player Pitch Contest. The semifinalists had 10 minutes each to wow a table of four judges a la ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Coming from an initial bundle of 65 entrants, players like Rebecca Brand said this was the big shot at a big deal.
“I’m a little nobody — I produce a little TV show in Santa Barbara,” Brand said. “Coming to Los Angeles and getting the chance to meet all these different producers and broadcasters — never in your world are you ever going to have a chance to have them all that close to you and so accessible.”
Brand, a French impressionist artist with a background in business, was one of the first to pitch Thursday morning. A resident of Santa Barbara, Brand has blended her love for fine wine, food and art into a reality TV show she calls “Dinner Party Art Class.”
Already with wineries and art suppliers helping to fund her project, “Dinner Party Art Class” tracks eligible Santa Barbara bachelors as they interact in Brand’s hosted dinner party-art class combo. RLTV has already reached out to Brand, but she’s got her sights, ideally, set on nets like Bravo; sizzle reel in hand, Brand let the show talk for itself.
Sizzle reels were common, but not necessarily staples. Some, like puppeteer Steve Sherman, opted to bring other visuals.
Sherman pitched “Hollywood Coyotes,” a half-hour sitcom in which animatronic coyotes terrorize their human neighbors. Instead of a sizzle reels or storyboard, Sherman instead brought in a faux coyote pelt, which was passed around to all the judges — quickly and skeptically.
Other ideas ranged from an awards show for celebrity dogs to a dramedy about a morally ambiguous golfer to a skein about a family of organ bandits. But the big winners of the night would be the unscripted skeins — with three of the four finalists brandishing series centered on contempo social issues. The four finalists, all touting unscripted shows, pitched live to a standing-room-only aud as well as four celebrity judges: Scott Steinberg (Scott Steinberg Prods.), Eric Shotz (LMNO Prods.), Cara Dellaverson (Lionsgate) and Rod Perth (topper of NATPE).
Fourth place went to Jill Gould, who pitched a Survivor-esque competition show about aspiring stuntmen and women; third place went to Kevin McCoy, who floated a series about following the stories of homeless people and giving them resources to help their respective situations; and the runner-up for the contest was John Bujack, who proposed following people and the animals they’re forced to give up for adoption by Michigan’s Humane Society.
The belle of the ball, however, was Charla Young, who presented her traveling talk show “Power to Change,” in which Young, an Emmy Award-winning journo with more than 20 years of experience, travels around the country to tell the stories of people who are down and out.
“I really wasn’t sure where I was going,” Young said, recalling her semifinal pitch, “until one of the judges opened his mouth and said, ‘You’re an angel,’ and just started crying. Out of all of the possible scenarios of how people would react and how it would be received, tears were never something that I had imagined — and then when I saw another judge cry and then I started crying, they said, ‘You don’t even have to finish your presentation; we’re sold.’”
Young, an Amory, Miss., native — where she says they have a population of 3,000, two stoplights and one Walmart — moved to Kentucky to pursue a career in television news when she was in her 20s. The job she bagged, however, wouldn’t cover the bills, and after a while, she found herself in massive debt and unable to pay numerous expenses — the least of which included her rent.
According to Young, though, her landlord, a lady named Elois Peach, tracked her down, not to castigate her, but rather to empower her: Peach ordered Young to tally her debts. She did. Peach then wrote a check and wiped Young’s slate clean, encouraging the journo to help others.
Young refers to that moment as her “defining minute” — and her show, “Power to Change,” seeks to empower others in a similar way. Heading into the final round, Young had to trim her pitch from 10 minutes to five (and deal with some technical difficulties on her sizzle reel), but the last-minute changes paid off.
The grand-prize package includes meetings with high-profile media execs in L.A., including Lionsgate, the CW, UTA and Evolution Management; a GoPro camera package; and a lunch at the Palm, among other benefits.
“Today we don’t have firm offers on the table,” Young said. “But this is my vision, and it’s basically faith walking. So where we end up, I don’t know, but I do know that ‘Power to Change’ is going to have some kind of international impact.”