Screenwriter Chris Pittas proves you don't have to win, to win
April 8, 2022
Screenwriter Chris Pittas recently placed in Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest. Although the triumph didn’t lead to taking the top prize, it still opened some incredible industry doors, proving you don’t have to win a contest to win at the Hollywood game. It’s all about what you do with the successes along the way.
Named one of ISA’s “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2022,” his thriller feature Scorpions cracked the Big Break Top 10, as well as climbed to the Top 1% in its genre on Coverfly’s The Red List. And that’s precisely where Vertigo Entertainment found Pittas.
“Every path towards representation is going to be unique,” he told Final Draft. “It’s all about networking. You hear that again and again and again, and it's really hard to do with COVID!”
“I moved to L.A. in the middle of COVID,” he continued. “I was barely going to any in-person networking events, except Austin [Film Fest]. Austin was amazing and I learned how to pitch there, and that’s key.”
“I definitely recommend going to Austin Film Festival as a writer because the moment you walk in there, people are pitching to you and asking for your pitch,” he said. “Before even a name I pitched hundreds of times and you get into that rhythm.”
Honing his pitch at Austin helped Pittas feel at ease when it came time to pitch Citizen Skull, which came about through “massive synergy between Coverfly, ISA, and representation.”
“It [Representation] was the boost from Big Break Top 10 that Vertigo saw, contacted me about, and I reported back to ISA—because I’m on their dev slate from other contests—that ‘hey, Vertigo just reached out to me about [Scorpions].’ I tell them about all the successes, one of the former execs of ISA, who was one of the first people to read Scorpions read this feature that I had and loved it, said it was one of the best he’s ever read.”
Pittas recalled that the former execs from ISA admitted, “‘I want to attach myself as director and I want to hook you up with my management.’”
“I'm so ready for all this, but on the other hand, I haven't gotten paid yet.” Pittas shared. “It's not like, ‘Oh, you're a writer, now here's your check.’”
Pittas said he started writing “seriously” within the last three years thanks to encouragement from his sister following “a period of real depression after my mother died in 2016.”
He continued, “Then Trump—and I know it's cliché to say like, oh, Trump—but I just felt gutted for a million reasons. I was managing restaurants and they were good jobs, but I had been writing and making art my entire life and had just given up on it. And [my sister] was like write a screenplay about it.”
He did, and then wrote several more…
“I just started going and going once I got the formula, the format, and things to do and not to do,” Pittas said. “My sister actually discouraged me from getting too dark—and maybe that was personal because she didn't want to see me unhappy—but actually I've found that through this process, I have unearthed a lot of trauma I wasn't dealing with.”
“I watch dark scary stuff; Why am I so attracted to that?” he questioned. “Why are we all attracted [to that]? And it's not an obsession with darkness, It is how we deal with the darkness. It's catharsis and if you're making it, it's healing. It was therapy.”
After laying the groundwork for his writing with the fantastic Pilar Alessandra, he worked with the incomparable screenwriting coach Lee Jessup.
“She's amazing,” he said about Jessup. “I took her career counseling for like six months, and I remember the first couple of meetings, man, she just has so much information, but this is just how it works. This is what you have to do.”
"If you're getting started, you need to have a feature and if you're a successful TV writer, you need to have a feature in between seasons to have work,” Pittas said. “So that was one reason why I started writing a feature.”
“That’s when I realized I have to tell this story because Scorpions was originally called The Narcissist and The Psychopath. It's about me and my mom,” he said. “Yeah, I'm a psychopath. It's about when I was 10 and she had some drug problems and was also a white-shoe lawyer. I base all the scenes in the movie on stuff that happened in life but making it so extreme that it's obviously fiction.”
“This was a story that came pouring out in a week, polished in a month,” he said.
And while Pittas is prolific in how much he’s written in a few short years, he doesn’t believe the industry “really cares how many screenplays you have, they want to know can you write.”
“Can you write screenplays And do you have something—some style, some story—that is so different and compelling and grabbing that they have to have that?” Pittas said.
Thanks to his time at AFF, Pittas also believes that pitch docks aren’t a necessary tool for all writers.
“Don't make bibles,” he cautioned. “When I was at Austin at a round table with these two different TV writers, people asked them, ‘What do I do about making a pitch deck?’ They're like, 'I've never made a bible. They have people for that.’ I'm sure I'll be supplying copy for what goes into the pitch deck and that sort of thing,” Pittas said, “but I'm a writer. I'm not a graphic designer.”
“There’s no school for any of this,” he added. “There is no right way to do this. There are a million paths, and you have to find your own.”
He advised writers to “use the free networking services that are available and reputable.”
“Final Draft’s Big Break is definitely one of them,” he said. “The fact that it's affiliated with Lee Jessup is a huge thing.”
Along with Pilar’s On the Page for writing is also a great resource, he said, adding, “I’m not just saying it because she's my sister.”
“Post your stuff on Coverfly, submit your stuff to the Red List,” he said. These are real people who really want to help you out—amazing people that care about writers. So, use those resources.”
Pittas was told by his people at Vertigo, “It doesn't matter that much who wins, they check out the Top 10. They check out the finalists. He saw my logline. And from that logline, requested the script and from there… All that was directly from the Big Break. Get your profile out there. Get as much advice as you can, network in real life and other worlds for now.”
Solid advice from someone making the most of his “win.”
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.