Sweepstakes pitching (also know as a “bake-off”) is when a studio or producer brings in many different screenwriters to pitch on the same project before deciding which one to hire (“the winner”).
In most cases, sweepstakes pitching occurs when the studio owns a licensed property — such as a character or board game — for which there is no obvious narrative. Thus, screenwriters pitching their take are really coming up with a vision for the movie as a whole, unlike the more straightforward adaptation of a novel or foreign film.
In bake-offs, the studio is often asking, “Is there even a movie here?”
Sweepstakes pitching is controversial in the screenwriting community. Screenwriters will often spend days or weeks of preparation on a project for which their odds of landing the job is slim. (And in some cases, the studio may opt to hire no writers at all.) In this way, some screenwriters feel they are being exploited as unpaid research-and-development.
Another concern is idea contamination — or theft. Because studios or producers end up hearing multiple takes from multiple writers, they may end up using elements from a pitch without hiring the writer who created them.