How to Pitch Your Idea to Hollywood

Proven methods of getting your story idea to Hollywood

By Robin Rowe

HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 2013/12/3 – I received a question from someone who wants to know how to get ahead in Hollywood. Whether you’re new to the entertainment business or have been at it a long time, it’s good to keep in mind the proven paths to success.

“I live in the Netherlands,” he wrote. “I have written a film plot for a science fiction action movie. I would love to pitch my film idea to see if it’s any good. But I don’t really know who I can contact to take a look at my idea. Could you help me with this? Do you know anyone in the film industry willing to listen to my idea?”

Nobody in Hollywood really knows if any idea is good. If we did, there would never be another flop. There are many ways to give yourself credibility, that have proven to make Hollywood listen.

1. Have an agent pitch it for you. Because agents work on commission, it’s a powerful endorsement to have one who believes in you. It typically takes a year or longer to get an agent. Don’t be surprised if it takes a year for an agent to respond to your blind query. They’re busy serving clients and need to look at their clients’ friends pitches first. Here’s a list of WGA-approved agents.

2. Become a successful novelist. Adapt your story as a novel. Publish it. Become a bestseller. This can be sufficient to convince an agent you’re worth representing. A variation of this approach is to adapt someone else’s best-selliing novel. To option the book, contact the author or his agent.

3. Make yourself a producer. Film ninety seconds of your story as a teaser. Put it on YouTube. Get 1M+ views. This can be sufficient to get a studio deal.

4. Make yourself an executive producer. Use your own money (or raise money on your own) to shoot your entire film. Sell your completed film at Cannes or AFM. Once you have a film in distribution you will seem much more credible pitching your next one. Bonus points if your film wins an Oscar.

5. Produce a successful online game.It’s achievable for an unknown game to reach 50 million downloads in the first 50 days.

6. Have useful friends. Networking is a classic approach for getting ahead in Hollywood. With my partner I founded the 5,000-member industry association ScreenPlayLab. At least 50 people have found representation through contacts in that group. If you want an agent, it helps to know someone who already has one.

7. Start at the bottom at a production company or studio and toil in obscurity for years while climbing the corporate ladder and helping other people reach their dreams first. Competition for any entertainment job is fierce. One convenient place to find job notices is at the Tracking Board job list.

Many people pursue all of the above simultaneously. You may have to be patient and to work hard.

It often takes years to become an overnight success. If you look at the history of those who made it big, they often had many smaller successes first. It typically takes seven to ten years to get any studio film made no matter who you are. You are competing with people who have already done the above steps.

“I have a great idea for a TV series, better than Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy“, writes an aspiring artist. “Now what?”

The process is simple to describe. Not easy to do. Step 1 is to write a kick-ass pilot. Step 2 is to get the right people to read it. Focus. Until you complete step 1, don’t put any effort into step 2.

If all you have is an idea, nobody can help you. What’s valued is the execution of an idea. If you’re talented and write fast you can write a pilot in as little as one week. If you won’t put a week’s effort into your own idea, don’t expect anyone else will.

“I am not a writer,” she says, “just someone who knows she has a great idea for a pilot.”

If you need a script and can’t write it yourself, you need to hire a writer. We have writers for hire. For a guide to what it costs to hire a writer, see The Ins and Outs of TV Series Writer Deals.

When a series sells to network, the writer gets at least the guild minimum of $43k. If you work with a union writer, that’s what you have to pay under union rules. A union writer can’t take less under his contract with the union. However, rates for non-union writers are negotiable.

When working with a non-union writer, you can try to defer a significant percentage of that $43k until after the network pays you, if there’s a sale. What to budget is up to the producer, which is what you are when you’re hiring a writer. Non-union writers are available at a broad price range, depending upon your expectations. Obviously that’s going to be a new writer, someone who hasn’t joined the union yet.

“Why doesn’t anybody want to see a treatment anymore?”, asks a disappointed correspondent. “I hear that some writers sell on a query, which is much less effort.”

Twenty years ago, before reality TV, when there were fewer unemployed writers and a booming economy, amateur treatments had a better chance. Today, if an executive loves your treatment, he will have to justify to his boss why he’s buying an amateur’s treatment when he could go after the rights to a bestseller instead.

When writers sell on a query, which can be entirely verbal, the purchase price includes them writing an acceptable finished screenplay. A pro can write a screenplay very quickly, as fast as one week.

“You don’t know me,” writes another hopeful. “But, I have a fantastic idea for a reality TV series. I just need you to sign my NDA before I tell you about it.”

In Hollywood, you can forget about getting an NDA. Executives often hear similar pitches on the same day from different producers. In seeking what Hollywood wants next, everyone is tending toward similar ideas.

Not only will nobody sign your NDA, anyone lacking an agent is generally expected to sign a quit-claim first. That is, you are expected to sign away all your rights before anyone of consequence will listen to you.

Don’t try to pitch to people you don’t trust because they won’t trust you either. Hollywood is a small town where news travels fast. If you can’t trust anyone, make your project somewhere else in secret using your own money.

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