Making films and TV is getting easier and harder as the Platinum Age of television abounds with new networks like Netflix and Hulu, but the old Hollywood rules still apply
By Robin Rowe
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 2017/1/1 – Is your New Year’s resolution to make a film or TV series? Here’s a quick guide…
A distributor or network buys the finished film or series. An executive producer raises the money to produce the show. A line producer makes the show, spends the the money the EP raises. A director directs the cast. The casting director auditions the actors and presents them to the EP or director. The editor works with the director or EP to finish the show.
The writer sells her work to an EP through an agent. As a rule-of-thumb, the price for the script will be 2.5% of the film’s production budget. The agent takes 10% of the 2.5% the writer gets. If you do the math, a project has to be big to support an agent.
A film may be indie or studio. A studio film is made by the studio rather than for the studio. To greenlight a studio film, the head of the studio must approve it. That is, studio films are decided by six very rich and difficult to access people. Most studio films are big budget action films or based on best-selling books.
Studios have layers of executives whose job it is to vet projects offered to the studio by agents who have already vetted the projects. Most agents don’t have time to look at writers unknown to them because they want to spend time promoting talent they already have, that repeat sales are best.
Anyone can be an independent filmmaker. All it takes is money. However, most films, even hits, lose money. Most films never get financed. Most indie films that do start production are never finished. The first-time EP often goes bankrupt. The only investors who will invest in an indie film are those who are unwise, who want a high-risk tax write-off or who have a personal passion that goes beyond business. There is very little indie TV, although there are many indie web series.
Films typically take 10 years to get made in Hollywood, from conception to screen. TV can be faster, however, few pilots get made. Only 1 in 20 TV pilots that do get shot will make it to series. Most pilots will never be seen anywhere, even though they were made with stars. That a pilot gets made or goes to series is decided by the network chief. He may quickly change his mind based on ratings.
Everyone who is already famous and successful is pitching the same people you want to pitch. You have to seem better than they are. How will you do that?
Ways that have worked before…
- Start as a page at the studio and work your way up
- Start in the mail room at an agency and work your way up
- Go to film school and make friends with people who will be famous later
- Cultivate famous friends or relatives who can help you gain access
- Be famous already for something else, so that rich people will be begging to meet you and listen to your ideas
- Be so rich already that you don’t care about the money, that it’s simply about the art for you
- Be an tax expert or attorney who understands film financing credits like Section 181 and convince high wealth individuals they need to use this
- Raise money on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter
- Do the book first and make it a bestseller
- Do the web series first and make it a hit
- Be incredibly lucky
If you’re frightened by the above, don’t be. What you are attempting is highly competitive, like being an Olympic athlete. Not many reach the top. However, new people are doing so all the time. Hollywood and the Olympics love new, if you’re awesome.
Amazon Prime and PBS have online submission forms, offer a bit of an open door. Everyone else will tell you they don’t accept unsolicited material. That’s not entirely true because it’s ok to query anyone.
A query is a brief letter explaining who you are, why you’re interesting, and asking if they would like to know more about your project. Cold query letters go into what’s called the slush pile. That you won’t get an immediate response to a query is normal. If you do get a fast response, it’s probably going to be a pass. When there’s a positive response, it is normal that it comes a year later. There’s that much backlog.
Because Hollywood is generating more material than anyone knows what to do with, the slush pile is low priority. Agents typically clean out their slush pile when changing agencies or during vacation, have a huge backlog. Same with producers. A warm query, that is, one coming with a referral from a friend of the recipient, comes ahead of cold queries.
Every Hollywood success story has a crucial element of luck. If you ask anyone in Hollywood how to follow in his or her footsteps, you will be told that you couldn’t possibly. Someone offered them a lucky break, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It can take years to become an overnight success. Luck happens.
Hollywood understands luck is vital and likes lucky people. Losers will volunteer how difficult or unfair life seems to them. Because they feel frustrated and invisible, people who are desperately seeking a break in Hollywood will often tell everyone they meet how much disrespect they have for people more successful than themselves. They will volunteer how they met some producer or agent who they think is an idiot and wrecked their chances. The listener of such venting might agree, but is wondering what sort of person talks this way behind someone’s back. Winners don’t talk that way. And, they don’t focus on failure.
When talking with Hollywood, or anywhere, always present yourself as a winner. That is, as someone who’s been extremely lucky and grateful for every success you’ve achieved.