Selling Your Ideas To Hollywood
Hollywood is built on the power of Idea. The "Closed Door" myth is busted open thanks to the Internet, and this pro's experience.
Hollywood is built on the power of “idea”, and television is the most rapidly evolving platform for ideas to be produced through storytelling and games. Most people think of Hollywood as a closed door, with opportunities reserved for those who “know people”. On the contrary, Hollywood is a machine constantly on the search for new ideas to help reinvent itself and bring a fresh form of entertainment to viewers. After working for seven years as a Development Executive, creating and pitching concepts with producers, I can tell you it’s simply a game of matching the right concept to the right producer at the right time.
The most notable pioneer of television who started his empire from a simple notion is my former boss, Merv Griffin. In 1964 (post quiz show scandals), Merv was flying back from New York with his wife Julann pondering ideas for shows they could pitch, when they began to explore the following idea; “What if we gave the contestant the answer, and they had to figure out what the question was?” That triggered a playful conversation similar to the following;
Merv, “How many feet are in a mile?”.
Julann, “The Ford Theatre”.
Merv, “Where was Abraham Lincoln shot?”.
That basic idea and game went through many stages of development before even being pitched to the network, but once produced, it became the most successful game show in the history of television we now know as “Jeopardy!” In 1986 Griffin sold the show, along with “Wheel of Fortune” (created shortly after) to The Coca Cola Company for a staggering $250 Million in cash.
Today, the landscape of programming and deal making is vastly different, and creating such simple concepts that haven’t already been produced is difficult. To our benefit, the outlets and opportunities for new TV shows is literally a hundred-fold what it was in the 60’s. Hollywood producers and development executives work full time to create or find those new concepts to sell to TV networks, and more and more are using the Internet to source new material.
The Television Writers Vault is a valuable tool being used by producers scouting new projects, and for writers (aspiring or professional) to market their concepts and scripts direct to the television industry. Writers can find professional advice on formulating concepts for today's thriving and competitive programming world, as well as understand the inner-workings of the television industry to streamline projects in the most positive direction.
If you think being an outsider from Hollywood makes it impossible, I know first hand that’s not true. In my first year as a development executive at Merv Griffin Entertainment, I brought in a concept created by a journalist in Florida. The idea was written up in a two-page outline, and explored the simple idea; “How far will an ordinary person go to help a stranger in need?” The idea could have also been pitched as “Pay It Forward meets Candid Camera”. Our producers immediately saw the potential for comedy and entertainment value, and Merv signed the new writer to an option deal. The project was sold on our first pitch to Disney, and eventually packaged for production where it still sits.
Just recently, an aspiring writer from Alabama, Timothy Centner, sold 3 projects (all ideas for reality-based programming) to a producer who uses The Television Writers Vault for finding new projects. Prior to that, Jon Stewart of Illinois sold his idea for a reality-based program built around his own life to a head executive for Fox Television Studios.
You may have the most inspiring story or script any producer could read, but unless you can boil that story or concept into a brief synopsis with a highly marketable "logline", a producer will never invest the time in reading the entire script or treatment, leaving no chance of any deal to be offered.
A "Logline" is a one or two sentence description that tells the basic idea and purpose of a show. Loglines for the sake of pitching a project are similar to a TV Guide description, but more specific in describing the idea of the show. This is the catalyst for increasing the odds of selling any script or idea to Hollywood.
A great logline should provoke interest and inspire the TV producer to see it’s potential. The following are examples of could-be loglines for current television shows:
- "Ordinary people face their fears by competing against each other in outrageously devised stunts" - Fear Factor
- "A likeable husband's marriage and tolerance is tested by the constant intrusion of his overbearing parents and dim-witted brother" - Everybody Loves Raymond
- "Twenty women will court and compete to win the affections of one man who will narrow the selection until he must decide on his one true love." - The Bachelor
- "Contestants' general knowledge will be tested when given the answers to questions they must then form." - Jeopardy
Another important facet of marketing your projects to the entertainment industry is the protection and “proof-of-creation” as the Author. An aspiring writer need not be a member of any union to get protection for their writing. The Creators Vault is an online archive where writers may receive electronic proof of creation for their projects. The Writers Guild of America also provides a registry service to writers online.
When finally offered an “option deal” by a producer who wants to buy your project, you’ll then want to seek the counsel of an entertainment attorney to help negotiate the specific terms of any agreement. Most often, the writer is paid token monies upfront for the company to have exclusive right to sell and produce the project with any network or third party buyer. Once a project reaches production, the writer receives the negotiated “purchase price” (usually a much larger sum than the option monies), and will receive a small percentage of participation in the fees received by the production company for producing the show.
Keep inspired. Look at your life and the world around you to find fresh and compelling stories and subjects. If you roll up your sleeves and dedicate yourself to the work necessary, you just might sell the next groundbreaking idea for a show to Hollywood.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Manville is the President and Founder of Tell A Vision Ventures, Inc. and former lead development executive for Merv Griffin Entertainment.