Selling Your Own TV SeriesWritten by: Randy Becker
Published: Nov 17, 2014
CAN WRITERS SELL THEIR OWN TV SERIES?
Writers who are reading this article…YES!
And I’ll tell you how, if you go with me on this for a few minutes.
What do you do to try to get your material sold…or read...or noticed in any way? InkTip is a great tool. Producers, agents, execs, directors, etc., come here to find tomorrow’s great writers. I did, when I was repping writers and filmmakers.
But what else? Do you make any calls, send any letters; are you pro-active at all about putting together your film or tv project? Because if you are, we have a name for that in this industry….it’s called PRODUCING. That’s right, chances are that you are functioning as a producer, the moment you finish writing your screenplay or tv pilot.
Let’s examine how to do it right, so the energy you are expending on building relationships and moving your career forward anyway, can be designed to win.
A few underlying assumptions for you to embrace, then we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of it.
First, you must embrace that YOU CAN TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR OWN CAREER. This is not a random business where only the lucky make it. This is a business where billions of dollars are exchanged. You may not yet know how to do it yet, but it is possible. I work with writers every day and see extraordinary results when they build a system that is in line with today’s entertainment industry.
MINDSET SHIFT NEEDED FOR SALES
One of the reasons many artists shrink from the thought of selling their work is the false notion that ‘sales’ is something you do TO someone. In fact, ‘SELLING’, first and foremost, is about providing a SERVICE. You must look to match your genius, your material, your goals, with the needs, the pain, the absolute ‘must have’ of the people you have determined are essential for your career trajectory. Simply put, development execs NEED to find that next great script or they are out of a job. If you can provide it, within the context of their particular parameters, oh my….I can’t tell you how grateful that exec will be that you took the time to SELL him/her your script.
SIMPLIFYING THE BUSINESS
Next, it’s helpful to see the business in very simple terms. In the context of ‘putting film and tv projects together’ there are three kinds of people in this industry: MONEY, TALENT, and the PEOPLE WHO CONNECT THE TWO. Understanding that every transaction requires all three of these folks, and that they are all equally as important, will allow you to think strategically. If I’m looking to finance my film, what does the MONEY need? You will quickly find that, unless you have a horror, a creature feature or a family movie with an elephant, MARQUEE ACTORS (talent) are the deciding factor for assessing the value of your project. Money needs cast….but bankable cast won’t pay attention unless the money is in place. CONNECTORS are going to bridge that chicken-and-egg dilemma. If you’ve ever made a cold call to, say, Mark Wahlberg’s agent and tried to attach him to your script…you know that it simply won’t happen. MONEY, TALENT, CONNECTOR.
So, in terms of WHO to build relationships with when looking to have a career in film and TV, clearly you need a gate-keeper to high-level talent in your network (perhaps a talent manager), and someone who can accurately assess the ‘value’ of that talent from the perspective of a financier (a foreign sales company).
Wait…writers have to build relationships with foreign sales agents?
No, and it’s unlikely that execs at these companies (or any companies) will want to speak to writers. But someone looking to put a film together (a PRODUCER, remember) absolutely needs these relationships. You don’t have to do anything but write great material…UNTIL YOU DECIDE THAT YOU’D LIKE CONTROL OVER YOUR CAREER. Then…well, YES, you must build relationships with people who can CONSISTENTLY bring you to money and talent.
Remember, SALES is about SERVICE, so, once you find those connectors you must understand what THEY NEED in order to activate them….which means you must…
….and here’s the next piece of the puzzle…
UNDERSTAND HOW THE BUSINESS WORKS
It’s not rocket science, but it’s very rare that a writer actually knows what goes into those decisions that can determine the fate of his/her career. I’m going to start there.
GETTING STRATEGIC ABOUT YOUR TV SERIES
Okay, so, I’ve written the next Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or Modern Family. Now what?
Well, who is going to buy my brilliant tv series? Well, if you had a fancy-shmancy high-heeled shoe to sell, I’m guessing that the first step you’d take would be to identify stores that sell Louis Vuitton or Jimmy Choo, right? Places that sell flip-flops are still in the shoe biz and also make a ton of money, but your product would be irrelevant to their mandate, brilliant as it may be.
YOU MUST IDENTIFY YOUR BUYERS
Knowing WHO your ‘buyers’ are is the only way to identify a roadmap that will get you in front of them, and, for the purposes of selling your material, THE AUDIENCE IS NOT YOUR BUYER. The company that writes a check for your material is. That is who you need to provide a ‘service’ to.
So, in TV, who is that company?
Easy, right? I want my show on HBO, so HBO is the buyer. WRONG. Well, sort of wrong. HBO and FX and NBC, CBS and all networks ARE NOT GOING TO FINANCE YOUR TV SERIES. Networks no longer finance series…STUDIOS do.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO WRITERS?
This matters to you, the writer, and here is why. Let’s say you have the next Breaking Bad…perfect for AMC, right? Well, how do you get to AMC effectively? Going directly to them is tough for many reasons, so let’s break this down for a moment. Who financed Breaking Bad? Not AMC. Sony TV was the studio, but again…MONEY, TALENT….and those CONNECTORS, remember. So how do you connect with Sony TV for a project like Breaking Bad? Well, Vince Gilligan was the creator, how about him? Really tough to access the most sought-after man in tv, so let’s see if there is a viable CONNECTOR? He has a company called Highbridge…a company of ONE. Not helpful. His agents won’t connect you because, again, he’s the hottest writer/producer on TV. Vince Gilligan is going to be a dead end for emerging writers. How about Mark Johnson? Also an essential piece of the Breaking Bad puzzle. He’s big, big. BUT…..unlike Vince Gilligan, Mark Johnson has a company designed to find great material. Mark Johnson has an entire development staff. Mark Johnson’s company, Gran Via, is potentially a place where a doorway exists for you (Gran Via is an active InkTip member). Phew! Working backwards from your goal we have AMC then Sony then Mark Johnson, then the staff he has hired TO FIND THE NEXT BREAKING BAD….bing!
Talk about matching something YOU HAVE with what a young executive NEEDS… Imagine that you have 15 scripts to read every weekend and if you don’t find good material you’re simply not going to have a job for very long….brilliant material is ESSENTIAL to that 26 year old kid trying to work his/her way up the development ladder. So your path to AMC begins with a hungry young development exec. Sell it or not, he is someone that a writer who wants a career writing “Breaking Bad”-ish material should be building a relationship with.
Service? So what does the 26-year-old Development Exec actually NEED to keep his job and rise through the ranks? NOW THAT, readers, is something you can find out. THAT, is a truly manageable task.
NO UNSOLICITED MATERIAL
There are sound legal and practical reasons why companies don’t accept unsolicited material. Similarly, execs just don’t talk to writers who make cold calls. It’s awkward for many reasons. But….a PRODUCER who is looking to make life easier for the exec…now that’s a call they will take. This is why it is so important to truly embrace this notion of ‘Sales as Service’. If you find out what an exec actually needs (no guessing here), then you make sure not to present ANYTHING to him/her until you have an actual match. Sell your series or not, you will have built a relationship that you can go back to for the rest of your career.
Oh, and, by the way, the long-term career success of development executives (your doorways into this industry) WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE DEPTH OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH…GUESS WHO…WRITERS!
So…to sum it up…
Embrace your new reality as a writer/producer, learn how this industry works, clarify your specific goals, figure out which companies you will need to be in touch with in order to achieve those goals, identify the BUYERS, THE TALENT & THE CONNECTORS…then dive into the marketplace as a producer who is committed to delivering great material to those whose careers depend on finding… GREAT MATERIAL.
To learn more:
Sign up for the FREE Training Call:
PITCH PERFECT: The Secrets to Selling Your Work
(on the page, on the phone & in the room)
Visit IdeaToMarketIntensive.com then sign up for a FREE CAREER CONSULTATION w/ Randy Becker.
Writing Competitions at mynextv.com/writers
Randy Becker - Founder, President of NexTV Entertainment
Randy began his career as an award-winning actor, starring on Broadway, Film & TV. In 2000, he transitioned to producing, before partnering to form a Literary Management & Film/TV Production Co. Randy and his partner set up projects all over town, shared clients with CAA, ICM and the industry’s top agencies and and successfully raised money for indie features, allowing their writers to direct (the last being The Great Buck Howard starring John Malkovich and Tom Hanks, written/directed by our client, Sean McGinly).
In 2008, Randy formed NexTv Entertainment. NexTV gives talented artists a REAL chance to fulfill their potential in the industry by educating, connecting and advocating for those who might otherwise go unnoticed. With Competitions and innovative coaching programs, Randy is proud to have helped countless writers break through in this industry…on their own terms!