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How to Sell Movie Ideas to Hollywood

“Hollywood held this double lure for me, tremendous sums of money for work that required no more effort than a game of pinochle.” – Ben Hecht

As I introduced myself to the executive in charge of project development, I could sense that she was getting ready to pass on mine before I even had a chance to tell her what it was about. But when I explained that I had acquired the life rights to the story of one of the principals … suddenly, she was all ears.

In the world of film and television, there is a curious paradox. Everyone in the business is clamoring for a great idea, but it seems nobody wants to hear yours – unless, that is, it’s based on a true-life story that catches their interest.

In ETR #1866, I explained that one of the easiest ways to break into Hollywood is by selling an idea based on a true-life story. There was an overwhelming response from readers interested in learning more – so, today, I’m going to give you some of the details.

True-life stories are virtual goldmines in Hollywood. You’ve probably seen this type of movie many times. The advertising for it will say something like “Based on a true story.” And, let’s face it, those words pique your interest. I know when I watch extraordinary events on film or television and I know they really happened, I am enthralled.

The almost universal appeal of a true-life story is what Hollywood counts on when they promote those movies. And that can open doors that might otherwise be closed to you.

If you find a good, true story, you can get it turned into a movie – without knowing anyone in the business. But before you start making phone calls, there are some basics about acquiring true-life story rights that you need to understand.

A movie can sometimes be made about a story that’s in the public domain (like one based on a major legal case where the facts are a matter of public record) without obtaining anyone’s life rights. But even then, there are reasons to do it.

Basically, the purchaser of someone’s life rights to their story is obtaining a release that protects him from a lawsuit based on defamation or invasion of privacy. Sometimes the seller might also agree to provide additional information that might not be otherwise available.

Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to produce a film about a famous murder trial. Although there may be quite a bit of information in the public record, you could get sued if you produced a film that offended one of the people involved. Additionally, without the cooperation of at least one of the principals to fill in holes that aren’t in the public record, it would be much harder to produce an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding the trial.

If, on the other hand, one of the principals signs an agreement authorizing you to produce such a film – and cooperates by providing you with a detailed account of his story – you will have protected yourself against the possibility of his suing you. At the same time, you probably will have improved the quality of the movie.

Now, you may be thinking that you’re not in a financial position to acquire life rights that you may not be able to sell. Don’t worry – you can “option” those rights. That is, you can pay a smaller amount (as little as one dollar) for the option to buy those rights within a specified period of time. You can then sell your position to an established producer.

How much can you sell it for? According to entertainment attorney Mark Litwak, that varies depending on the appeal of the story. “For a TV network broadcast movie, it might be $50,000 to several hundred thousand dollars. For feature films, it could be two times or more that amount. If the subject is famous, the figure could be considerably higher.”

In other words, if you do nothing else but find one viable true-life story each year that you can sell to Hollywood, you could potentially make an annual income of between $50,000 and $500,000.

Here’s the basic process:

  1. Find a captivating real-life story that might be able to be turned into a good movie. Perhaps something from your own life or from the experience of someone you know. Or maybe a “human-interest” story you read about in the newspaper or see on a TV news program.
  2. Acquire the life rights to the story from one or more of the principals.
  3. Sell the rights to a producer who will make the project.

Getting a meeting with the producer is going to be the hardest part. But once you get in the door, the fact that you have life rights to the story are almost certain to capture his or her interest.

When I met with the development executive I told you about earlier, all I had to do was mention that I had the life rights of the principal of the story, and she wanted to see more. I provided her with a one-page synopsis of the story, and I am now waiting to see if an offer will be made. Since I’m a screenwriter, if an offer is made, I’m going to try to negotiate a deal to write the screenplay.

But keep in mind that I was only able to get to this point because I had something that was of value: the rights to an interesting, true-life story.

Also keep in mind that you don’t need to be a screenwriter to sell a true-life story. All you need is the idea. And since good ideas alone are hard to protect legally, you also need the life rights of a principal in order to maintain control.

With the legal rights in your hands, you have a real chance of selling your hot idea to Hollywood.

[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence, a screenwriter who produced the feature film "Cruel World," starring Jaime Pressly and Eddie Furlong, recently signed a deal to develop a television program with a major production studio in Hollywood.

Even if you're a "nobody," you could become Hollywood's next success story. Find out more here.]

How to Sell Movie Ideas to Hollywood , 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating


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  • Arkan

    Hello I have no story to tell but i have got idea

  • http://ganesh-shanidev@hotmail.com Avinash patil

    i am a movie story righter my first movie name is The forest suspense and adventurer please contact me my e mail id another no. 08421206923 09823995224 09975551109

  • sepideh237

    hi , i have a story idea , is there any website u could introduce me to sell my idea?
    thank u very much

  • Essam Hani

    Hi ..I have a story idea exciting and scary withhold her breath ..This fact sense of anyone who tries to read the story of the film, which I finished writing today ..How can the story of the film to reach the Hollywood studios ..Who would like to contact me on my mobile 00964 7708985162
    Note that I’d like to print the story of the film, which finished writing a book to documenting my rights in writing the story of this film .. But I wanted to sell the story of this film .. When no more satisfactory to sell the story of this film will Print story of this film in the form of a book in one of the publishing houses.. my next e-mail jefreejorg@yahoo.com
    with beautiful wishes .. thank you very much


    Hello dear sir,

    I wrote two stories film , I’m now translating into English,What can I do to deliver them to a director or producer.. I hope, sir, that you advise me what to do,I believe that the story will succeed.please I need your help for that
    Thank you very much.
    Waleed Abu Zaitoon

  • Rhoda

    I’ve got a TRUE life story of myself to tell and to turn into a movie pls kindly contact via the email and BB pin -215747a8 thanks

  • Gabriela

    Hello, I am from Macedonia, it is not is a developed film industry, and I have too many ideas that you can easily caption and somewhere that they will intercede for use, please contact me at my Mail Address to help me how to get my ideas become a film.

  • Saman

    Hi….I am from northern Iraq (Kurd) & I have got a true life story about a bunch of miserable persons & more importantly including the tragic death of a U.S. female soldier who got killed by the terrorists that can be turned to a successful movie & rock Hollywood….if you were interested please call me on 00964 750 477 7282

    • Susan

      Have you received any feed back or people interested?

  • Wumi

    I have good stories idea please tell me where and how to sell them.thanks

  • http://thejourneyofthehumanrace.blogspot.in/ hem

    I truly believe my story (website link given) is better than most of the fiction movies ever made. If made movie there is no doubt it would be a profitable one! I have copyright for this article. (web link – http://thejourneyofthehumanrace.blogspot.in/)
    Thank You!

  • tariq

    Exalted sir i am the student of environment i have written an excellent and fabulous movie on GLOBAL WARMING. This movie script is crying for depection. You will really love it and it will be a blockbuster movie. Tariq jamil here
    Adress Room No 56 c block Engineer sadat mand hostle university of peshawar pakistan.
    contact +923454433559

  • Susan

    My story is happening as we speak. I want to go to the FBI and turn my husband ( who is a lawyer and his first ex wife is a sitting judge.) in but if I do he will not be able to support me and our three children. I’m looking for someone to buy my story and follow us on this journey. We are separated for two years now and it is not amicable.

  • sam

    I have a wonderful story. a bit was stolen by the movie, ” Road to Perdition”
    I write all the time and think in between. I live in my head so I always create. if interested lets make money!

  • Kenny Edwards

    currently got a sci fi idea involving chemically altered soldiers that can withstand nuclear biological chemical warfare these soldiers were made during the past decade and now trained by the sas .
    current day or a few years into the future they are pulled out of there secret estabishment as chemical weapons are exploding at ever major airport world wide,the gas is nerve agent but its be altered new and even more potent ,as this is happening certain countrys are moving this is ww3 this is the dawn of the new warriors

  • Guest

    hello my name is Ghazi BEJI Tunisian blogger sentenced to 7 years and half for blasphemy ,escape to Europe,you can write my name in Google to see the story
    I want to search my story to be a movie

  • Kiomi

    I have couple of true stories from the past. It involves families, chiefs, warriors, wars, living life styles, taboos{brothers, sisters, uncles, nieces, married}. Story took place in the Marshall Islands from the 1700s to the 1800s.
    Thank You Sir

  • Jenelle Hall

    help me turn my lifes story into a movie…please….its non stop i couldnt fit my lifes story into 3 movies…it would have to be a tv series or something my own doctors tell me to stay inside my home ….my childhood has so many blank spots from my brain shutting down to “protect” itself so my therapist tells me that i dont know what it is to feel the love that i have finally found, trajedy seems to follow me i beat it and another one follows right alongside the next one like god saw me and said oh yea were gonna really screw with this one hehehe….but no one hears me ..so here i await someone to listen im so add that i dont even know where to start or how to …please help me somebody anybody i need to make this rite somehow in my life..the poker house doesnt even come close to my life…similar in alot of ways but mine has sooooo much more and right now theres no happy ending quite yet…seems im bringing the love of my life down also..and he is such a truely great wonderfull suppourting sacrificng man that i cant take it anymore doing nothing is not an option for me…
    thank you for reading this if you have any info that can help me please feel free to email me ..jhallscorpio78@gmail.com

    Im lost but i never was found seemingly me to truely be found.
    ive gotten this cross to bear but its been bound.

    to me…………Jenelle Hall.xoxoxo

  • Pablo bernal

    Hello my name is Pablo im from mexico city I would like to contact a Gael garcia bernal or Salma or Eugenio Derbes to tray to propouse my movies ideas because Im latino and quisiera sell my idea aun productor latino y el nombre of my movie seria la GRAN ESPERA please I need a ansuer.

  • samdunn

    I have acquired the life rights to the story of one of the principals.

  • ali

    I have an idea for a movie like real drums

    but its translation into English is difficult

    How can I sell it to Hollywood?

    The story is about a young engineer who is ill workers

    A few years after his escape and is caught.

    Her husband divorced her and the Pauper.

    Beggary, and engaged in the same work, he is now a trained engineer hired by his wife and son, he tries to find workers, home workers, a young engineer, he would after all of the adventure.

    Among the many interesting action happens.

  • Adrien Stinger

    Roll Tide…. easiest concept and it would be a 5 star movie

  • Michelle

    I have a story about a case in which the charges were dismissed not in good faith. It has been deception and lies for 3 years. The corruption is outrageous and I have gone to the police numerous times and nothing has been done…..the person was beating on my vehicle and I was not allowed to press charges. I would like to talk to someone about this because it is very interesting. It is in Southern Illinois and if they do not like a person they will use any means necessary to make their life hell. If these charges are brought back up against my son I want to have this done he is 24 now but it has been utterly hell. You would not believe the lengths some people go to making fake facebooks, getting people to jump someone, and the people they recruit to help them, we have no idea who they even are. This is so out of hand and people need to see what goes on in cases like this. All the mothers out there with a boy in this type of situation I mean no one has any idea!!!!

  • mohammad

    The real story about break from traditional society (Iran) and Trying to achieve a concept of love and freedom
    I have much to say About the society in which I live.I’m living in Tehran – the Dichotomy city – . The city is at war. war Between Traditional pepole and modern pepole.My city is spending a particular days.I want to say what is happening to my same age youngs. help me…help me to make a movie about my life and other young boys and girls in tehran…help me!!!

  • mj

    Failure in love but I must be faithful my trust has shaked but no body cared I had a successful love but destiance has separated us, from Manchester to Kuwait which is my country, all what I got is a cheated lady.
    Back to faith again comedia is all what gain
    Hopeless is my third react god me her to love
    Seecsucd finally was my first impression , but destiny was much harder than I thought,
    Waiting for her to get devorce but court delayed my dream.
    Never had give up waited for 3 years yes I’m in love.
    Finally got.divorced.but her parents relegeion was a wall between us
    To be continued….
    I have worst love
    I’m a director

  • ahmadgha88

    real new love story never happens before it’s happens with me ?
    email me : ahmad.h.ghanmah@hotmail.com

  • karmah knows

    i was with my husband for 17 years. 3 years ago my stepdaughter moved in with us. she didnt make it 3 months before she was pregnant at 13. i found out on valentines day her baby belonged to my husband. she told the police that he was not raping or molesting her, but they were having a relationship. her biological mother threatened anyone who knew about it in order to not turn him in because then she couldnt collect the $84 per week in child support she was getting. he is in jail, but has only received 2 years & a $2000 fine thus far… PLEASE put me in contact with the right people, because the story only gets better. and i have hundreds of pictures and several videos of the duration of the time she lived here..contact me at karmahknows@yahoo.com

  • Benjie

    I’ve a true story of a pedi-filer father who even killed due to his sexual whims. an abusive step-mother and the twisted views of a ranting grandmother with her religious beatings. how the survivor developed a 6th sense/paranormal abilities while quite young and how it’s saved her life throughout the years……..even using this ability with law enforcement to solve crimes and more…………….enough story for a mini-series or trilogy movies……………all true.

  • Todd Greenfield

    I have a friend with an incredible life story, he was born in an African country watched his own brother beheaded in a civil war started by a Satan worshipping mass murderer (who is still alive and repentant) he survived only in his belief due to prayer, at the time the soldiers that captured him were debating whether to eat him (they were also cannibals and did not eat him due to the fact they had just consumed a 8 or ten year old little girls heart), he was child soldier, a military soldier in his own country, survived through another civil war via a US installed despot, was recruited by blackwater served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and other locations) at the whims of US government and other private entities, his service earned him US citizenship, he was wounded multiple bears clear bullet and shrapnel wounds, many times escaped from harm in some circumstances under incredible situations, was even a blackwater body guard during the Saddam Hussein trial. He has worked incredibly hard while in the US met and married a young American woman (who is in her residency as a doctor) he has a beautiful loving family, before he met his wife he even lived in his car for a while, during his initial time in the US under a visa while he was also recovering from wounds suffered during combat, he no longer works for blackwater has not for several years due to his family, he is very spiritual attitributes his many life being saved incidents to intercessory prayer. Many times he was in combat situations without body armor, he suffered starvation, maltreatment and through it all is one of the most kind individuals you will ever meet.

    • alam

      i buy that history.how much you want?

  • Robert Roberto

    I plan on finally contacting the people that keeping emailing me for my manuscript. I have been working on the book for over ten years, so now I will find out, if they are really sincere in looking at my work. I plan to put up no front money, so if they want money I’ll look elsewhere. You are suppose to be paid for your idea and not pay for them to read your manuscript because their job is to find a book that may provide them with future money in their pockets. You seek out a good book agent and, if he loves your work the next step for him to do is to contact a few book publishers he has come in contact many times in his career. You’ll sit back and wait for the call or an email by your agent. Good Luck to everyone and, if I don’t make it I can still write another manuscript of how I didn’t have the skills to write a book.

  • venu

    i have one illusion story but how to send u???

  • xbox rules

    My name is troy I had a interesting life so far. I was born in York pa, I was
    put in foster girl with my brothers. My biological father was abusive to me and
    my brothers, when I was 4years of age my father would lock my brothers and I
    outside of the house and I had to watch my brothers while he would go to the
    bar. I remember if I didn’t do anything wrong
    if I cried and if I did something he didn’t like I would get a beaten
    and if my brothers did something since I was the oldest I would get a beaten
    instead of them. I remember the day that difsce put me in foster care. When I was in foster care with other kids
    they had beds I had a cot on the floor with a pile of clothes next to my bed. I
    really didn’t have anything of mine . I remember when they did stuff wrong I
    would get the blame for it. When I was 5 I was declared mentally retarded with
    a iq of 76. I’m also known as a late bloomer. When my foster parents thought no
    one would adapt me . They were shocked that someone wanted to adopt me. Trying
    to convince my adopted parents that there are other kids besides me but they
    wanted me. At age 6 left foster home moved to Bridgeton NJ to start my new
    life. My mom Rebecca Reese was a wonderful teacher at the school she knew I couldn’t talk but the day came when I said
    my few first words. I remember she put flash cards up on everything and
    wouldn’t take them down until I spoke what they were such as TV, door ,stove and
    so on. After a while I start gaining intelligence. I would go see a iq
    therapist to see If I increased my iq at age nine it was increasing by a
    lot. I thought I had it all until that
    fatalful day. At age 13 my father was killed by a serial killer known as Andrew
    Phillip cunuan at Pennsville NJ on may 9th 1997 in finnspoint nation cemetery. My heart became
    shattered and darkened. My mom knew that. I would go to school and come home
    without saying a word for few weeks then my mom brought over guys that she knew
    to talk with me I started opening up to guy role models. I was close to my
    mother. When she shopped I was her bag boy. From what I was told I was the
    first one in my biological family to graduate from high school. I’m happy my
    mom saw me graduate back in June 2004. I’m may 19th 2005 my mom died of pancreatic cancer when I was
    19. I grew up real fast. However I ment wonderful people so far that guided me
    in the right path and others guided me down the wrong path. I should my house
    in pilesgrove NJ and moved to Sicklerville nj where I’m residing right now. I
    am sworn to help those who need help. My
    question is I have everything but why am
    I still single. I do know the road ahead of me is unclear, I’m not sure what
    the future holds but I’m ready for it.

    • xbox rules

      This is my story I own rights to it if u dont believe me Google it and yes 8562642014

  • Muscle man

    I have an idea, but since it’s so secret I won’t tell anyone.