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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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COMMENTS

  • dilipkumar

    I am writing a action thriller film. I am 17 years old. I want to sell our story.and I want to make a movie writer.

  • Um Mohsen

    I have a true story about a servant. It’s a heart warming story.

  • Hannah

    I have a true story I am very interested in giving away I would love for it to be played on televisions all over the states. It’s about domestic violence which I feel like is a very over looked subject but as the situation I was in to this day (1 year later) I say that was a “lifetime” movie out of body experience because that is the only way to describe it. The abuse I had during this relationship changed my life, self esteem, and made me see that it’s survival of the fittest and it’s so very sad how women can get abused for several hours and nothing get done in court (like just a restraining order) all because of who you know it’s has been a touchy subject for me for awhile but I loose sleep over the things I should have said and things I should have done. So much regret. I just have no other option but to try to get the word across about abusive relationships for young women.

  • Cain Able

    I can’t reach that area code from my country, Canada. try email? I will write to u, I am someone you want to speak with. I am not saying I relate to you or I get it but I won’t tell you shit you don’t want to hear. I will just listen and write. Stay Numb Bro- Do whatever works for you just try to remember that even though your life has been a disgusting sequence of torturous events- There are still things that can make you smile, for whatever odd reasons they may be. Still ways to seek pleasure and distraction for momentary diversions from your reality that eats at your tattered soul. You have an escape if you really want it. If not find a way to survive and thrive by searching relentlessly for peers or ppl with common interests- I know what it’s like to be in a room full of ppl who like you and enjoy your company- but to still be alone, always alone. You can be in a stadium of ppl but, you will still be alone. It’s perplexing. Holla at me bro survivalofthafittest@Gmail.com

  • Ashley Harris

    I have this story that is about a person name obadiah but people call him oby and he is a mix side. A mix side is a bad side and good side mix with a little human and he lives in a different planet name asharth, and he has two brothers and one sister. His two brothers name is Zachariah and Dun. His sisters name is Ashtree and his parents are the king and queen. His sister turns evil cause she was jealous of her parents and Oby cause they get more stuff than she does. And comes down the to earth to help this girl name Ashley and instead he runs into to guys name Chris and Jordan. They shelter him and they find out that he not human. When Chris founds out about Ashley he’s falls in the with her but Oby was really in love with her instead Ashley instead picks Oby because he was always with her. Then Ashtree gets really mad then it’s all to Oby to save the day.

  • liam brown

    Hello

    I would like to sart of by saying, i have no movie experience what so ever, I live in london, england and I started having this idea for a movie when i was ten, Im now 21, I’ve wrote a sizeable chunk of it, including a screenplay, storyboards and ideal locations for the movie, i Guess you could say it’s kind of goes along the lines of inception, it’s a physclogical thriller where a group of people are thrown together by this one man who explains to them that he has come up with a way for them to be anyway at anytime from any year, wether that be a day from before to a year from before. here’s were my Idea becomes a llitle risky, After showing them what can be achieve by taking them to afghanistan and other locations in diffrent time periods he unveils the main reason why they are there, He wants to go back intime and attempt to stop 911 from ever happening. His motivations are that his girlfriend and unborn baby died in 911.

    This i believe has all the increadiants for a good physcological thriller, it brings in the emotional stability of the main character, based on true events, it focuses on the emotional aspects aswell as the action of the full overall movie and this maybe an unusual one but i also wanted to create a movie where the audience had to think at points through out it and to keep them second guessing at revelations. movies these days tend to walk you through the hole plot, assuming the audience are idiot.
    it also brings up the difficult questions of should 911 be stoped and to what extent, what would the world look like with out 911, would we of invaded Iraq and Afghanistan if 911 did not happen, these are some of the questions the main characters would have to answer with in the movie but are main characeter is intent on stoping the attack no matter what gets in his way. i was hesitant about posting my idea anywhere simply because of anyone stealing it and because i have not decided whether the mission is a success or not, I’ve wrote the beginning of two endings but i cant seem to finnish any of them.
    I would love to get a response from you guys, if this was a bit to long and you want me to go over a few points, i would be happy to, I would also love to know what you guys think overall, You can reply to me on this form or by liambrown1993@hotmail.co.uk.
    thanks guys

  • james

    I’ve never written anything. Guess I’ve always felt “why bother it wouldn’t make a difference”
    My mind is always creating something out of nothing
    I’ve shared some of my thoughts with others and they just freak on some.
    Im stuck in horror / adventure mostly
    Some of the movies released im like Ahh man so much for that idea. Then I realize something , maybe I should have written my version. Everyone needs to feel the real goosebumps.
    Guessing others feel the same as me
    Good luck everyone !!!

  • tulpe

    I have a true story to tell..This is about me and my childhood. how can I get my story published? I truly believe that my story will touch a lot of families that give away their children and mostly teenagers that is going through a lot right now or even adults that went through the same situation Ive been through and still trying to figure out how to live a normal life.. I have so much to tell and would like to put it on tv or internet or even in a book. i dont have money to spend right now but whatever i get out of my story, i would help those that are in darkness and would like to come out and be seen again.
    Thank You