How to Sell Movie Ideas to Hollywood

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.]

  • nightlymeat

    What ever!!!

  • harish.k

    hi to all my name is harish and iam from india, i have a story for james bond movies it going to rock it i give my word about this story if any producer interested to listen it i am ready discuss

  • Ralph Colon

    I am a Christian Man 30 years ago, it was one in 10,000 (Very Rare) Today 1 in 88 going down fast to 1 in 50 by election year 2016. True story of altering our children’s minds. The Best Autism Movie of The Year that will uncover the truth in deliberately infecting our children including yours for 30 years. My son and my family – 9 months of horror in my home with blood sweat and tears. My research is complete & before I die, I will find a Movie Production company to make this movie – to save millions of newborn babies from autism. Are you the company to become the Autism Hero families are waiting for in America. Are you afraid of the medical community and pharmaceutical company that has caused this crime against our children for money and profits? Or do you not care for children? This movie is filled with Blood, Sweat, and Tears – True Story that will end the Autism Production in this country. I do not have time to sell my book or the funds to make it happen due to rearing a wonderful grandson that needs attention 24/7 days a week with autism. I live in a small tea party town in Florida with no resources, but by golly I will find a producer to make this dream come true. Donations comes from the heart and mind and I’m knocking on your door for your help to save millions of newborn babies lives from autism. Can You Volunteer Your Services For Free In The Name of Humanity For The Children’s Mind Set In This Country, and find me the right producer. I am a poor man, always have been, but this story must be turned into a movie so the world can know the truth. I will male you a free PDF of my book if you agree to help us. This is the part when I say to you – Believe it or not. God Bless you My Friend. God Bless America, God Bless Our Children.

    • Cain Able

      I love what you wrote, It really touched me. I am not really anyone who can help you. I am just a simple man who survived an attack and went on this website trying to find a way to sell my own story and became inspired by yours. I just wanted you to know that I think you should not stop pushing and not give up because your story right from the beginning, was compelling! I hope that you find the write people to help you produce this book. I also think your story is something people would be interested in hearing and learning more about.I am a poor man also who has lost everything I owned in my struggles. All I have now are my family and my story, I was stabbed 17 times and died and was brought back to life by paramedics. I should not have lived by all scientific accounts, but here I am. I am alive for a reason and every day I pursue that reason with an open mind and wide imagination. Your words hit me hard. They made me feel connected to your story, which is what a good writer does.

      I would love to help you spread the word for your story through social media if you like I can share it with a bunch of people on my on line network. Either way I just wanted to say hi, and wish you luck. Maybe we could even exchange stories and talk sometime. I really enjoy meeting new people who believe and represent something that is personal to them. Add me on twitter my name is Cain Able @Steadygaininc or email me at Take care and Good luck!

  • kind kindo

    I have a great idea as I think ,, but I shy from write it … anyway I explain part from it .
    First : Category
    psychological , horror ..
    Second : content
    The story talking about a big family .. they have hard rules , different thinking and wonderful in their doing .. they Consists from 10 main characters , each person have a special character but all of them share in one adjective , it is frustration ..but why have they a same adjective ? Because every one of them have a bad past and future and the continues if you want to know completing story ..
    this story taken from ‘ the fact ‘ and I one from them
    Finally .. I want change my life and achieve my dream with my learning I can’t do anything
    Give me a chance

  • 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

  • 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


    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
    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

  • Masha

    I have a true love story its about me and my boyfriend we live so far from each other i would like to tell you about it

  • millie ashby

    . I have a movie which is really a true story. Its about my life and what’s going on right now. I’ve gone through a tough primary school life, so far. I’m going into high school next year. I’m abit young but I don’t care. I want it to be called Lifetime Drama. I will be a main character and my other friends. So it all starts on the last day of primary school. Then the holidays have come and gone. Then high school, comes. Then a few weeks later we get to go on a big trip to Florida America for 4 days. I go with my friends and were in a hotel. Then we have to go because the school kitchen burns. After all that, the school library starts to get weird. So cameras have been scattered around the whole school, and none of the pupils know. Then one day 5000 pounds goes missing. So the police check the cameras. Then they notice the face of a young girl. And that young girl is a true friend of mine. Then we all fall out. Then a few weeks later we find out a new boy is starting the school. So one of the girls go out with him. Then the other girl that’s evil and stole the money, gets him to kiss her and she records it and shows it the other girl. Then there not friends for the rest of year 7. Then Year 8 comes and all of them are friends and the girl gets her boyfriend back. And they lice happily ever after.

  • Garrett Ferland

    I have a story idea that im about to begin writing its about 3 army pilots crossing over the Bermuda triangle they all crash from a lightning bolt hitting there plane wings they crash into the ocean only one of them lives a father with one daughter so the daughter sets out to find the father but shes not the only one looking turns out the father is being followed by terrorists

  • Sharon

    pls am a Nigerian and am 19 years old. I want to write a movie for Sale but I don’t know how to sell it without ttravelling abroad because I don’t have the means. Pls can you help me out? Thanks.

  • Vasuneet Goyal

    I have an idea for Jumanji 2!!

  • mario

    I have an idea i truely believe it might be a good movie ok here goes my idea Angela vs Carrie ok here my brilliant idea angela from night of the demons 1988 and gets possessed by a demon then carrie gets killed by her mom so what the brilliant idea money maker i have is angela gets summoned then goes crazy killing people shortly after then she goes to carrie gave awakens her and then Angela trys to have carrie as a one to take orders carrie disagrees and then they start argue then fight each other till one of them dies but fight because one of them will gwt sent back to hell

  • shavon

    I have been trying to get my story out for over 7 years now. I am a small town girl and fell in love with my middle school boyfriend. As I was3 months pregnant with our first child he got hit by a train.(and survived) Though the mental disorders and violence that occurred in the home. He was in an out of jail and mental institutions. I stuck by him in hopes he would get better one day. After i got pregnant with our second child his acts of violence got way worse. My youngest was 4 months old when in the middle of the night my kids father began hearing voices and shot up my home. Leaving me no choice but to grab both children an run as fast and as far as I could until the cops came to rescue of and take him into custody. ….

    I would like for someone to work with me so I can sale my remaining story and trials me an my children have been through all these years..This would really make a wonderful heart felt story..

  • shree

    hii,my self shree…
    just i am writting story on a pollytics 70 % completed..
    i have sell my story after complete, if u have any idea plz mail me

  • shree

    hii,my self shree…
    just i am writting story on a pollytics 70 % completed..
    i have sell my story after complete, if u have any idea plz mail me

  • jeniffer lema

    Hi am jeniffer lema
    Am a 22yrs old from Tanzania, I have many stories ideas, the true life stories happen to my community, including my imagination stories about the future, I don’t know where to sell it, but it’ has alot of revenge, love, truth, honestly, I hope I can get place to sell it

  • Francisco III Gaitan

    Hi. I love movies and I love to write. I wrote some movie scripts about a part of my life, I’d like to share. I wrote it in a Way that everyone that hears or watches it, would jump out of their seat with awe! And hold their love in tears. I even wrote a sequel To it. It’s also a sequel to a popular movie produced by my favorite singer.i have all rights to my story’s. If there is a producer interested,I’m Available.

  • adeebaf

    i have a story like final fantasy if any producer like to share me