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The Secret of Making Hollywood Deals

“Retire? I’m going to stay in show business until I’m the only one left.” – George F. Burns

You may think it’s impossible to get into the entertainment business. Sure, it takes hard work. But it IS possible. And I’m about to show you how to exponentially increase your chances.

Maybe you know of a real-life story that would make a great movie. Or maybe you have a can’t-miss concept for a reality show. No matter what your idea is… no matter how good it is… you can’t just call up a studio or TV network and expect to sell it on the spot.

The entertainment industry is guarded better than Buckingham Palace. And that’s understandable. Because if the doors to Hollywood were wide open, movie and TV execs would be bombarded by a barrage of terrible ideas.

Of course, not every idea is bad. There is the occasional gold nugget that every Hollywood bigwig would love to get his hands on. Perhaps your idea is one of them. So I’m going to give you a secret weapon that can open the doors for you.

This secret comes down to one word: attachments.

If you could get a Will Smith, Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, Halle Berry, Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, or Russell Crowe to agree to be in your project, you’d get a much more welcoming reception when you make your pitch. Right? Well, that’s what I mean by an attachment.

You may be thinking, “Yeah, right, Paul. There’s no way Matt Damon will agree to be in my movie.” And you’re probably right. Unless you’re already good friends with a big star, it’s next to impossible to get them to give your project a second glance. Hundreds of thousands of would-be producers are trying to get major actors to look at their projects. To protect their clients, agents will rarely even consider hearing a pitch from an unknown independent producer like you.

But here’s the good news. You don’t need a big star.

If you have a really good real-life story to sell, your “attachment” could be someone nobody’s ever heard of. I’m talking about obtaining the “life rights” of a person who was involved in the story.

You don’t want to try this with a big story that’s making national headlines. The chances of securing rights to a story like that are slim. You’d be competing with dozens of producers with deep pockets. But there are thousands of movie-worthy true stories out there. Most of them don’t make it past one or two mentions in a local newspaper – and some of the principals might be willing to let you option their rights for next to nothing.

Recently, for example, I’ve been talking with a policeman. He helped a young man escape from the gangs in his neighborhood by slipping away in the middle of the night to live with a foster family hundreds of miles away. It struck me as a story that could make a good movie, and I’m pursuing it.

Instead of an idea for a movie, let’s say you have an idea for a TV series about fishing. You want to find someone who will enhance your chances of selling the project, but who isn’t such a major “name” that they won’t entertain your offer. So, in this case, you might be able to get a well-known fishing guide to “attach” himself to the project. This kind of show might not end up on a big broadcast network. But it could wind up on a cable sports channel and still make you a nice little bundle.

Or perhaps you have an idea for a reality show. In this case, a “D List” celebrity may work for you. The reality show Mr. Personality, for example, is hosted by Monica Lewinsky. While Ms. Lewinsky certainly isn’t a star, her name draws a certain amount of attention to the program. And attaching someone to your show who will likewise draw attention to it – for whatever reason – will make network execs take notice.

Now, I’m not saying it will be a piece of cake to attach people like this to your project. But with a good idea and a professional presentation, you’ll have a strong chance of getting them to consider it.

Here are the basic steps:

1. Brainstorm creative attachment ideas.

You can always go after a big name. If they say yes, you’ll be well on your way to selling your project. But that’s unlikely to happen. And you definitely don’t need a big star. Instead, think about other people who could add credibility to your project.

A chef for your cooking show? An archeology professor for your reality show about excavating ancient ruins? A reporter who covered the sordid sex trial you want to produce a true-life movie about?

2. Research the attachment’s contact information.

You’ll be able to contact some of the people you come up with directly. They might even be listed in the phone directory – under their own name or the name of their business. But most of them – even those who aren’t well-known – will have agents, managers, and/or publicists.

To find out who is representing the people you’re interested in, get a subscription to the service offered by IMDB.com for industry professionals. Or try a website like WhoRepresents.com.

3. Entice the attachment with a written proposal.

Write up a brief presentation that includes your contact information, your logline (a 30-word or shorter description of your premise), an idea of how the attachment will be involved, and a list of potential buyers of the project (producers, networks, studios).

4. Come to an agreement, and make it official.

Your deal with most attachments will be in the form of an option agreement. You can hire a qualified attorney to draw up a contract for you, or you can find samples of appropriate agreements in books and online.

With this element in place, it will finally feel like the project is coming to life.

5. With an attachment on board, pitch the project to a buyer

Once you have an attachment on board, you are ready to sell your project to Hollywood.

One of the best resources for finding potential buyers is Hollywood Creative Directory . It’s filled with the names, addresses, and titles of entertainment executives. Another good resource is the IMDB.com professional subscription service I mentioned above. A quick Internet search will provide you with additional options.

And keep in mind that when you pitch a buyer now, you’re not going to be coming empty-handed. You’ll be able to introduce yourself as a producer with a “packaged product.”

[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence is a writer/producer with feature film credits that include Cruel World, starring Jaime Pressly and Ed Furlong. To get all of Paul's deal-making details - starting from square one all the way to closing with a buyer - take a look at his Breaking Into Hollywood program.]

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