I went to Hollywood and they treated me like a star author! Yup, I went there for a FREE conference (with 125 other published authors) sponsored by Sisters of Crime. I paid only for my way to Hollywood (I went by train); I also paid for my three night stay at the Hilton, a most luxurious hotel, with an extraordinary staff. The food served, three breakfasts and two big lunches, was free and delicious!
We benefited from excellent sessions, led by generous, interesting folk from the industry, and beheld a fascinating big picture of how Hollywood works. What’s more, I pitched my funeral planner suspense series to an Executive Producer of Lifetime…and did not choke!
How to pitch
How to build great characters through a series
Process from page to screen
Getting past the gatekeepers
Development to green light
Negotiating the sale
Putting it all together: author, screenwriter, director, actor
Producers, agents, managers, actors, an entertainment attorney, and screenwriters spoke to us on all aspects of the business of making movies, features and TV shows. Our last speaker combined almost all the roles I’ve just mentioned. Alison Sweeney writes mystery novels now, while she raises two children (husband is a detective), along with producing Murder She Bakes, a series on Lifetime Channel. She’s also the lead actor in the series and script writer. All the shows are based on Joanna Fluke’s popular mystery/baking novels.
My Take-Away’s from the three days:
#1 Welcome to Chaos
Hollywood is in turmoil much like the book-publishing industry. Changes in technology, multi-production companies, often international, and new platforms like Netflix, HBO and Amazon, are changing the look of the industry. No one is sure what will happen next! (I like this dust-up because we might sneak into the fray, but then, that’s the positive in me J)
#2 Sell lots of books and get lots of reviews
Producers want a book/concept that’s proven to appeal to readers. They ask for LOTS of books sold, along with many reviews from satisfied readers. They even want a marketing plan from the author/agent. Series sell, especially if the hero or heroine continues through the series.
#3 Gatekeepers abound in Hollywood, even more than in the book-publishing industry. The process is slower and more convoluted than it’s ever been. You have to have an agent, preferably with Hollywood connections & know-how, before you make deals (and an entertainment attorney watching out for you). Contract options have money and renewal clauses attached, but the author has no way to know how long or if ever her book will be made into a feature, movie or TV show. Think two years duration, if you are lucky!
#4 Contacts Matter
You need an advocate! Your best way in might be to find a producer or manager (young and hungry) who will champion your concept. Don’t give up on coming in the back door!
#5 No one knows what the next big trend will be
All entities in the business were unsure about what’s next in the biz. When Reese Witherspoon bought Gone Girl after everyone else rejected it (because the novel was too dark), she changed up the business. This article on Reese and her production company will help you understand the big change-up in the market...and how a book gets to Hollywood faster, these days: http://www.wsj.com/articles/reese-witherspoons-new-role-power-broker-1460054342
#6 Bright Spots?
-Wealthy actors are buying scripts and pushing their projects along faster than Hollywood usually moves
-Producers are hungry for the next big concept. You could go to them directly and they might be eager to push your idea.
-With Amazon and Netflix and other platforms in the mix, exciting things could happen
-Ask yourself: WHAT SETS MY CHARACTERS AND IDEAS APART? What am I not seeing-in the industry-that I’d like to see? What do I have authority on that no one else does? (e.g. Take a classic and reboot it!)
-READ THE SCRIPTS OF MOVIES YOU LOVE (which are like your books.) Pick the producers, directors and agents who will push/create stories like yours!
For those of us who have pitched our books to agents and publishers, Hollywood is a parallel universe. Know who you are pitching to and what they are looking for. Producers and agents in Hollywood want you to tell them the through-line or ‘spine’ of the series you are presenting. Example: in Mad Men the spine is “a man who is afraid of being found out that he’s a liar.” His underlying self-esteem problem tracks throughout the series.
Pitch a logline/hook
Pitch character (through-line/spine)
#8 Next steps (if you’re still in!):
-Read the trade journals to find your niche (match your book with a director/producer); sign up with IMDB-Pro…do a month free…join
-Get screenplays of the movies your directors/producers are doing and read them; think of actors to play your characters….approach these people with your project
-Find an advocate/agent
-Increase your sales, reviews, awards; develop a marketing plan
-Negotiate options carefully; use an entertainment attorney
Boutique funeral planners morph into a quirky detective agency, exposing secrets of the dead. The heroine, with a fainting disorder, has prescient faint dreams; the hero is a muck-raking journalist. Add: blind forensic investigator, embalmer, retired Army general, and a service dog.