Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In honor of the holiday, we have a double-shot of questions from Judy and Lisa…
I work for a small production company… who has a show idea & sizzle reel but no real connections to Hollywood, [and] I want to know if I could get your opinion on submitting work through TVWritersVault.com or TVFilmRights.com? Do the networks really scan sites like this for new show ideas or is this just pretty much just a scam in your opinion?
There are many of these websites and services out there, and my advice is: DON'T BOTHER. Most aren't necessarily "scams," which suggests malicious or deceptive intent, but they're certainly ineffective, unprofessional, and a total waste of your time and energy. Why?... Because this isn't where studios, networks, production companies and agencies fish for new talent or materials.
What these sites and services do do well is feed off the hopes and desperation of naïve aspirants. This isn't to say people behind these sites are intentionally lying, but come on… if networks and studios truly thought the best way to find new projects was to scour the random clutter of the Internet, they could easily and cheaply begin their own submission websites.
After all, no other industry operates on these randomly run websites and contests. Toyota doesn't accept car designs from novices submitting blueprints to a website. Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn't hold contests for people to design new insurance policies. Every once in a while, sure… you may hear of someone holding an unusual competition—like a car-designing contest—but nowhere is this standard business practice. So why would it be different in Hollywood?
I'm sure creators of these services argue they're providing Hollywood execs and producers with a "filter," passing along only the best submissions, but producers don't need these people's filters; that's why they've spent years cultivating their own go-to stables of agents, producers, pod deals, etc.
The truth is, as you pointed out: networks, studios, and producers find projects by communicating with trusted contacts and colleagues. Agents put clients in touch with execs; producers partner with writers to pitch studios; networks read treatments from managers they've worked with for years.
So… as someone with an idea, but no connections, your job is to figure out what connections you do have—or how you can make some. Do you have friends at your local TV affiliate? Can you get a meeting with a local literary agent who can connect you with a reality agent in L.A.? Do you control a valuable book or stage property that could open doors with TV producers?
I will say—the one TV festival that seems to have a slight bit of street cred is the New York Television Festival. I'm not sure if it meets your specific needs, but it could be worth checking out. You can also check out NATPE, the National Association of Television Program Executives, and its various events. NATPE holds an annual conference which used to be one of the main trading posts of new TV content. In recent years, its importance has diminished a bit, and its focus has shifted to include-- and perhaps even concentrate on-- new media and online content, but it could still be beneficial to you (this year's conference is in Miami).
Also, here are links to some other PrimeTime posts which you may find helpful:
I wrote a spec script for Glee and the episode evolves around a celebrity. When I introduce the guest star in my script, since it is a writing sample and I feel it is very important that the reader knows who this celebrity is, can I mention their name in the character description? If I don't mention who it is, will they wonder if I know the show's format if I'm adding in a new character? Or do they get it as that is the format of that show?
Well, traditionally, Lisa, it's never a good idea to write a spec centering on a guest character, celebrity or not. While this particular show itself often incorporates celebrity guests in creative ways, the point of a good spec is not only to mimic the actual show, but to show how you'd explore and expand the relationships of the main
characters. If your story hinges on a guest, it provides a crutch, excusing you from diving into the depths of each regular character. (E.g., if your story examines a budding romance between Finn and guest star Katy Perry, it prevents you from looking at a more important relationship/friendship—Finn and Rachel, or Finn and Quinn, or Finn and Puck, etc.) And this is what producers, showrunners, and agents really want to see—how you will twist these characters' relationships with each other in new directions. (Like how I did that?—"New directions?!")
However, Gleedoes bring in celebrities, and if you're not making your guest celebrity center stage, instead just giving them a cameo (like Olivia Newton John and Josh Groban in last season's finale), then it can be a really fun, effective tool.
Ideally, you're incorporating celebrities who are big enough they don't need explanation. They are, after all, celebrities. Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman probably doesn't need much introduction. However, if you're using someone who may be less well-known—say, Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance—you might want to give a bit of information. I'd try to do this in a fun way. Maybe something like…
As Rachel bends down to clean up her spilled lunch, she hears…
VOICE: Can I help you with that?
She looks up, and that's when she sees… standing over her… DAVID LEE FUCKING ROTH—the greatest lead singer in the history of rock-and-roll.
(I'm guessing you're not using DLR in your spec, but just to be clear: he is the greatest lead singer in the history of rock-and-roll.)
One last thing, just to be sure I cover all my bases: if you simply want a celebrity to play a guest character in your spec (like when Gwyneth Paltrow played Holly Holiday or John Stamos played Dr. Howell), this should NOT be specified.
In other words, if you're writing a new character into your spec (which, again, you shouldn't be doing… unless they're a very minor character), that character should stand on his/her own with no mention of the actor you envision playing them.
Anyway, Judy and Lisa—I hope these answers help. Thanks for sending them in! If you, or anyone else out there, have more questions, please post them below, or go ahead and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the mean time… enjoy the rest of your holiday, and I'll be back next week with more reader questions, as well as some advice and insight from more execs, producers, and writers!