Over on the Connected Comedy Facebook page the other day I asked what topics you wanted me to address on this site and several of you suggested that you’d like to learn more about how people get development deals in Hollywood. So, I’ve put together a quick rundown of 5 Things You Need To Know About Hollywood Development Deals…
1. Why It’s So Hard To Get A Development Executive To Say Yes
Several years ago, I remember meeting with a successful Hollywood movie producer who told me the following about pitching her projects to studio development executives: “You know why it’s impossible to get somebody to say yes to your project? Because every time they do, they’re risking their job. Nobody ever got fired for saying no to something.”
That comment has always stuck with me because I’ve found it to be absolutely true. The biggest reason it’s so difficult to get a development deal no matter how awesome your idea may be is because that person that you need to say yes may be more interested in keeping their job than trying to actually develop something cool. Because producing movies and TV shows is so expensive, a development executive is really risking losing their job if your project doesn’t work. On the flipside, if they say no and somebody else makes it and it’s a big success, they’re rarely punished for passing. Right or wrong, it’s just the way Hollywood works.
This doesn’t mean development execs won’t ever say yes, but it should help you partially understand why it’s so hard to get them to take a chance on you. After all, would you risk your career on your idea? If the answer’s not yes, you probably shouldn’t be pitching it in the first place.
2. Studios Are Run By Their Marketing Departments
In the past decade or so, there’s been a major shift in the movie business. It used to be that movies would open in a few movie theaters, then if it did well it would gradually spread across the country. But now, movies open on 3,000+ screens and the majority of a movie’s revenue is generated from that opening weekend. As a result, studios realized that the quality of the movie wasn’t as important as its marketability – because you needed the majority of people to go see it before anybody else had seen it.
This phenomenon also resulted in the growing influence that studio marketing departments had in deciding what projects actually got developed and made. In fact, most studios are now run by people who came out of the marketing department instead of the production department. This is why just about every movie you see come out these days is a remake, or based on a comic book, or a sequel, or “high concept” – because those movies are easier to sell to an audience that has to go buy a ticket the weekend the film opens.
What this means for you is that the marketability of your concept is just as important as the concept itself. It’s extremely difficult to get a development deal for original material, but it’s virtually impossible to get a deal for original material that doesn’t have a high concept “hook.” Something the studio knows it can easily sell with a one-liner or movie poster. By the way, this is also why the overall quality of movies lately has gotten so bad, but that’s for another post.
3. Your Execution Is More Important Than Your Ideas
I know you probably think your movie or TV idea is brilliant and it probably is. The problem is, your ideas aren’t worth what you think they are. There’s a million amazing ideas floating around Hollywood, but what people in the business have realized is the ability to execute an idea is more important than the idea itself.
For example, you might have the greatest idea for a movie ever, and you can kill in a room when you pitch it, and the development execs that you meet with love it. But…they have no way of knowing if you can execute on the idea unless you’ve actually written a script for them to see. Back in the day, studios bought pitches all the time, but that rarely happens these days because it’s too risky.
The more you can show your ability to execute your idea, the better your chance of getting a deal. For example, a finished screenplay is way better than just a pitch. A finished screenplay with a demo reel showing actual footage you shot is better than just a finished screenplay. And an actual web series version of your idea with a loyal audience, is better than a demo reel. The more you demonstrate you can execute, the less risk there is for development execs if they say yes.
4. Development Executives Hate Doing Development
This one might surprise you, but it’s absolutely true. A development executive’s job is theoretically to find talent and projects and “develop” them by finding writers, directors, actors, producers, etc. and putting them together to bring the project to life. But the reality is that the more meaningful pieces of that puzzle you can bring to the table, the more likely you are to get a deal.
For example, let’s say you’ve got an idea for a TV series that you hope to star in. Instead of just going and pitching the idea to a development executive, maybe you can track down a veteran TV producer and get them attached to run the show. Or a well-known actor to agree to star in the project. Or a writer with great credits who agrees to shape your concept into a screenplay. Attaching these elements to your project before you go pitch it will make it more likely that you’ll succeed. Why? Because you’re actually doing some of the development executive’s job for them and making their life easier.
5. Development Executives Are Looking Everywhere For New Projects
It used to be that there was a relatively streamlined path to a development deal – hone your standup act in comedy clubs, go on the road, book a comedy festival appearance, book a late night TV appearance, and turn your standup “persona” into a TV sitcom when a development executive gives you a development deal after that. That model has pretty much gone out the window at this point.
While it can be trickier to navigate your way to a development deal these days and there are not nearly as many to be had, the good news is that people are now getting deals from all kinds of different sources. Twitter accounts, blogs, and YouTube channels are among some of the many ways that people are now getting discovered by development executives and being given deals. The execs are out there looking everywhere, it’s just up to you to put something out there for them to see.