PRIMETIME: Should I Submit a TV Idea Via a Website? …Also, My “Glee” Spec Needs a Celebrity!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  In honor of the holiday, we have a double-shot of questions from Judy and Lisa…

QUESTION #1:

Judy writes…

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.

Hollywood screenwriting contest website

"Yeah... yeah... I know some Hollywood folks. Come with me and I'll get ya a pitch or whatever it's called."

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:

How Can I Get My Pilot From Chicago to L.A.?

Can I Submit My Sizzle Reel Electronically… and Should I Password-Protect It?

QUESTION #2:

Lisa writes…

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

Glee cast photo FOX

These are the only characters you need for a "Glee" spec...

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, Glee does 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 chad@chadgervich.com.

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!

6 thoughts on “PRIMETIME: Should I Submit a TV Idea Via a Website? …Also, My “Glee” Spec Needs a Celebrity!

  1. Paul

    Hi Chad,

    With all due respect, I think your response to the first question is a bit short sighted. We live in the age of connection– why would a studio or producer overlook one of the greatest tools ever invented for bringing people and ideas together? (That’s what the music industry did and we all know how that turned out.) As far as why studios don’t set up these sites themselves, well, it’s for the same reason that Toyota isn’t in the tire business… Somebody is already doing it, so why should they?

    And speaking of Toyota, in my opinion it’s generally bad advice to look to the auto (or insurance) industry for clues on how best to manage an artistic endeavour– unless your work involves writing TV commercials.

    A good idea is a good idea– it doesn’t matter if you heard it from a trusted friend or panned it from the ‘random clutter’ washing downstream from the internet.

  2. Drew

    Hi Chad, I’m from the Uk, had really bad luck with education. Wanting to be a film maker I learned I was more the idea’s guy. Working in warehouses to pay off Uni debts whilst looking for work, these jobs didn’t require me to think very much. With all this spare time to think to myself, I just kept coming up with film, T.V, games, business ideas. Recently started my own business but nowhere near able to live off it, I think its about time I do something about all these ideas. I need to get them seen by the right people. A lot of websites like tvfilmrights, moviepitch etc promise a lot but I do my research and all seem to not deliver. I have zero contacts in the industry, I’m not a script writer, just come up with an idea and few scenes for that film. I have animation, romance, horror, comedy and more. Any tips for a completely unknown.
    Thanks

  3. Betty Power

    We were just told to submit our ideas and we could win a trip to NY if it is chosen for Primetime: what would you do?
    I have two of them:
    Simply put the cameras on the dog and dog walkers in parks off leash. These people think they have control over thier dogs and my husband, son and dog have been bitten by these “under control” dogs. And who jumps in to help? Or even the people who don’t pick up thier dog crap that we end up stepping in, will people step up to them and tell them to pick it up? Or just walk over it or the other way? I know I”m tired of both situations, the first would be dangerous if you could stage it with trained dogs that would be awesome…watch no one jumps in and helps..I’ve been on the ground and not one person helped me control that other do off leash? You get the idea…hope to see you iiin New York. Betty

  4. Scott Manville

    Hi Chad-

    Thanks for your perspectives on services like ours. I do admire what you’ve accomplished as a Writer, so I know your views are based on your own experience.

    I did want to clarify a few things, in the spirit of this being an open discussion. We actually do have many senior executives at Networks and Studios who actively use our services to scout new ideas from ANYONE. Our first project sold was purchased by David Martin when he was Sr. VP of Alternative Programming for Fox TV Studios, from a used car salesman in Illinois who had an “idea”. Most recently, we’ve had several spec projects picked up by Oliver Bogner who is now in an overall deal with Fremantle North America, and a few others by Buck Productions who are now producing pilots with one distribution deal set.

    In between that, and the many who don’t sell their projects, we’ve connected hundreds of Writers and Format Creators with Producers. Its a legitimate and alternative method for anyone to market original projects to buyers in the industry.

    Most recently, we had 4 Executives from NBC/Uni join and begin scouting true life stories for adaptation at tvfilmrights.com, with about a dozen writers getting project requests in the few months we’ve been operating. The objective of tvfilmrights.com does cater more to the “based on a true story”, life-rights, and book sub-rights for film, so we’re confident we’ll see some success soon at that venue.

    That being our experience, I do know that there are many execs who operate only within the reach of their immediate contacts (agents, other producers, etc.)and traditional methods as you described. In the age of the Internet, there’s room for both, and hope you can support the opportunities that our services do bring to new Writers.

    I hope you have continued success in your career, and thanks for opening the discussion.

    Best,
    Scott

  5. Philip Bloom

    Great article Chad! Great advice for both inquiries, and accurate, as usual! To Judy I would add: Get your script into the hands of ANYONE you know/or may meet. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, then you’ll never be given the chance to hear…NO (but hopefully Yes). Afterall, there are MANY assistants, interns, etc that are also looking to get their big break, and will be more than happy to be the “one” who “found” your script. You can do so in any number of ways. Go to the local Starbucks (if you are in LA, that is) and simply meet people. Ask any number of waiters in town and you’re bound to find someone who may be a connection. Go to any social gathering that is geared towards the industry and you are one step closer than the person who decided to stay home.

    Guessing that you are not in LA however. As such, you already are getting one step closer by doing what you did. That is, posting in forums, building relationships (even though they are of the cyber-kind), and hopefully networking with people who can (as Chad has in his answer to you!) lead you in the right direction!

    Good luck to you and your endeavors.

    Phil

    PS. Yes, DLR IS the greatest!!! Rock on…

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