Breaking Into Hollywood – How Do I Translate the Entertainment Trades Into Project Sales?

One of my most popular articles to date has been “Breaking Into Hollywood – Do I Need to Read the Trades?” In that post, I outlined the minimum types of information you should scan the trades for and also suggested key trades to read. Thanks to the strong response I received, in this article, I’m going to follow up with specific examples of what you might find in the trades – and how you can translate that information into selling your own projects.

Whether you work in film or TV, you can put these tips to use, even if the specific example is not from your industry.

Let me start by recommending you immediately ditch any hard copies you receive of the trades and sign up for the electronic versions instead. That way, you can easily copy and paste information straight into your databases or share it with partners and reps. Remember, always show copyright love whenever it bears stating!

Now, here are six ways to “trade up” your daily reading into a focused, project-selling process:

Trade-Up Tip #1: Track the Trends
As you prepare to pitch various projects, the trades tell you what’s hot and what’s not. Guess which trend you want to be riding? For example, for reality TV professionals, over the past two weeks, we’ve learned that:

My Network TV is about to replace 33% of its programming with reality TV AND 180 from telenovelas to targeting male viewers (reality producers, take note); Court TV’s first scripted project is a hit with viewers (fiction producers, here’s a new potential buyer!); NBC, the CW and Bochco himself all are about to launch original Web-based programs (everyone, are you still ignoring new media?); and Networks in general are looking for cheap ratings bonanzas in brand-friendly game shows (got a talent option you don’t know yet how to capitalize on?) All of that info ought to help show creators decide which ideas they are going to prioritize developing to maximize sales possibilities. Database these updates in a simple table or spreadsheet, and you’ll always be timely in your pitch meetings. And remember, the execs you’re pitching expect you to know this info if it was in the trades!

ACTION PLAN: In Word or Excel, build a simple table with columns for network/studio name, programming announcement(s) and announcement date(s). (when you buy my book, “The Show Starter Reality TV Made Simple System, Vol. 1: How to Create and Pitch a Sellable Reality Show,” if you join the Show Starter Online Group, you can access a file of over a dozen network programming announcements from this year’s upfronts.)

BONUS ROUND: If you don’t have any pitches that ride the trends, rework existing projects to stay current. Is there a cooking pitch you love that also might make a terrific game show? For helpful process tips, read “Show Starter, Vol. 1″ pp 25-27.

Trade-Up Tip #2: Run “Comps” on Projects that are Similar to Yours
TV producers, before any pitch meeting you ever take, be absolutely sure to check the overnight ratings for the current shows at that network AND any shows anywhere else that are similar to yours. Filmmakers, regularly track the weekend box office for any studios or companies you hope to meet with or any films in your genre.

Now for the example: remember the hot new – and now former – ABC show “The Great American Dream”? At the end of March ’07, if you were about to pitch any dream fulfillment shows anywhere, or any show AT ALL to ABC, a quick glance at one day’s trades would have shown that “Dream” utterly tanked episode one (ratings report – 3/28/07). . .and was cancelled after episode two (cancellation article – 3/29/07 – as in the NEXT DAY’s trades).

Translation: this might be a pretty bad time to pitch a new dreams-come-true project anywhere, and ABC execs might be particularly cautious about new genre projects in general. Isn’t that something you’d like to know before entering the room? You BET. At least so you can explain why your project isn’t vulnerable to the same ratings risks? And don’t be blinded even if you see high ratings. Just because the trades report “Fox Picks Up 13 More Episodes of 5th Grader,” it might mean Fox wants to do another deal with Mark Burnett rather than buy your equally biting game show.

ACTION PLAN: Do a quick ratings review in the daily trades to compare your pitch list to current shows. Push danger zone shows to the bottom of your list, if you pitch them at all over the next few weeks. Then shift at least one brand-appropriate trend-winner into your top three opening pitches.

BONUS ROUND: Brainstorm alternative versions of your danger zone pitches (Show Starter, Vol. 1, pp 25-27) so they no longer heavily rely on now-risky elements. Then if an exec challenges them, you can come right back with a well-thought-out twist on your pitch.

Trade-Up Tip #3: Dissect Deal Points
If you’re not sure what to expect and request in your own deals, read the trades to keep up with what everyone else is offering or receiving! For example, for all you filmmakers who are fighting mainly to get a piece of DVD rentals in your deals, shouldn’t you know that the “Netflix Founder Predicts End Of DVD Rental Business” and now is investing millions in digital film downloading? Meanwhile, reality newcomers and pitch partners can set some basic contract expectations by reading news like “Hedda Muskat has been named Consulting Producer on WE’s new show, ‘Wife, Mom, Bounty Hunter’ debuting on April 20. Hedda brought the show to World of Wonder who sold it to WE.” (© 2007 Cynopsis).

ACTION PLAN: Scan for any deal discussions regarding professional peers or potential buyers. The Cynopsis example above lets you know right away what you might expect to be offered by WE and/or World of Wonder as a new show creator.

BONUS ROUND: Oh, you know what I’m going to say: add this info to a database – and review it before you actually pitch any partners!

Trade-Up Tip #4: Improve Your Project Development Process
Seeking “the right” talent to attach to a project? You can test the industry’s temperature for star “heat” by reading that “Kid, Not Play, May Get Talk Show.” Or get a great lesson in built-in conflict for reality pitches when you read that “Season three of Run’s House on MTV begins April 9 at 10p. Rev. Run and the Simmons family return to face new crisis and growth situations such as the two oldest daughters, Angela and Vanessa living on their own in Manhattan.” (© 2007 Cynopsis). Whenever you read about greenlit projects in your industry, consider it powerful development guidance for your own projects.

ACTION PLAN: Scan the trades for talent and story success stories and see what equally compelling “headlines” you could write to promote your own projects. Do you have more work to do to develop the project?

BONUS ROUND: Write the headlines – and send them to your focus group to see if they want to see that show!

Trade-Up Tip #5: Gather Insider Information
I call this “Room Wisdom.” These are articles that give you explanations of how our business works that help you get inside the minds of the studio, network and production execs you are pitching. For example, the Hollywood Reporter recently ran an article called “Ad Ratings To Gain At Upfront,” explaining that advertisers increasingly want to base the ad dollars they commit to a network on ratings for the actual commercials that run during programs, rather than ratings for the shows themselves. Is that a big shift? Of course! Is that something you can talk about intelligently in the room when possible ratings enter the discussion? Sure – if you’ve read the article.

ACTION PLAN: Read insider information articles and make sure you can summarize the general idea into a straightforward sentence (like I just did above).

BONUS ROUND: Learn the article’s new buzzwords and do additional research on them. For my example article, you would research “ad ratings” (aka “commercial ratings”) and the new Nielsen measurements they represent.

Trade-Up Tip #6: Scan for Who | What | Where
I’ll say it again – success in isn’t just about know-how; it’s about know-WHO. You absolutely must know who the players are that can buy your projects or otherwise assist their sale. All the trades announce executive hiring, firings and job-swappings. Many also feature producers who have just sold new projects. You must know these names to learn whom you already know and whom you need to meet with – not just in the room, but also at panels, seminars and conferences you see advertised.

For example: got contacts at “The Amazing Race”? Guess what? Now you might have contacts at Oprah’s new wish fulfillment show – the trades just announced “‘Race’ duo to oversee Harpo reality series.” But before you send an e-mail blast to everyone you know who works anywhere, please read my article: “Breaking Into Hollywood – Do you know anyone who’s hiring?” Please don’t ever let the first thing you say to someone – a stranger OR a friend – be “What can you do for me?” Make sure your energy in this industry is balanced between advancing your own dreams and sincerely investing in your core circle’s dreams at the same time. Those contacts are the ones who’ll call YOU to yell, “Hey, I just got the new Oprah show – send me your rez!”

ACTION PLAN: Database the names of studio execs, network execs, production execs, financiers and show runners and keep it updated through your daily trade reads. Start with the network and prod co dbs we give you at our online group, and keep it up-to-date. Those names are the key to your selling a project.

BONUS ROUND: Today, right now, send an e-mail to the five people who have helped you most in your career. Offer something specific to help them back – even if its updating one of THEIR databases. Get balance back in your professional relationships – and watch the immediate shift in your professional progress.

BONUS, BONUS ROUND – Stop typing your latest email blast asking people you otherwise never check in on to find you work. Now re-read “Bonus Round” and give that approach a try instead. Please trust me on this. And remember, send thank you truffles or coffee cards to everyone who ever gets you in front of anyone else for a meeting – whether you close a deal or not.


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