But not being convinced this is a sound business model, I started out by posing the question of whether an outsider like me has any chance of selling ideas rather than scripts to Hollywood, on Twitter, TwelvePoint and Shooting People. The responses there, mainly from fellow screenwriters, was overwhelmingly: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool? But dream on, my friend!”
Not satisfied with that response, I went on to query various people who have more substantial industry access, and whose answers might be based on current, first-hand experience. Here are just a few of the responses I received:
Steve Kaire, high concept pitch guru:
It's extremely difficult to sell an idea on its own. I've done it with the contacts I made in Hollywood but it's a lot more difficult these days.
David H. Steinberg, aka Hollywhooped!, at DoneDealPro
The age of selling naked ideas is long gone. Maybe in 1988 you could have walked into a studio with Ace Ventura, but these days you need a completed script, A-list talent attached, and if possible, financing!
There are still people in the business of brokering ideas, but guys like Bob Kosberg are now forced to get someone else to write it on spec, or at least to try to package the project. That’s a lot of work and it means that the idea itself is worth less and less. As you know, the hard work is in the execution so ideas aren’t worth very much to begin with, but now, the odds of selling an original idea are so small that the naked idea is practically worthless, even if you could get someone interested.
Philip Botana, independent producer:
The only people who can sell off of a concept are those that have access to decision makers that can make it possible. This is usually a sales agent, producer with a distribution deal or someone with access to finance and the other two elements (producer and sales agent).
The market is also changing. There was a time when you could sell a concept at AFM and raise the money through the foreign market. This has become increasingly difficult despite the exceptions to the rule often mentioned in the press.
Scott Myer at Go Into The Story:
Sure, you can sell a treatment. The question is where does the money go? Answer: Not much your way. I don't have direct experience with this on the scripted side of things, but re non-scripted TV, networks pay anywhere from $10-25K for series concepts. That may seem like a decent amount of money, but if the thing actually goes to series, you're looking at an overall budget of anywhere from $2-10M. I would think you'd be looking at a similar, if not greater disparity on the feature film side.
… my instinct would be to do the work and write a spec script -- to maximize the possible financial benefit and give yourself - and your story concept - the most protection.
Marylin Horowitz, New York based producer-writer and script coach:
My personal opinion is that a great idea is so rare that when there is one, and it's communicated clearly, a deal is made. As to the form it is sold in, it varies from situation to situation. Someone always seems to be winning "script lotto," and someone's nepotist bad idea story is also always getting made. Bill Goldman said something to the effect regarding Hollywood that "Nobody knows anything."
So the opinions from inside the industry seem to suggest that pitches do get bought from time to time, but there are a number of qualifications:
- The idea has to be exceptionally good.
- It doesn’t happen very often.
- Almost only established and represented screenwriters sell pitches.
- The price paid for a pitch is a fraction of what is paid for a script.
- Selling a treatment is more feasible and safer in terms of copyright.
As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. I’m still brainstorming pitches as well as working on a spec script, and at some point soon I plan to approach the market with a small collection of my best pitches. Because one thing seems clear to me above all else in this context: It’s worth a try.
I’ll keep you posted on developments!