So you want to pitch your TV show to Netflix?! That’s great, but let’s be honest, it’s extremely challenging to get a pitch meeting at a cable, network or streaming platform like Netflix. So yes, I’m going to give you 6 secrets to nailing your Netflix pitch, I mean it’s the title of the article after all, but I need to warn you, you’re going to have to put in some serious work after reading this!
Learning how to pitch a TV show is an incredibly important skill, equally as important as writing. It’s vital to master both crafts if you want to have a successful screenwriting career.
Before we dive into the 6 secrets, we need to first make sure you’re ready for them. Here are steps I recommend you consider taking before you attempt to pitch Netflix (or any studio).
- Come up with a brilliant idea. This is obviously easier said than done. But your idea and why YOU are the one to write it are equally important. Just because your best friend likes your idea doesn’t mean it’s good, yet. Share it with anyone who will listen so you can find out what is and isn’t working and then revise accordingly. If people start telling you “I’d watch that TV show” or better yet, “that’s a brilliant idea,” then you’re probably in business.
- Master the craft of writing for TV. Malcolm Gladwell believes it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft. Read books on screenwriting. Take screenwriting classes. Read scripts. Write, write, write, and write some more. Luckily, there are more resources than ever to improve your writing. You can start reading scripts right here for free with The Script Lab’s Screenplay Library.
- Put together your pitch materials. That’s pitch materials plural. You should have a bulletproof elevator pitch, a treatment and/or show bible, and a pilot. You should also consider having a sizzle reel. If you don’t know what a sizzle reel is, think movie trailer.
- Do your research. Read the trades daily. I recommend Deadline, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter. Figure out which companies are the best fit for your concepts. You should know their mandate and their audience. You wouldn’t pitch a rom-com to the Sci-Fi Network would you?
- Pitch, pitch, pitch, and pitch some more. The pitch an important part of your calling card. It shows your unique voice, your brand, and your sensibility. It also shows you can generate ideas, create characters, and tell a story. It’s vital that you master it, so practice every day.
- Try to find representation. If you can land a manager and/or agent, they can open a lot of doors and further guide you on how to pitch your TV Show. There’s no easy way to find representation, but here are a few strategies. Enter and win a screenwriting contest. Network and share your scripts with industry professionals. Get a job working at a studio, network, production company, management company, or agency.
Okay, so now that you know you have some serious work to do, and you’re committed to doing it, let’s move on to the 6 secrets to nailing your Netflix pitch.
I had the pleasure of working in the Motion Picture Talent Department at Creative Artists Agency. If you’ve never heard of CAA go back to step 4 and “do your research.” They are arguably one of the most influential agencies in the entertainment industry. They represent Emilia Clarke, Tom Hardy, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Zendaya, Will Smith, James Cameron… shall I go on?
Although there’s no universal template for a cable, network or streaming platform pitch, these 6 secrets are a solid guide I learned while working on pitches with clients at CAA. When you combine all 6 elements, the pitch should be roughly 20 minutes from start to finish.
- Share your personal story and connection to the idea. The network or studio is more apt to buy your idea if they feel it’s coming from the perfect writer. They want to feel you are connected to the idea on an emotional level, so let them know why you and only you were born to tell this story. Show them how you’re the best person imaginable to write this story.
- Define your themes. Robert McKee defines theme as “the emotional lesson of the story.” In other words, theme is the story’s larger message. It is here you should tell us what the show is really about. Some common themes are good vs evil, power corrupts, coming-of-age, revenge, death, etc.
- Pitch an anecdote that gets the exec to understand the potential of the series. This could be a teaser or a portion of the pilot that really exemplifies the style and tone of the show and the main character. I recommend watching the teaser/cold open of your favorite TV pilot for inspiration.
- Breakdown your characters. Pitch the main 4 characters and their respective relationships. I’d recommend focusing on the protagonist, antagonist, love interest, (yes, every story has a love interest), and one other supporting character, perhaps a family member, mentor, friend, or co-worker. Each character should bring a strong point of view to the central themes.
- Describe the tone of the show. Discuss pacing, type of humor, look and feel, etc. I’d also recommend dropping in your TV show comps. Make sure your comps are successful shows that have run for multiple seasons. More seasons equals more money and more money equals happy executives.
- Explain the week-to-week. In other words, what is the format? Is the show episodic or serialized? If episodic give us examples of episodes. If serialized, give us examples of conflict and what stands in the way of the hero achieving his/her goals. Lastly, be prepared to answer, “what happens in the 5th Season?”
So you still want to pitch your TV show to Netflix?! Of course you do! Good answer! So get to work and as always happy writing… and happy pitching.
Related blog post: The Fine Art and Science of Pitching Your Screenplay
Justin Trevor Winters has nearly two decades of experience as a screenwriter, lecturer, producer, and development executive. He began his career working in the Literary Department at Innovative Artists Talent and Literary Agency where he worked in collaboration with established directors, screenwriters, and authors. He later joined Creative Artists Agency, and after assisting in launching numerous projects, began focusing on his own screenwriting career. His feature film debut, Killing Winston Jones, a dark-comedy, starred Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Glover, Danny Masterson, and Jon Heder. His TV debut, Sports, starred Jessimae Peluso, and was produced by Comedy Central. He is currently a screenwriting lecturer at the School of Film & Television at Loyola Marymount University. He’s also the founder of Sixty Second Script School, an educational website that teaches the craft and business of screenwriting through sixty second daily lectures.