How To Sell Your Story To Netflix

Selling your story or idea to Netflix, or even getting your completed feature film accepted onto the international streaming platform, is no easy feat. Unless you find a good literary agent or are an industry player with motivation and perseverance, your options to sell your story to Netflix are seriously limited. Netflix buys well developed projects that teams have worked on for months.

How to sell your story to Netflix – Key Takeaways

  • Netflix buys content from industry suppliers, not individuals
  • It’s difficult to get into the supply chain
  • Projects must be well developed by the time of the pitch
  • Only a minority of pitched projects are green-lit

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Netflix Original Content

The number of shows and movies in your Netflix library depends on where you live, thanks to the cost and complexities of regional licensing agreements. They have over 182 million subscribers across 190 countries. Therefore, the streaming service has invested heavily in its own content, with the ambition of offering one global content library for all users everywhere. 

2013 saw the launch of Netflix original content, with House of Cards, and the number of hit TV shows and movies are too numerous to list here. At the beginning of 2020, Netflix estimated that their annual spend would top $17 billion.

There are concerns brewing. According to Forbes, the Netflix audience spends two-thirds of viewing time watching licensed material. With increasing competitors popping up in the streaming service space, including heavyweights Disney, Warner Media, and NBC Universal, some of that licensed material will disappear. Plus, the company’s debts cause a lot of discussion in the financial markets.

How does that affect you when you’re working out how to pitch a show to Netflix? It could perhaps limit the number or type of pitched shows that get green-lit. Or open up new avenues with other streaming services.

But in terms of how to get your ideas and script picked up for the Netflix catalogue, remember that they are a distribution company, and not a production company. They either buy content already made, or commission others to make content.

How to sell an idea to Netflix

Netflix does not want anyone submitting an idea or a script to them directly. They are very, very clear about this in the Netflix submission guidelines. Their buyers have existing relationships with industry professionals who have the time, expertise and money to develop an idea into a quality content pitch.

“Whether it is an idea that just came to mind or a fully developed script, Netflix does not accept unsolicited materials or ideas.”

Netflix website

So if you’re outside the industry and wondering how to sell ideas to Netflix, you’re out of luck because they don’t deal with standalone ideas.

Netflix submissions can ONLY come from the professionals listed in the Netflix submission guidelines, and even then only as long as they already have a relationship with the streaming service:

  • a licensed literary agent
  • a producer
  • An entertainment lawyer or attorney
  • An entertainment manager
  • an entertainment executive

Submissions to Netflix by anyone else is unwelcome and results in automatic rejection.

Each of these listed professionals are difficult to access. Furthermore, they want to see a screenplay, short film, and well thought out proposals to determine that your idea, and you as an industry professional, have potential.

So if you’re wondering how to sell your story to Netflix, first you’ll have to develop the concept yourself. Which takes a lot of work, even if you already know the basis of doing so. The Netflix submission requirements are there to funnel company resources only to well researched projects and competent individuals.

So how do you submit a story to Netflix? 

You’ll start by drawing up a script. Then work to get it accepted by a licensed literary agent who already has a relationship with the streaming service. Sounds difficult? It is!

Alternatively, a pitch can be made via a producer, entertainment attorney or manager, or entertainment executive who already has an existing relationship with Netflix. But they’ll normally ask to deal with your licensed literary agent. So in reality, you’ll need a licensed literary agent to submit your screenplay to Netflix. They do NOT accept unsolicited submissions, no matter how great you think your idea is.

Alternatively, if you’ve written a great book which generated buzz, sales and awards, your literary agent might be asked to option your work. That approach comes via a production company and not directly from Netflix. You receive the money, but more often than not nothing more happens. The producers, financiers and distributors have an uphill battle to get the project developed, pitched and green-lit.

Netflix agent

There’s no such thing as a Netflix agent. However, there are licensed literary agents enjoying an ongoing relationship with the streaming service.

CAA (Creative Artists Agency), ICM (International Creative Management), UTA (United Talent Agency) and WME (William Morris Endeavor) are the big players in this field. 

However, if you’re just starting out you’ll find it difficult to secure any agent’s interest.

If you’re lucky enough to get accepted, literary agents take a chunk of your earnings. But in return you’ll benefit from their experience of pitching, knowledge of current market trends, access key industry players through their contacts, and get further ahead faster than you could alone.

Submitting a script to Netflix

Crafting and selling an unsolicited script takes a huge amount of work and emotional investment. Invest in an original idea suitable for pitching to a range of distributors, so you have alternative channels to explore.

If you’re an unknown entity selling a script to Netflix you’ll need a lot of perseverance to get through the lengthy process, which includes:

  • Writing a great script
  • Taking script writing classes
  • Ask friends, family, relevant contacts for feedback
  • Pay a script reviewer for professional feedback
  • Check the script still flows after multiple edits
  • Craft a logline – hook attention in a sentence or two
  • Craft a synopsis – a brief summary of the plot
  • Pay an entertainment lawyer for advice
  • The lawyer can register & protect your intellectual property
  • Enter screenwriting competitions
  • Identify agencies or production companies specialising in your genre
  • Start with agents and production companies who accept open submissions
  • Work hard to get your script read by them – difficult as an unknown
  • Start by sending the logline, synopsis, and STATE your script is finished
  • Act on any returned feedback
  • When someone shows interest, start building a relationship
  • If relevant, make a short film & attempt winning festival awards
  • Or develop the script for film festival features or a YouTube series
  • If your script is optioned, ask your lawyer to assess royalty deal
  • Payment comes with optioning
  • Optioning is often the end of the process
  • If you’re lucky, the production goes ahead later
  • By now you’ll have a manager, who has meetings and calls with production teams interested in working with you

Writing an episode of a Netflix series

Don’t write an unsolicited script for your favourite TV show on Netflix.

They have a group of writers assigned to this task already, selected within the industry to develop someone else’s idea. Furthermore, no one will read your spec script. The production team avoids all risks of copyright violations where they can. They don’t want you claiming they used your ideas from a spec script they never wanted in the first place.

If you have a standing in the industry, an agent and a brilliant idea for a pitch for an episode, get your agent to open the right doors. Follow up with well planned and executed pitch material.

If you’ve created an entirely new Netflix series you’ll need scripts for at least two or three episodes, storyboards, a production outline, plus an overview of the season. By the time you get to this point, you’ll be doing this work with a production team.

Free Rein Netflix book

The Free Rein book series is a spinoff from the popular Netflix show, which wove together stories about the lives of teenage girls and their horses.

The TV show and its book series had a clear focus on its target audience and served what they wanted. 

It’s a good case study for matching content to demand, and capitalising on its success.

Do you honestly understand the audience demographic and demands of the audience your movie or TV show idea targets? You’ll need this data nailed for every pitch.

How to become a screenwriter for Netflix

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s production company, Imagine Impact, works hard to open industry doors for aspiring writers. In 2020, with their Accelerate programme halted thanks to the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. Instead, they launched a replacement online programme. The script submission project is the result of a team-up with Netflix. It is a rare chance for new writers to pitch their ideas for development. 

Everyone winning one of the places up for grabs gets 10 weeks of mentoring to craft their script ready for pitching to the industry marketplace.

How much does Netflix pay for screenplays?

Studios have sometimes paid multimillion dollar sums for big movie scripts crafted by outstanding writers with a premium track record. Few have ever achieved such giddy heights, and Netflix is not the arena to do so. A six figure script fee is only for an experienced writer bringing something novel and exciting to the table.

If you’re contracted to receive the minimum scale as set out in the the Writers Guild of America Basic Agreement, which is also reduced by your agent’s cut, you’ll need a few 60 minute episodes each year to make a good living.

It typically takes a team to write a Netflix series. The scriptwriters may even change and develop over a number of episodes. A complete overhaul between the pilot and series one, or between series one and two, is not unusual.

Pitching a movie idea to Netflix

You can’t just walk up and pitch a movie idea to Netflix. It’s a lengthy and difficult path which knocks down all but the most determined individuals.

Wondering how to pitch a movie idea to Netflix? A pitch is an idea, with resources and a commitment to develop it into a final script. That package is more believable coming from someone who has a track record of successfully turning ideas into a finished project.

Pitching a movie idea to Netflix is done via existing industry channels, led by the production company, often working with a distributor or aggregator. The movie script, storyboards, a production outline, artwork, identified target audience and expressions of interest from key industry people are some of the numerous aspects incorporated into the pitch.

If you’ve won industry awards with a previous project or have earned a great professional reputation through other means, it will help open doors.

Also, a great short film is always going to pitch your movie idea better than you can because it brings the ideas to life and shows everyone what was in your head. And that makes it an easier sell for your agent.

Some people even create an entire series, which they stream through YouTube to create a social media buzz. Only then do they aim for the Netflix deal.

Netflix aims to have an international catalogue. Therefore, subtitles and localised artwork are part of the package they want delivered.

As with many aspects of the entertainment industry, you’ll usually only hear back if you make it to the next stage.

How to get your movie on Netflix

“Netflix uses all of the following methods to find new content to buy or create:

  • Netflix employs a team of creative executives and buyers, who receive pitches for shows and movies.
  • Netflix has deep relationships with the creative community and talent agencies, who propose ideas for shows and movies.
  • Netflix may purchase finished works at film festivals or other established venues.
  • Netflix may generate an idea internally and hire writers or other creatives to develop those ideas further.”

From the Netflix guidelines quoted above, note the third item about film festivals!

Most student and hobbyist filmmakers aim for short films in small film festivals. It’s nice to get accepted and maybe pick up a laurel or two.

But if you’re serious about getting into the industry, start aiming for top film festivals which have markets attached. They cost more money to enter, and the quality standards are high in a crowded and competitive field. 

First, flesh out the idea. That means a pilot summary, character details, and first season episode highpoints.

Next, you’ll make a short film. 

If you’ve written the full screenplay, cut it down to the core essentials for the short film script. Don’t make it too cluttered or incoherent.

Get the production values as high as you can for extra impact.

Then, if you’re lucky enough to get accepted and shown, make sure you turn up ready to do business.

Even if you don’t get the short film into a leading film festival, it gives you something concrete to show potential agents and producers. 

Writing, filming and editing a great short film isn’t easy. But showing what you can do opens more doors than pitching and hustling.

Getting a feature film on Netflix

If you’ve successfully completed a feature film and want to get it on Netflix or Amazon Studios, you probably have the agent and professional network to arrange the right meetings. Without them, you’ll have to find a company to pitch on your behalf, and your payout from any successful deal will be much lower.

Without a completed feature film, you’ll need to convince a production company to help you make one. They might get in front of the right people, bringing your script, storyboards, production outline, and target audience analytics. If you really want to succeed, bring on board household names willing to work with you.

Netflix buyers

Netflix has a number of buyers, mostly based in Los Angeles but increasingly found in other global cities.

Every days sees them inundated with an inexhaustible flow of ideas and pitches. Most of the projects taken seriously come through their existing networks.

Perhaps if you’ve written something astonishingly good, with a great title and an unmissable intro, it will get noticed. More likely, the assistant will bin the email along with a few hundred others that day.

How much does Netflix pay for a movie?

The budget allocated for your project depends on a wide range of factors.

If there’s already social media buzz, interested acting stars, and other broadcasters interested in negotiations, the licensing deal increases. But the Netflix catalogue is full of shows which just didn’t capture audience attention.

Many of the deals involve licensing for a year or two. That means if it’s a success, you’ll get to negotiate an even better sum next time. Otherwise, you’ll be looking for anything anyone offers.

The licensing deal requires you to provide or cover the costs of the video files, artwork, and subtitles.

Netflix producers contact   

It’s easy to find the producers (and their production companies) with an existing relationship to Netflix. Just look at the imdb credits for Netflix original content and you’ll see them listed.

Getting past their support staff will be a different matter. Some production companies don’t accept unsolicited material, and others will have clear guidelines about the timing and content of submissions.

Even if you find a production company looking for unsolicited ideas, they’ll ask for much more than just an idea or storyline.

At the very least, have a completed screenplay with a clear, concise and convincing short introduction. Better still, have a good short film setting out the central theme. 

Production companies invest much time and money into projects which may never get greenlit, never mind turn a profit. So trying to get a production off the ground by this route means you’ll give them more opportunity to make money if it goes well.

But with the right combination of people and timing, this is one way to get your movie or TV show on Netflix.

Netflix aggregator

An aggregator distributes content across all platforms, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Roku.

They’re experienced in pitching and negotiating, which are skills worth paying for if you don’t have the existing contacts and professionals helping your project spring to life.

They’ll only take on your project if it shows real promise. That’s your first chance to see what’s good and what needs improvement.

Distributors and aggregators license completed programs to networks and streaming services. But they also seek funding for projects which have either started production or are still proposals.

The big advantage to finding an aggregator is that they’ll offer your project to a range of buyers, and not concentrate solely on Netflix distribution.

Can you submit movie ideas to Netflix via an attorney?

“Any submission, even those we solicit, must come to Netflix through a licensed literary agent, or from a producer, attorney, manager, or entertainment executive who already has a relationship with Netflix.”

Netflix website

Finally, if you can find an entertainment lawyer with an existing relationship with Netflix, you can approach them to represent you and your ideas.  It won’t be cheap, and you must pick very carefully. Personal recommendations are a good idea, especially from contacts who have used the firm’s services in the production and distribution field.

It’s difficult to sell your story to Netflix

Perhaps you’re sitting at home thinking of a great idea for the next big Netflix show, or think your true story would make a brilliant movie. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely to happen.

If you spend the next few years writing a bestselling book or training as a skilled screenwriter, creating quality short films, finding industry professionals willing to bet on your potential, and get into the right rooms, then perhaps you stand a small chance that you’ll see your story become a Netflix Original.

Perhaps you’d like to start by creating a short film?