7 secrets to selling your TV show and movie ideas to Hollywood, according to a successful producer

Mo DavisJaime Primak Sullivan heads up digital development and production for Will Packer Media

The entertainment industry has always been a tough club to gain entry to, which makes what Jaime Primak Sullivan has accomplished in a few short years pretty amazing.

Sullivan, who some may recognise as the star of the Bravo reality series “Jersey Belle,” transitioned from a career in publicity to producing content.

In only five years, she has sold a stable of projects ranging from TV, to movies, to books — at varying levels of development. In addition to “Jersey Belle,” her projects include two horror films and two thrillers. One of them, the home-invasion drama “Breaking In,” stars Gabrielle Union and is currently shooting in Los Angeles.

Sullivan, who serves as the head of digital development and production for Will Packer Media, is sure that anyone with enough passion and great ideas can sell them in Hollywood.

“To anybody who is looking at content creation as a business model, I’d want to let them know it is a seller’s market,” she told Business Insider. “Everybody is buying. You just have to sell them what they’re looking for.”

To help others accomplish what she has, Sullivan shared some of the lessons she picked up along the way with Business Insider. Here are her seven tips to selling an idea in Hollywood.

1. Find a void in the marketplace.

Sure, Hollywood studios and TV networks are all about the franchises right now. Why? If an idea was successful in one medium — a book, a play, a comic, a movie, or TV show — there’s a better chance that it will do well if adapted to another medium. But Sullivan doesn’t think that should scare people off from pitching original ideas.

“Making money in Hollywood is very difficult, so people want a proven concept,” Sullivan said. “It can be very difficult for someone to want to buy something that originated from your mind if there’s nothing proven.”

Jersey belle on bravoBravoOn ‘Jersey Belle,’ Sullivan wanted to prove she could keep her Hollywood business while raising her family in Alabama.

Sullivan says that people can take advantage of proven concepts and create from there. She used her Bravo show, “Jersey Belle,” as an example.

The reality show was based on her own “fish out of water” story of being raised in New Jersey and moving her family to her husband’s hometown in Alabama. She capitalised on the trend of shows based in the South, but wanted to show a different side to the culture.

“We’ve seen the ‘Honey Boo Boo’ version of the South a million times, but what you haven’t seen is the most appropriate beautiful parts of the South that are rich in tradition and culture and etiquette, right?” she said. “So what if you take an outspoken Jersey girl and you put her in the most refined part of the South? That’s funny, that is highly commercial, that is a big idea! I’m creating based on voids in the marketplace.”

2. Find ways to make your idea appeal to the biggest demographic.

“I think the biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to sell an idea is keeping it too narrow,” Sullivan said. “It speaks to such a small demographic that there’s no way that it can be financially successful. Creatives become so attached to their ideas that they’re afraid to make it bigger, because they think it waters it down. But it doesn’t. It actually gives you a better chance for a sale. The broader and more commercial your idea, the bigger audience you can speak to, the better.”

When crafting the horror movie, “Fear Followers,” Sullivan understood that pitching a movie based in the US that captured the American obsession with fear could be successful, but incorporating the characters’ use of technology to grow their fan base overseas would give the concept a more global feel. This gave it a much better chance for international success, and in turn gave it a much better chance to sell.

3. Keep your pitch simple.

Sullivan said a good pitch should be one to three sentences long.

“If you cannot summarize what you are trying to sell in a way that grabs the buyer in one to three sentences, you’re over-complicating it,” she said.

“People work themselves up. They feel like they need to give it all away in the detail. They don’t, because [Hollywood is] buying an idea. A broad concept. You don’t have to know every twist and turn your character’s going to make. You don’t have to know exactly how episode seven of season five is going to work out. That’s not what you’re selling. You’re selling an idea that has longevity potential.”

4. Know your buyer.

One pitch doesn’t fit all, Sullivan said. She believes that pitches should be tailored for each potential buyer, so do your research. Again, she used her Bravo show as an example.

“I knew my target demo. I knew who would most appreciate a live-out-loud Jersey Girl,” she said. “You have to know your buyer and their audience because that’s who they’re buying for. The pitch would have been different if the focus of ‘Jersey Belle’ was on Southern food and the experience. I may have gone to Food Network. For a network like TLC, it would have been a much softer show. You have to know who you’re pitching to. You have to know as much about your buyer as you do about your concept.”

5. Partner with someone with experience, but not just anyone.

Jaime Primak SullivanSullivan with Head of Motion Pictures for Will Packer Productions James Lopez on the set of ‘Breaking In.’

“I highly recommend partnering, I want to be very honest,” Sullivan said.

She has been developing with blockbuster movie producer Will Packer for several years. Packer, whose film “Girls Trip” made $US30.4 million in its opening weekend in July, has had several of his films open at No. 1 at the box office. They include “Straight Outta Compton,” and the “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” franchises. Together, Sullivan and Packer have partnered on three film projects, including “Breaking In,” an unscripted show, and two scripted concepts — all based on Sullivan’s original ideas.

“You want to attach yourself to someone that you think can move the ball down the field,” she said. “But I highly recommend that you do not give the farm away.”

Sullivan said she didn’t team up with Packer just because he had a successful track record, but also because he understood her vision, her process, and her longterm goals.

“Everyone wants the sale and I get it. There is no greater feeling for a creative to be able to turn around and say, ‘Someone validated me in buying my idea.’ That is the greatest feeling,” she said. “But if you partner with the wrong people, it can make the process excruciating and heartbreaking. Everything in Hollywood is about vision. If they don’t share your vision, you will find yourself contractually stuck to somebody that doesn’t have the same goals for the project as you, and that is the biggest downfall I believe creatives make. They so badly want to sell that they partner with anybody waving an offer then find themselves sidelined while their project is dissected.”

Packer told Business Insider that he teamed up with Sullivan because she impressed him with her vision and ability to know what sells.

“The thing that separates Jaime is her ability to tell vividly specific stories in an incredibly engaging way,” Packer told us. “She actually brings you inside that crazy brain of hers. You’re not listening to a pitch, you’re watching a movie. She is a masterful storyteller and has a cache of commercial ideas. Usually, folks I encounter have one or the other.”

6. Great! You’ve sold your idea to Hollywood — but you may want to keep your day job.

“There is a gross misconception that anyone who has ever sold anything in Hollywood is rich,” Sullivan said. “I would recommend that you have a short-term financial strategy, as well a long-term financial strategy.”

While she and Packer began developing “Breaking In” four years ago and it has since sold to Universal, Sullivan said outside of the treatment sale, she hasn’t seen any income from that movie yet.

“Here’s something that many people don’t know: No matter how big a producer’s fee is, they don’t see a penny of it until the movie gets made, and most don’t see anything until it’s a success,” she said. “Don’t spend the money before the check is in the bank, because most producers spend well over three years working on the project before you see a dime.”

“It sometimes can be a very long and often discouraging road, and you have to be emotionally and financially prepared for setbacks,” she continued. “And I don’t mean there may be setbacks, I want you to hear me, from pitch to production there will be so many setbacks that you doubt why you got into this game in the first place, that’s how many setbacks there will be. But if it is your door, if it meant for you, it will open. That is a fact: You have to ride the wave and sometimes it takes four years as in my case, sometimes more, sadly.”

But it’s not like Sullivan hasn’t seen some return from selling her ideas — even if it isn’t monetary at first. While she’s recently shifted into producing content full time, she continues pitching through her publicity business, Bridge and Tunnel Entertainment, on a much smaller scale. She’s partnering with unique clients, promoting her own projects, and only working on others’ projects when she feels passionate about them.

“I’ll take stuff that is much more interesting to me, because I still get to craft a story and bring a narrative to life,” she said. “But my business model has changed. The day-to-day talent handling and working red carpets, that part of my career is over.”

7. Find ways to extend your successful idea into a franchise.

Jaime Primak SullivanSullivan has extended her ‘Jersey Girl’ concept into a book published by Touchstone.

Here’s where Hollywood’s desire for proven products works in your favour.

“When you have a successful brand, take your concept and find ways to re-tool it for other media,” Sullivan said.

In the case of “Jersey Belle,” Sullivan found an opportunity to extend the brand to people who wanted to know more about the experience portrayed on the show, and those who hadn’t watched the show at all, with her book, “The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl.”

And now, the book is being developed for a scripted series.

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