Hey, as a UK script consultant and BAFTA shortlisted script writer for hire I get a surprising amount of emails from people with no industry experience who have decided that their idea, script or life story would make a great series on Netflix and that all they need to do is find a way of getting that idea, script or life story in front of the bigwigs at Netflix (or Amazon or the BBC). So, that they can agree what a fab story it is, while they hand over bundles of cash to get it made.
How to approach Netflix with a script / story idea
Let’s back that truck up. Or, let’s back that Ferrari up…
I have a great design idea for a Ferrari F1 car – I’m sure all I need to do to get my car designed, tested and made is get my drawings in front of the folks at Ferrari – even though:
A. I’ve never designed a car, or designed anything at all, and have zero design experience.
B. I’m not qualified in car design or any sort of design. I don’t even work in anything remotely related to car design.
D. I only have a passing interest in F1
C. I don’t know anyone at Ferrari or even anyone in the car industry.
Does this sound feasible? Or does is sound familiar?
But, I say–it must be workable, my car design is unique and based on a true story told to me by my Grandfather who was a Royal Engineer in WW2, and all my friends who have seen the design say, hey, that would be a great Ferrari design! So, I must be right. Right???
Ferrari, as shocking and unfair as it sounds, are not in the business of taking car designs from people in the street.
Netflix only deal with people with a long track record of success
Neither are Netflix much in the business of taking ideas, scripts or true life stories from people in the street–with zero industry experience or any sort of track record.
This might sound harsh–but Ferrari and Netflix deal only with people with a professional track record.
Netflix only buy scripts from professional scriptwriters or producers
On top of that, Netflix has the choice of some of the best writers / directors /producers and actors in the business. They deal with top level talent only. Professionals, with a long record of hits shows, series and films – a long track record of success.
So is it possible to get your that idea, script or life story in front of someone at Netflix?–It’s still kind of possible–but you’ll need to jump through a long line of hoops first. So, what are the hoops and how high do you need to jump?
Okay, quickly then…
You’ll need a script–not a vague idea or a true story written down in a few paragraphs – YOU WILL NEED a FULLY FLESHED out professionally WRITTEN SCREENPLAY – if it’s a series idea – you‘ll need the first episode and a detailed storyline for the rest of the series.
If it’s a film idea, you will need a FEATURE FILM script. To a professional standard.
Hire a pro scriptwriter
People approach me to write series proposals or feature films on spec all the time. I charge £5,500 for a feature film script, and £3,500 for a series proposal, including the first episode.
That money (paid upfront in stages) will get your idea written up properly by a pro scriptwriter with a long track record.
A well written script is just step one
A well-written script is just the first HOOP. Now, you need to get the script in front of some producers and production company heads.
How do you do this? It’s a good question and I’m glad you asked. Most production companies WILL NOT read unsolicited scripts or proposals for VERY GOOD legal reasons. So, sending your script and proposal out will be hugely frustrating and in most instances the script / proposal will bounce back unread (either by email or post) or the production company will put it in a pile of proposals that they may read (over the next few years) or it will just HIT THE BIN.
Bizarrely a professionally written book often has more chance of being picked up by the likes of Netflix and Amazon than a screenplay does.
Why is this?
Legally, producer can’t read unsolicted scripts but they can read a published book – because the book is already in the public domain and available for anyone to read (unlike an unsolicited spec script).
So getting your story written up as a book (by a Ghostwriting service like StoryTerrace is often a better way to go than hiring a scriptwriter. But, anyway back to scripts…
Approaching Netflix with a series idea or script
You need a producer or production company interest in YOUR SCRIPT before it gets anywhere neat Netflix (unless you are David Fincher or Chris Nolan). So, it might take five or ten years of sending out the proposal before you get ANYONE TO EVEN READ IT.
Someone must read it for this to work, and that person then should be in a position that they have either worked with Netflix or they are in good standing enough to have a contact they can approach.
To approach Netflix and pitch your idea, they need to be a well regarded and known professional with a track record.
So, maybe in five or six years, after you’ve paid me to write the story up as a wonderful script – someone might read it – and then pitch the story to Netflix.
So, after all these Hoops, and all this time, you’ve finally got to the pitch stage (well done, because most don’t).
And Netflix says ‘no’.
You’ve paid me to write a spec script. You’ve spent years trying to get it read, and then more years finding someone in a position to pitch it to Netflix and Netflix say ‘NO’. Not interested.
Happens everyday – happens all the time.
How RUDE you say?
Netflix will say NO – to FAR more ideas, scripts and pitches than they say YES to. It’s a fact of the business. **There are 80,000 scripts registered with the WGA every year – that’s right, 80k EVERY YEAR…)****
Why would they say no? Loads of reasons, they have made something similar – or the genre is dead, or they don’t like period, or whatever yadda yadda – there are a million reasons to say no.
And most projects will be a NO. And that’s it.
But it’s an amazing true story
How about this answer–if the project is based on a true story, in the public domain (if it has a wiki page say) they don’t need you.
If a true story is in the public domain (and they like the idea), they can hire their own director / producer / writer to do it (think Chris Nolan or David Fincher) – if you take a true story anywhere – they don’t need you, they just need the true story…
How about this one too – ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ was the big Netflix hit of 2019. It was based on a book which was very successful when it was released. The Queen’s Gambit book was written in 1984, and the author died in 1985 – so the show took over 30 years to hit the screen – not unusual in the industry. So, again, think of all the books in the genre you’re pitching, these books may be yet unmade – your project would be sitting behind those too.
So, hey. I hope this helps and explains the odds you’re up against.
I can write you a great script, but I can’t guarantee anything more than that. The rest is a lottery.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer.
His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller ‘Markham’ was released in 2020, his second feature film as director ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ hit the screen in 2021. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.
You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.