For Everything There Is A Season: The Art & Timing of Contacting Hollywood VIPs
In show business, timing is everything. This is particularly true when it comes to finding representation or submitting scripts to potential buyers, and it’s also true when following up with industry professionals that are considering your project. Just as farmers must watch the calendar to determine the most opportune times to plant and harvest, writers and filmmakers must carefully time their inquires and submissions to those weeks when producers and executives are likely to be most receptive, and avoid “blackout” periods when they are not. Fortunately, like the seasons and the tides, these periods are wholly predictable.
When Buyers are Most Receptive
In Hollywood, the most active buying periods tend to be in early autumn late winter/early spring. In early autumn, many decision makers are back from summer vacation and finally have their heads back in the game. This also tends to be a “dead season” for movie releases — that time between the blockbusters of summer and the Oscar-bait releases of Thanksgiving-to-Christmas — so executives aren’t as likely to be distracted by screenings or compelled to make decisions based on either last weekend’s box office numbers or the most recent slate of Academy Award nominations. Autumn is also the run-up to “Pilot Season” — the period between January and April when studios traditionally produce the series pilots they hope to sell to the major networks in May — so TV execs are actively looking for new projects, new material and new writers during this time.
Perhaps most important of all, Fall is when studio executives realize they have to burn through their development budgets before the end of the calendar year or risk having their subsequent annual budgets cut. They’re looking to spend money. They might as well do so on you.
Early spring — the period following the Oscars through early May — also tends to be fallow in terms of major film releases, so agents and buyers can be more focused on what you have to show them.
You can also sell projects during the summer, but you have to be more careful. A lot of agents, managers, producer and executives — particularly those with children — take vacations during this period. The last thing you want is for your script or series proposal sitting at the bottom of a stack of work the execs need to plow through when they return. If you plan to approach a potential representative or buyer during summer, take care to inquire about their vacation schedules. (Note: It’s not uncommon for Hollywood types to take scripts with them to read while traveling. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into — and how long you will likely have to wait to get a response.)
There are several times during the year when you absolutely don’t want to approach representatives or submit material. If you do submit anything during these “blackout” periods — and there are a lot of them — your material is likely to be given only a cursory glance, put aside for later review or simply ignored.
Here are the times to avoid:
The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — particularly the two weeks prior to Christmas — should be avoided at all cost. During these weeks, people in Hollywood are either planning holiday parties, going to holiday parties, or recovering from the hangovers they got attending holiday parties. Virtually no work gets done during these weeks. The same goes for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. These are the days when anyone who has any money at all goes out of town. Submit material during this period and you might as well be throwing it into a bottomless pit.
Speaking of holidays, any week containing one of the major non-winter holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day — should be avoided. Especially bleak is any time the 4th of July falls mid-week. Hollywood execs take this one-day holiday as an excuse to blow the entire week. (“Since I’m leaving the day before and coming back the day after, I might as well take off the whole week!”)
As mentioned earlier, Pilot Season is that time between January and April when production companies film the pilots they hope to sell in May to get on the networks’ fall schedules. Although TV production has become a more year-round affair, Pilot Season is not as concentrated as it was in years past, but it’s still a formidable obstacle if you’re trying to sell new material. If you’re trying to sell TV products, it’s best to focus your efforts on the summer and fall.
In the week before major awards shows, the industry’s focus is on everything but screenplay and teleplay purchases. In the film industry, this means virtually all of February, with the Golden Globes, Directors Guild, Writers Guild and SAG awards all leading up to the big Oscar show in early March. For television, this is the week before the Emmy Awards, which usually take place in early September, just before the launch of the traditional Fall TV season.
Major Film Festivals
Throughout the year, many key studio executives, producers, agents and managers leave town to attend the major film festivals staged throughout the world. These include:
- The Cannes Film Festival (France). The granddaddy of them all, Cannes has lost much of its allure over the years, but it is still a major market for international film sales. The festival traditionally runs over two weeks in early May. You can X-out the week before and week after as well. (Flying to and from France is soooo)
- The Toronto Film Festival (Canada). Founded in 1976, this has become North America’s most important film fest and attracts buyers from all over the world. Held over 10 days in early September, the winners of this festival are often viewed as frontrunners for Academy Award nominations.
- Telluride Film Festival (USA). Founded in 1974, Telluride has traditionally accepted only films making their North American debut. It is therefore viewed as a venue for discovering new films and artists. It runs over Labor Day weekend every year.
- Sundance Film Festival (USA). Founded in the late 1970s by actor Robert Redford, Sundance specializes in showcasing independent (non-studio) films from around the globe. Held in Park City, Utah, as well as Salt Lake City, the event traditionally runs for 10 days in late January/early February.
- South by Southwest (USA). The newbie on the block, South by Southwest — usually abbreviated SXSW — is an annual event showcasing films, interactive media, videogames, and other pop culture productions. Held in mid-March in Austin, Texas, the festival now rivals San Diego’s Comic-Con — which is held in July — as the place to preview big-budget action, sci-fi, fantasy and superhero films.
NOTE: Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime do not adhere to the traditional broadcast network calendar. They do not have a fixed “Pilot Season.” Their operations run year round. However, their executives still take off holidays and attend film festivals and are now becoming more and more enmeshed in the annual Awards Season calendar as their products are now viewed by the industry — and critics — as equal to — if not superior to — the traditional broadcast networks, basic cable networks and premium cable services.
Taking all these blackout periods in account, that really only leaves all of October, April, June, and August — as well as late July — as “safe” months in which to submit new material to Hollywood. (And in July and August, your intended recipient may be on vacation.) Otherwise, you have to take special pains to contact your targets to determine if/when they are leaving town or are otherwise occupied.
When and How to Follow-Up
Once you have submitted a project, waiting for a response can be excruciating. The natural impulse is to call your recipient to get a verdict as quickly as possible. How and when to follow up is a dicey issue. On one hand, following up early can make you appear desperate. On the other hand, if you don’t follow-up at all, there is the real possibility that your project will “fall through the cracks” and not get the hearing it deserves.
As a rule of thumb, wait two weeks to follow-up if you have not received a reply, and even then only to inquire if your material has been received. Begin by sending a short, polite email. If you do not get a reply to your email within 48 hours, then a phone call is appropriate. Never ask for the recipient’s actual reaction to your submission. In all cases, the old adage, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” applies. When agents, managers and producers like projects, they tend to respond quickly and emphatically. If they don’t, then silence is usually the preferred response. (No one likes to actually say “No” for fear of burning bridges and torpedoing potential future relationships.)
Window of Opportunity
Waiting for just the right window of opportunity to open can be frustrating. But such patience is absolutely necessary to find buyers in the mood to buy. As another famous aphorism tells us, “Good things come to those who wait.” – Allen B. Ury