Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos.
It seems like some of the best shows that have ever aired were all on HBO. You have a screenplay for a pretty phenomenal television show of your own that you happen to think would be perfect for HBO. How can you sell your script to this major network?
To successfully sell a script to HBO, follow these tips:
- Find an agent who can get you an in
- Make sure your work is original and unique
- Focus on tracking down HBO assistants to reach out to, not necessarily executives
- Have a rock-solid pitch ready
- Participate in an HBO fellowship
If you’re serious about getting your script accepted by HBO, then you’re not going to want to miss this article.
Ahead, I’ll discuss how realistic your chances are of selling your script to this major network. I’ll also elaborate more on the above tips so you can give your dream you’re all!
What Are Your Chances of Having a Script Accepted at HBO?
I recently published a post about selling a script to Disney. If you read that one, then you know your chances of script acceptance are dismally low.
Disney tends to only accept work from its in-house writers, so your only way in would be to get a job at Disney.
What’s the situation over at HBO? They’re much more willing to take scripts for original movies and television shows than Disney, which increases your chances by a good degree.
That said, on HBO’s official website, their FAQs state that you must have an agent send your work on your behalf, not you directly.
You can go so many directions within the HBO camp. The network specializes in sports programming through HBO Sports, documentaries through HBO Documentary Films, and young adult programming (for those 18 to 34 years old) on HBO Zone. If you’re a filmmaker, you can aspire to get your work shown on the film stations HBO Signature or HBO2, which showcases made-for-TV movies.
HBO Latino is for Latin American and Hispanic works of both television and film while HBO Family has programming for children.
Their sister channels include Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, HLN, CNN, AT&T SportsNet, TruTV, TNT, TBS, and Cinemax.
Even if you can’t necessarily sell your script to HBO, depending on the nature of your work, you can pitch to one of those sister networks instead.
5 Tips for Selling Your Script to HBO
Okay, so you’ve done some digging around and found an HBO network that suits your style of work. You can just picture your show or movie airing on one of their channels, and the thought is infinitely exciting.
How can you get your script into the hands of an HBO representative? Like always, there are no guarantees. That said, you might have better success if you follow these 5 steps.
Have an Agent
Remember, it’s on HBO’s official website that they don’t want unsolicited scripts from random screenwriters, but rather, submissions from agents.
As an aspiring screenwriter, you want an agent even outside of pitching to HBO. This person is incredibly valuable and could be the one who gets your foot in the door so you can land that meeting with someone at HBO.
Before you send query letters to those at HBO, you’ll need to direct your queries to prospective screenwriting agents. I recommend using a service like Stage32 or IMDBPro to find an agent who suits your purposes here.
Although you may have to pay for these services, sometimes you really do have to spend money to make money.
Since you already know you want to sell your script to HBO, focus on screenwriting agents who know people at HBO or who have helped other screenwriters get their work accepted by HBO. This will put you in the best position to achieve your goals.
You also want to ensure your agent is passionate and excited about your work, almost as much as you are if not more so. After all, if they’re not enthusiastic, then your screenplay may not get painted in the best light, which can cause an HBO head to turn you down.
Submit the Best, Most Original Work You Can
Besides a screenwriting agent, it helps to have a screenwriting manager on your side as well. While your agent will do the negotiating, networking, and meeting scheduling side of things, your manager will ensure your work is HBO-quality.
They can help you tweak and tinker with your screenplay until it glitters like gold.
If you have other screenwriters or those in the industry you know, ask for them to look over your work too. Having a third or even a fourth or fifth set of eyes on your writing is always a good thing.
Chris Salvaterra, an executive at HBO, said as much when he spoke to Script Magazine about screenwriting in 2016.
Here’s what he said: “It’s very helpful for writers to continually keep in mind that it’s about making the project as good as it can be.
Whoever’s giving you notes also wants what you want – a great product. People who give notes well will give constructive notes and be leaning into it. Sometimes you’ll get a strong tone, which is hard, but what you have to try to do is get the tone out of your head and find what’s behind it.
What’s the intention behind this note? Say thank you, then go off and think about it to see what sticks with you.”
Besides your work being just good, you want to make sure it’s unique as well. Game of Thrones rip-offs are a dime a dozen and have been done to death by this point.
It’s okay if your work is inspired by preexisting television and film content, and even if that content comes from HBO.
Just make sure what you submit is something that the station hasn’t seen. That’ll better your chances of your screenplay being accepted.
Send Your Work to Assistants Instead of Executives
Many employees at HBO keep their eyes out for talent, especially when attending film festivals and other networking events. These people aren’t exclusively executives, but sometimes assistants too.
Pitching to assistants instead of only executives has several benefits. For one, these people are less inundated than most HBO execs, which boosts the likelihood of your screenplay being seen.
Also, assistants have direct access to executives considering many of them work for execs, so your work will still get sent to the right people.
Prep a Killer Pitch
You’ve followed the steps in this article so far and you’re thrilled to say an HBO executive got back to you and asked you to come in for a meeting. This is your chance to knock the exec’s socks off with a phenomenal pitch for your TV show or film.
You, your agent, and your screenwriting manager should knuckle down and sharpen your screenplay once more, giving it another round of edits or two. Then you want to spend the rest of your time planning your pitch.
You want the story of your screenplay to come across loud and clear in the most concise, engaging way possible.
Also, although you’ll be a bundle of nerves, you can’t show it. You must walk into your meeting with confidence and passion for your project. Make eye contact, speak slowly, don’t trip over your words, and breathe.
The HBO exec may also ask what else you’ve been working on lately, so always have that ace up your sleeve ready to go.
Even if you’ve just started on another project, that your plate is full shows the staff at HBO that you’re a hard worker who isn’t hitching all your dreams to this one star, the current screenplay.
Join an HBO Fellowship
Another option for getting your foot in the door at HBO is to participate in their fellowship called HBOACCESS.
Made for both directors and writers, the fellowship will select eight winners apiece. You get to take a series of masterclasses for a week, then spend the next eight months working with HBO creative execs writing a script for Cinemax or HBO.
The 2020 fellowship deadline for HBOACCESS already passed, but you can always gear up to apply in 2021.
If you’ve always wished you could sell your work to HBO, including a film or TV script, that dream just may be closer in reach than you thought. You could participate in an HBO fellowship, where winners get to work with network execs on their screenplay.
You can also do things the good, old-fashioned way, finding an agent, sending your script to an assistant, and hoping you get the meeting with an exec so you can pitch your script and wow the HBO agents. Best of luck with your screenplay!
Now its time to hear from you?
What did I miss in this article?
Have you tried to sell your script yet?
What ways did you try?
Whatever your answer is. Lets here about it in the comments