Mar 10, 2009

"Based On A True Story" Hollywood

To me, truth is always better than fiction. Whether its a reality show about an obsessive-compulsive nuerotic and his crazy business, like Bravo's "Flipping Out", or an award winning movie based on a wild true story like "Catch Me If You Can". The stories of people's lives and experiences are always more fascinating to an audience, and easier to Sell To Producers.

Got an incredible true story? Would it make for a great movie? Can a reality-series be built around it?

Lets discuss!

Post your comments and questions.


  1. Scott, I have been hired by a relative of the first victim of the LA Black Widow Killers. i.e. The Granny Killers, Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt, who participated in one of the Top Ten Insurance Fraud cases of 2008 and are also convicted murderes for running over transiet men. The script's almost done and it SINGS. I have a manager, Max Freedman. This story is on the right side of karma and is quite riveting. BASED ON A TRUE STORY. Tom Deedy, Max Freedman Management, 310-429-9707 -- helluva tale. Call me to discuss if you like.

  2. Greetings Mr. Manville

    I use to be a part of your site many years ago when I first started. I had a few raw ideas but nothing really caught on. Now I have written two books one of which is based on a true story. I have tried to get more people to read it eventhough it was edited poorly. Everyone who knows me and that have also read the book usually have good things to say about it if they are not offended. My name is Nathan Waire and I too am on blogspot under the name Nathan Zen-Sapien. My latest and most controversial book is called BOY: A STORY BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. In the right hands it would be a phenomenal movie. What should I do? If needed Google me to find out more. Thanks.

  3. Hi Tom-
    Wow, that's an interesting project. A bit dark for my tastes, but great content for a made-for-tv-movie. I don't operate as an Agent, and generally only pitch reality-based projects, but your manager should consider approaching some of the MOW production companies out there like "Orly Adelson Productions", "Von Zernick - Sertner", or others who produce for FX, TNT, Lifetime, CBS, and such.

    As for the story, I'd imagine you're approaching the story from the victim's perspective (via their relative) because it holds the most interesting storyline? That's what you want. Sometimes its not even necessary to have Life Rights if its news and public domain. Depends on the storyline.

    Good luck with that!

  4. Hi Nathan-
    Its grea that you have published books as a basis for your projects. Not so sure about the "Boy: Based On A True Story" title. You may consider renaming the television project to something that tells us what it is, to grab our interest. Also, "Based On A True Story" shouldn't be in the title. Thats something you write in a subheading below the title.

    Do your publishers work with any Lit agents in Hollywood? Have they expressed any desire to market it to producers via reps? That's the best approach. Other than that, if you have some great reviews, get it out there to producers. Get mailing lists for companies and start shotgunning to find interests. You may also consider the TV Writers Vault for registering it as "Book Adaptation" for companies scouting new projects there. If you have any questions about that process, just email me anytime.

  5. There are two ideas that I have that are based on true stories. Both deal with sexual abuse. One is of a friend who was wrongly accused of being a pedophile by an individual who wanted to person eliminated from his grandfather's will. The man spent 5 years in a prison for sex offenders, and has had a difficult time getting readjusted to life outside of prison. He's not allowed to see his children, he has been railroaded by the police and the legal system in general.

    The other is personal, a family story. I am the middle of 6 children. My father molested my two older sisters. My mother, being a high school drop out, was forced to stay in the marriage due to the size of her family and lack of education. At the same time, my father was highly respected in the community. Even after he was outed as a pedophile, he's still seen by his peers as a wonderful man who never could have done this. Today, my sisters enable him and take care of him in his failing health, while my mother continues to get the short end of the stick.

    Two ideas, neither story I can really write because neither wants to tell it. But I still think it'd be a good story as fictional accounts.

    Now, to get Hollywood to bite.

  6. Hi Rick-
    That's some seriously heavy stuff to deal with, and a familiar issue we've seen exlored in television and film. You really have to pick a specific angle and voice for that story and work to have it published to bring some notoriety to it, to attract producers. Many of the made-for-tv-movies that have been produced that explore sexual abuse and similar issues were based on non-fiction books that had a relatable narrative. If its a familiar issue, you'd want to have a unique circumstance or angle into the story as its explored so it has something new and relevant that we've not seen dramatized before.

    You should also visit for some more on selling true stories to hollywood.

    Best wishes for peace in your life with such difficult circumstances. Thanks for being candid enough to ask my advice.

  7. Hi Scott,

    I've registered a handful of projects on TVWV, three have even piqued the interest of some industry pros. What fun! I'm currently developing a movie screenplay, a dark comedy, based on the remarkable true life events of my mother's teenage years, truly one of those "stranger than fiction" stories. I've written a killer logline and a compelling synopsis, but the finished script is months away. What do you recommend, should I pitch the project now, or wait until the screenplay is done?

    Thanks, Mike (bioprofessor)

  8. Hi Mike-
    I'd invest most of your time right now developing the story and treatment. Producers aren't going to read the script unless they fall in love with the story after reading the treatment. To wait until you finish the script is just postponing the entire path of progress. You're selling a story and concept, not necessarily your screenwriting. Also, you can spend the next year writing the screenplay, only to find out you have critical story flaws and the typical development needed. You end up having to change the story anyhow. Sell the story, tell them you have a script. Once they commit to the story, after you've give a few courtesy revisions to the treatment, THEN deliver the sript. Story, Story, Story.

  9. Scott.. ONE thing really boggles my mind. How does one accomplish a sale if NO ONE reads 'unsolicited' material??

  10. Hi DS-
    Its not completely true that no companies will accept unsolicited scripts or ideas for shows. Its a matter of rolling up the sleeves and sending out queries to find out any submission guidelines, and knowing that if you hit on enough companies, you'll find a portion of them do take pitches.

    Some will require you to sign a release form (since they also develop concepts and take pitches all the time) to allow them to work on similar projects in development. You may also find a development executive who will get on the phone and take a verbal pitch for any interest.

    One of the biggest reasons why companies shy away from outside pitches is because they simply could not physically manage communications with all of the people who would be calling and submitting work. This is also one of the reasons I created the TV Writers Vault ( ). Producers and Development Execs now have an efficient and somewhat private method of sourcing material. When they see a project they're interested in, they make instant request of materials, and contact the writer direct (No Agent Needed).

    I recommend writers and creators use all methods to market their work. You'll end up winning a handful of contacts that will be your channel for pitching, and you'll eventually sell one... or many to the same company.

  11. What happens when you have an idea based on a true story, but you have no script written? I have an idea that a producer is interested in and is requesting a script, but there is no script. It's an idea I'd prefer to sell because I think I'm too close to the subject, and would rather see someone else (preferably a woman) write, because it is about a woman.

  12. I'd start writing fast. You'll get a better deal, and set yourself up for a better position to negotiate specific points.

    If you really don't want to write it, then have a conversation with the producer to see how they would plan on developing it. If they're in love with the story, then they'll make an option deal and package it with an appropriate writer before they go out to market.

  13. is it imperative to have a script to pitch, or can you just solicit a (true) storyline? i have a love story that rivals the notebook.

  14. Hi Alison-
    You don't need a completed script to pitch a story or project. If you have a true story to pitch, there are a couple of ways to go. If you need to secure the rights to the story, and are able to, that always gives an advantage. You'd then just deliver a general outline of the story if you're not a skilled writer who can deliver a fully developed treatment.

    If the true story is public domain and you can't exclusively secure the rights or the rights to any principal players in the story, then you'll need to roll up the sleeves and develop a very unique angle and perspective on the story, with a narrative and storyline that you can copyright.

    You can find a bit of info on securing movie rights


  15. I would like to pitch a movie idea. How do I get started?