Going Hollywood: You Can Get Magazine Articles Optioned for Television and Feature Movies, but You Have to Know How to Play the Game If You Want to Cash in Later

By Schwarz, Ted | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, October 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Going Hollywood: You Can Get Magazine Articles Optioned for Television and Feature Movies, but You Have to Know How to Play the Game If You Want to Cash in Later


Schwarz, Ted, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


The teenager's nightmare was a writer's and editor's dream. Kathy Miller, a young woman from Scottsdale, Arizona, was struck by a car while crossing a street. Literally knocked out of her shoes and socks, muscle torn from her leg, she was in a coma for 10 weeks, the doctors certain she would not live. She did eventually regain consciousness, but gave no signs of being aware of her surroundings. Yet in the months that followed, with the support of her family, she relearned how to walk and talk, and was soon back in school. When her "useless" legs strengthened enough for her to become a competitive long-distance runner, she was awarded the Most Courageous Athlete" award by an athletic organization comprising 105 nations.

I wrote the story from four different perspectives for four magazines: Family Circle, Seventeen, Success and Today's Christian Woman. The drama touched a broad spectrum of readers and was right for television, although neither I nor my publishers realized it at the time. As a result, when Kathy Miller's story became a movie of the week (M.O.W.), none of us involved with the magazine business profited in any way.

Can you sell direct?

Selling a story to Hollywood can be a confusing process, varying as it does from company to company. Alexandra Leh, development coordinator, motion pictures, for television and miniseries at CBS Entertainment, says the network's acquisition protocol doesn't allow for a direct relationship with the magazine. Instead, either a producer or an agency pitches the project. "A magazine would need to go through a production company, an entertainment lawyer or an agency that has a relationship with the network," says Leh. "They would not come directly to the network."

Leh suggests that before approaching a producer or agent about representing an article, the magazine staff should research whether the public will be receptive. Has there recently been a motion picture or a television movie about a similar topic? If so, would the topic be portrayed in a different light? Then, after establishing the viability of the subject, the magazine should approach production companies. Leh recommends contacting a Hollywood union such as Writer's Guild of America, West, to obtain a list of legitimate agents who can then deal with her company.

In contrast, Carey Nelson, manager of TV movies and miniseries at NBC Studios, is willing to work with publishers directly. "Let's say you control the rights to a story," Nelson says. "You can come to me and pitch the story, or you can send me pages, or we can discuss it over the phone. And if it sounds intriguing and interesting, and [it's] something that's viable, then I would have to read the pages."

At the moment, Nelson says, NBC generally is not looking for what she calls "typical TV fare ... the woman-in-jeopardy piece." Producers and the audience want to see something "original": as Nelson puts it, "a page turner" with multiple storylines that is "intriguing, exciting" and that "captures your attention."

How agents work

Although going directly to producers is sometimes possible, the consensus in Hollywood is that you're better off working through an agency. Calls to several of the top agencies indicate that all of them will take an inquiry from a magazine seriously, whereas individual writers often can't get past the receptionist.

Texas Monthly is one magazine that has discovered the rich Hollywood potential of its editorial content. "William Morris Agency represents the magazine, rather than the individual writers." says Marsha Cook, executive vice president, operations. "And we send the whole magazine to them every month - an advance, copy."

The agency selects which stories will be sold, Cook explains. These are placed on a fist of material to be read by staff agents. Since William Morris represents writers, producers, directors and performers, the agency will frequently package a story in-house - that is, arrange for one client to buy another's work so it can be taken to a network or studio as a package. …

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