With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:
1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program. For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?
2) Think ahead. My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?
3) Develop funding sources now, so they’ll be ready for when an opportunity happens. Sure TV networks pay for ideas they acquire, but it never hurts to have funding in place to develop the concept. (Not to mention, money takes you to the head of the line.) And once the timing is right, it will take too long to find investors, so look for them now so you’ll have that element already in place. I believe Christians should think of themselves as “Patrons of the Arts” and always be thinking about how we can invest in original and groundbreaking ideas – and be ready to do it.
4) Know how network TV works. Too many Christians are pitching ideas without the slightest concept of how the TV industry actually operates. Learn the business. What role do agents play? How do networks get pitched? What’s a “show runner?” Do your homework.
5) Understand personal branding and learn how to pitch. Dress like where you’re going, not where you’ve been. And while I’m at it, be professional in your email and social media – and stop using emoticons in business communications! Learn people skills. Know how to read a room. Without that kind of knowledge, even if you get a meeting, you’ll be flying blind.
6) Meet people. Before a network or studio invests a ton of money in your concept, they want to know you. If you just fly in from Cleveland with your idea, you won’t get far without an inside advocate. Go to media conferences, read the trades, get involved in the industry, and network. People are more likely to work with people they know, so a lack of personal relationships is a major obstacle to getting your idea heard by the right people.
7) Finally, lead with your idea, not with your faith. In Hollywood, nobody cares that you’re a Christian. They’re more interested in your ability to actually produce a popular television program. So upfront, hold the personal testimony and lead with your ability. Once you’ve proven yourself, they’re much more interested in hearing your story and you’ll have credibility. Without that credibility, sharing your faith won’t get much traction.
Don’t get me wrong. Even with all these elements in place, it’s still tough. But the important thing is to realize that Hollywood isn’t opposed to faith-driven programming. They just need to be convinced that you have an idea that people will watch.
Any Hollywood professionals out there who’d add any other steps to my list?