Getting a film from script to screen has never been a walk in the park, but the process needed to do so has changed over the history of cinema, and specifically in recent years. Today, the industry is shifting from the theater-based model of old and moving towards the home streaming market. This has increased the opportunity for budding filmmakers with few connections to gain recognition, but it has also increased the competition.
Netflix is the most popular streaming service in the world, with well over 200 million subscribers as of August 2021. If you are a filmmaker or screenwriter, getting your film on Netflix is a surefire way to make sure that it gets a wide audience. But what does it take to get your film on Netflix? In this guide, we will explore 6 steps you can take to succeed.
Can you submit a film to Netflix directly?
So, you’ve got a completed screenplay (or even a completed film!). You’ve done the hard work, now you just need to show it to the right people and sit back as your film appears on the Netflix library of households all over the world. Sounds simple, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Netflix does not accept what it calls “unsolicited submissions.” There’s no “Submit” button to click or email address to email to get your film considered for streaming.
Netflix only accepts submissions from industry types (e.g., entertainment executives) that they have an existing relationship with. In this regard, it is to a certain extent about “who you know.”
However, this doesn’t mean that there is no path to successfully submitting a film to Netflix.
6 steps to getting your film on Netflix
Here are 6 steps to a successful submission. You may not need to do all of them, or in this exact order, but they are well worth following if you want to get your film on Netflix.
Make sure your film is perfect
Of course, the first thing to do is to make sure your film is as good as it can be. While there have been examples of half-formed ideas or vague concepts that have been pitched and then made, first-time filmmakers usually have to prove themselves and pitch a film that is as complete as possible.
Shooting and editing a film is no easy task, and there are too many tips to get into in any detail here. If you are just submitting a screenplay that you have written, make sure that you have redrafted it multiple times and had plenty of feedback from people you know.
Know your target audience
If you have written or made a film, you probably know at least a little about its intended audience. For example, if your film is a horror film, it will be for horror fans, and if it is a rom-com it will be for fans of that genre. Often, filmmakers will be creating a film that they would want to watch themselves, which is a fine foundation as long as you can identify and describe your audience to potential investors.
The film industry is a business, after all, and money is the bottom line when production companies, distributors, streaming platforms, and other investors are considering the viability of a film. Netflix has a tight business model, with marketing and things like customer journey touchpoints being considered. The industry types you will be pitching to will want to know the film’s target audience so they can predict its profitability.
If you are lucky enough to have had previous success and built a name for yourself, you may have an existing audience. The same goes for if you have managed to get a well-known name involved, such as a famous actor. However, most emerging filmmakers won’t have these yet.
Consider making a short film
If you are submitting a screenplay, it can be of benefit to also have something visual to show. Producers often want to see examples of how things may look on screen so that they can picture how a finished film may be.
A short film does not have to be particularly long or full of expensive special effects (in fact, new writers are recommended to write screenplays that can be made on as low a budget as possible). Take just one or two scenes from your screenplay that best demonstrate the film’s appeal as a whole, and consider filming them with actors.
If you can get your short film shown at a festival, this can also be especially beneficial. Many filmmakers have used this as a ‘foot in the door’ and gone on to have scripts commissioned and films made.
Find an agent
Even if you are the best filmmaker in the world, you may not know the ins and outs of the industry. Being successful as a filmmaker basically involves knowing how to manage a small business. The business being you and your films.
Thankfully, agents are there to help you. Agents know how the industry works, and are the ‘middlemen’ between a filmmaker and the people who decide which films get made and sold to streaming services.
Agents know what sells, and can help you tailor your pitch to what the industry currently wants. What’s more, they also have plenty of contacts in the industry. While agents do take a cut of your film’s earnings, they can be the difference between a film getting seen by millions, and it sitting on your laptop for just your friends and family to watch.
Use an aggregator
Netflix is a huge company, and countless aspiring filmmakers are competing for their attention. With so many to choose from, Netflix uses aggregators to narrow down the search for the next hit. Like call center services for small businesses, they outsource communications between the business (in this case the filmmaker) and the customer (in this case, Netflix buyers).
Aggregators are third-party services that pitch films to Netflix (and other streaming services) on behalf of producers. Aggregators work similarly to agents, keeping many films and filmmakers on their books and pitching directly to Netflix’s buyers when they think a film matches what the buyers are looking for at that time.
The aggregators typically charge either an upfront fee, a percentage of the film’s profits, or a combination of both. However, the filmmaker retains all intellectual property rights relating to the film.
Pitch your film
You may prefer to avoid aggregators and pitch your film yourself. If you are a screenwriter, you may be pitching to a production company, who will then go on to pitch to Netflix if they see potential in your film. If you have already made a film, you may be pitching to Netflix yourself using connections provided by your agent.
Pitches can happen in person or via a conference calling service. Although the odds are probably stacked against you, especially if you are a new filmmaker, pitching is your opportunity to really explain what makes your film worth investing in.
To give yourself the best chances, make sure you have a strong logline, target audience, specified genre and themes, character list, synopsis, and even images if relevant. The more you have to show, the better. As long as it is all high-quality.
There’s no way around it, getting a film onto Netflix is not easy, and there is plenty of competition. However, with plenty of self-belief, emotional intelligence, and the right amount of knowledge, you can go a long way. Don’t go in expecting instant results, as most filmmakers go through plenty of rejections before they land that commission. Keep persevering while improving your skills and industry knowledge, and you could well have the next Netflix hit.
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace Lau also published articles for domains such as Tapfiliate and Easy Affiliate. Here is her LinkedIn.