5 Ways to Help Get Your First Deal in TV

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Words by Oli Goldman

So you’ve written a TV script or come up with a concept for a show - brilliant! But what’s the next step? We recently caught up with writer Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat), Matt Angel (Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Syco), Mel Leach (Managing Director at TwoFour) and Steve Havers (Joint Managing Director of Mast Media) to find out what you need to do to make the next step in your career. 

1. Get an agent

All four agree that getting an agent was an essential step to develop your career. Sam Bain believes that when he first got an agent, "I felt like I became a professional writer."

Similarly, Steve Havers recalls that once he and his business partner Mark Baker had an agent on board, opportunities started to appear, and people began to take their work more seriously.

Matt Angel suggests getting a lawyer on board as early as possible, as "they may be willing to work at a reduced rate at first, and they can introduce you to an agent." If you have an agent or lawyer who you trust and support your work, the chances are much higher that they’ll help take you and your idea to the next stage.  (You can read our beginner's guide to getting an agent here).

2. Don’t pitch your ideas until you’re ready

Bain and Havers were keen to stress the fine line between pitching your ideas before they’re fully formed, and not pitching them at all.

Havers believes that you must allow time for your  ideas to take shape and develop, but not to wait too long as someone else might also come up with something similar. He argues that it’s a question of picking your moments and knowing when the time is right for you to pitch.

3. Be willing to negotiate

When you’re making your first deal, Havers believes that "you must set your parameters early on about what you want to achieve… you have to be realistic about what you’re expecting."  

Leach explains that she assesses ideas on a "case by case basis", and how much of a cut you get will depend on how well formed your idea is, and the level of experience you’re bringing to the project.

Bain pragmatically suggests that an important thing to do is "get your first show out of the way", as it makes it easier to make a deal if you already have a credit to your name. More generally, he states that "when you start out you don’t have the powers to negotiate… ten years later it’s a different story".

When making a deal, Angel wants "both parties to come away feeling that they’ve both got a good deal… [you must] develop strong relationships with the people you’re working or negotiating with". 

4. Be careful with contracts

Havers believes that you must be extremely careful when signing a contract, which is why having an agent or lawyer involved at the beginning is so crucial. Early on his career, he signed a deal with a US company, but there was a subtle difference between what they termed a 'series' and a 'season'. As he didn’t have an American lawyer to point this out, he ended up losing £100 000. He advises you have a lawyer, so they can demystify the contract jargon and “pull out the important deal points” to avoid repeating a similar mistake.

5. Don’t be disheartened

Leach states that in Mast Media "one out of every ten deals gets made… a lot of things will never develop". There’s a chance that even if your idea is optioned, it might not get made. But as Havers suggests, "TV is a business, and is so risk adverse". It might be a case that your idea isn’t right for one company, but would be more suited to another that shares your vision. As Leach remarks, the most important thing to do when you’re starting out is to "find people you want to work with". Persevere until you find the people who will give your ideas the best chance of success.

The panel were speaking at Generation Next, our recent all-day seroes of talks about getting ahead in the TV industry. Their session was called Understanding the Deal: How to be Business Savvy and Make Money in Television.

Find out more top TV advice on our Generation Next Podcast

Read our beginner's guide to freelancing in TV