View Full Version : How to Sell Rights to a Life Story?

04-26-2004, 03:48 PM
It seems I'm giving up on writing a screenplay myself of my exceptionally uncommon (and timely) life story.

How do I sell that story?

Send query letters directly to studio development executives?

Send query letters directly to favorite screenwriters I'd love to work with?

. . . . ?

Help, please?

04-26-2004, 05:38 PM
Why are you giving up? Is your story one that people will plunk down $10 to sit in a theatre and watch? What's your story?

KD The Wubat
04-26-2004, 06:09 PM
Seriously, you should find a bright young publicist and get yourself in People. If it's really a great story, people will call.

04-26-2004, 06:23 PM
>Why are you giving up?

An experienced, driven screenwriter will do an infinitely better job.

>Is your story one that people will plunk down $10 to sit in a theatre and watch?

I wouldn't be asking for advice if I wasn't sure of it and ready to convince a studio executive or experienced screenwriter of it. (Yes, I know "my life story" sounds like a cliche . . . . in this case, it isn't.)

Any advice, please? :-)

04-26-2004, 06:33 PM
>Seriously, you should find a bright young publicist
>and get yourself in People. If it's really a great story,
>people will call.

Yes, thanks, that's occurred to me -- having to hire a publicist to find a journalist who wants to . . . . etc., etc. No thanks. I'm not looking for publicity, I just want to work with an experienced, driven screenwriter . . . .

04-26-2004, 06:37 PM
I'm not looking for publicity, I just want to work with an experienced, driven screenwriter . . . .

I thought you wanted to sell the rights to your life story?


04-26-2004, 07:03 PM
>I thought you wanted to sell the rights
>to your life story? :-)

Very funny -- but I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this. Maybe I've intruded on the wrong message board?

If I sell a (confidence protected) treatment to a studio development executive, the screenwriter of their choice will have to work/talk with me, right? Or wrong, immediately out of my hands . . . .

If I make arrangements with a (confidence protected) treatment with an established screenwriter, that screenwriter will want to work/talk with me, right? Or wrong . . . .

Not a publicist, but an attorney as a first step . . . . ?

Please bear with me. I live in West Hollywood, if that helps with any advice (if I'm at the right message board). :-)

04-26-2004, 07:24 PM
I'd like to hear something about you...about your story. Don't get worried about someone ripping it off.

Someone could try to do an unauthorized version, but if the story is good, yours will sell for 10 times as much since it's YOUR story.

04-26-2004, 08:13 PM

This is not how it really works. You are going at it backward. I've dealt with real life stories in the past. And usually people come to you, not the other way around. And it does not happen unless your story becomes known.

Studios and production companies buy life rights all the time. But you have to be known first. Look at movies of the week - all those stories were ripped from headlines.

What you can do though is find a screenwriter willing to write the script on spec. If the spec sells, your life rights will be purchased as well.

Another way to do it is to try and get a credited writer interested. If he writes a treatment and gets a studio interested, they may pay him to write the script and pay you for your life rights.

Good luck.

KD The Wubat
04-26-2004, 08:14 PM
I was serious about the publicist.


04-26-2004, 08:20 PM
yeah, publicist won't hurt

04-26-2004, 09:28 PM
>I was serious about the publicist.

Thank you, I know. ;-) Again (to publicists): Thanks, but no thanks. :-)

04-26-2004, 09:37 PM
Thank you, Ivylilly.

>And usually people come to you

I'm unusual.

(Parts of the story were in the local papers [and courts] in the eighties. There are famous San Francisco [job] locations and several famous people directly and indirectly involved in the plot as I envision it "based on a true story" for the screen.)

It would seem my preferred choice of what's here would be to send a letter (maybe an email) and short presentation to favorite driven and proven screenwriter(s) appropriate to the multi layered story, who have good relationships with studios and producers -- and hope that, after meeting, he or she wants to pitch a treatment and get us both paid tons and tons of money . . . . I'd worry about attorneys then, I guess.


Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to post. It is a story that wants and needs to be told on the screen. (That part of my life, anyway.) (West Hollywood, San Francisco . . . . yes, for whatever record, I'm a straight female.) ;-)

Thanks again.

04-26-2004, 10:47 PM
It might be easier to find an interested journalist to write up portions of your story for publication. If you find a really good journalist who can place your story or interview in a high profile magazine or even a newspaper, eg. serialized for the Times, you may be able to entice producers by merely sending them clippings. Producers troll for good stories in many places. You just need to get yours some exposure. :D

KD The Wubat
04-27-2004, 02:33 AM
Well, I'm sure that proven screenwriters will be super excited about it.

Best of luck to you.

04-27-2004, 11:33 AM
>Well, I'm sure that proven screenwriters will be super excited about it.

Best of luck to you. "limited views and posts per day." A few posts last night and I reached my "limits"? What is the deal with that?

04-27-2004, 11:47 AM
Posting error above cut off most of the post.

>Well, I'm sure that proven screenwriters will be
>super excited about it.

>Best of luck to you.

You're right, I deserve that; I realized too late how some of what I wrote could have offended some or hurt someone's feelings. I'm sorry, I do apologize.

Thank you so much again to everyone who took the time to post.

P.S. I have never seen a message board with "limited views and posts per day." A few posts last night and I reached my "limits, do you want to pay now"? What is the deal with that? (What a buggy message board . . . . )

04-27-2004, 11:53 AM
I wrote my own and it's making the rounds at present. The real question is what have you done that warrants a film about it? I don't know if mine does but it's somewhat timely and newsworthy so who knows? It's not about rehab so that's a step up at least.

Done Deal
04-27-2004, 11:55 AM
The board is not buggy. We have posted guidelines for all to read. This is the deal with the posts: www.scriptsales.com/DDGuidelines.html (http://www.scriptsales.com/DDGuidelines.html)

And as for you story, people write the site every month with a great idea or a life story they want to get to Hollywood. I tell them pretty much the same thing every time...

A professional writer is going to want to be paid to work on a script for someone, particularly an unknown. An aspiring (but talented) screenwriter in most cases would rather work on their own idea than someone else's. Granted there can always be exceptions but most likely you can and will spend a lot of time for nothing trying to get a writer attached and helping you.

I'd suggest at least trying to write up a solid treatment for your life story so you have something on paper, if you have not already. That could always be presented and sold to a company and then they can find a writer. Now that's not going to be very easy either but at least you'd have a better shot, unless you happen to know tons of writers, who are friends, that are interested in working with you. Again, thinking that you are going to find a great writer to work with you for "delayed" pay is fairly unlikely.

Also, even if you can find a writer and the two of you write a "great" script, once a studio or company buys it they own it and you two can be thrown off easily anyway. I don't say that to be negative but it's true. You'd probably be best off, considering what we know about your situation, to simply get a producer with leverage behind your story and to agree to work with you in every way, and let them find & hire a writer to help. You can always put it in your contract that you are a producing on the film and that you have some approval of the writer, etc. -- well you can try at least, of course, to do so.

Hope this works out for you.

04-27-2004, 12:53 PM
Will ~

Understood: It might have helped if I had read About Us, the FAQs and the board guidelines (and more) before I posted . . . . forgive me, please. I have a great appreciation for how very clear and organized you and Jennifer are here now that I've read what I should have read last night.

I understand: Such a fabulous site with a wealth of experienced information -- and really an honor for you to take the time to offer me the dignity of a personal reply.

Thank you so much for the well wishes. I'll make good use of your exceptional site now . . . . and try to maximize the use of any current 6 post limit, well understood.

04-27-2004, 01:36 PM
Mark ~

Read your profile and site and admire your environmental work. (Such a sweet Maine face.) Very best wishes with what I'm sure is a screenplay that warrants attention and purchase.

Mine is not about rehab, either, so there it is. ;) The famous and somewhat famous people that play a part are true -- for what it's worth; I have much work to do and will consider posting the treatment on the appropriate board for advice at some point . . . .

Very best with thanks to you and all.

Done Deal
04-27-2004, 03:10 PM
Not a problem in the least, Notorious -- just wanted to try to help answer the question(s). :)

04-27-2004, 08:59 PM

Thanks for the kind words, a rare event but always welcome. Good luck with the synopsis and beyond.

04-28-2004, 06:56 PM
>Not a problem in the least, Notorious -- just wanted to
>try to help answer the question(s).

>Done Deal

No, really, Will -- you have dozens of message boards, thousands of members, I asked the same questions you hear over and over and over again ad nauseam and I asked them in an apparently clueless way that got me rightfully flamed, this is just a hobby in a busy successful Hollywood life -- and you actually took the time to answer my embarrassingly novice questions and answer them right on target with the few things I said.

And that in a town that can be exceptionally rude, narcissistic, dismissive, condescending and cutthroat competitive.

Amazing. You're awesome, the site (and community) is awesome, and there's no doubt about it. :-)

Thank you.

KD The Wubat
04-29-2004, 03:38 AM
People were flaming you? I guess those posts got deleted?

05-02-2004, 01:24 PM
Please continue to bear with me:

Did I forget to say -- I forgot to say that (this part of) my life story is included as a nine page story in a nonfiction book (still in print) by a fairly consistently selling author of six books.


(This is an author there is no reason to and I would not want to involve in selling rights to my story . . . . )

I have a straightforward query letter with relevant things about me (degrees, professional experience, etc.), a log line, a synopsis (not a treatment) and copies of the sections about me from the book. (Possibly a copy of the book.)

So now I decide what production companies are appropriate to the genre and my vision -- and I would enjoy working with and they with me -- to send the query package to . . . .

At any point of serious interest, I find an attorney. (Or, in the meantime, I'm looking for the right attorney . . . . )

Right . . . . right?

(Will, it would be fantastic to have a separate subsection of actor/director owned production companies . . . . ? Also, you're right, of course -- the board is not only not buggy, it's very well designed and run. Thank you.)

Thank you. :-)

05-02-2004, 02:44 PM
I would think this would attract an agent of reputation in this town, but it's hard to know exactly will do that. Really the only production companies that any of us can get read by without an agent aren't the ones necessary to produce a film.

What are the libel implications of the true tale?

05-02-2004, 03:47 PM
Thank you for the encouraging words. You're probably right that this (and more) requires an agent. Hmmm. Sigh.

The one person who would cry "slander!" is already dead; otherwise, "based on a true story" I would think there should be no problems.

05-02-2004, 06:26 PM
Since I wrote a book and a screenplay for my true tale, I'd have to say pick one and write it. Selling either one is a real pain, and I don't think even I'd get an argument here over that assessment.

You may be able to sell the rights to it without writing it yourself, but an agent would have to tell you if they could arrange it or not.

donald gregory
05-03-2004, 11:08 AM
Publicity is your friend. It doesn't matter so much how good of a story your life may be, just moreso how newsworthy it is.

You see all the big press stories, get movies made about them. Bobbit, Amy Smart, Tonya Harding, The 9 pennsylvania coal miners. Unless you write a best selling book, or have alot of press, I'm afraid no one will really care about your life story in the movie biz.

05-03-2004, 09:42 PM
Unless you write a best selling book, or have alot of press, I'm afraid no one will really care about your life story in the movie biz.

Bobbitt, Buttafucco, Harding. Right.

Despite the several patiently helpful posts, I'm tempted to ask Done Deal to just delete this thread altogether.

:eek :rollin

05-04-2004, 10:39 AM
Reality is painful in this business. The weird and freaky get press while many good stories get a yawn from the gatekeepers and merchants. That's the way it is. Submit, and you'll find out first hand.

05-04-2004, 01:12 PM
Make sure you focus on the story, work it out as a beat sheet or outline -- whatever you normally would do. Because if you pitch it to people, even if you just want them to write, they are worried about story first. It may be an interesting life, but is it an interesting story? A lot of people I know who get pitched to (some friends of mine work for prodcos) say that often a person will just blurt out a vague confusion of events and end the pitch with 'And it's a true story....'

So just make sure you have your pitch ready and that it emphasizes the events you are telling as a story.....
Not to imply you are lazy or anything -- just many people seem to rely too much on 'it really happened to me' as if that's the reason we should care. It still has to look to whomever you're pitching to like a movie.

The 'real life' aspect can help sell a project if it's organized and together.

Good luck, I hope it works out.

05-04-2004, 01:56 PM
SebsWrtrDad ~

Thank you, very much understood.

05-04-2004, 07:28 PM
That's exactly right SebsWrtrDad.

05-11-2004, 02:45 AM
Three years ago I obtained the rights to a person's life story and my lawyer got me a few meetings, but only after I got the LA Times to write about it, which pushed it into the local news. I optioned it to a company at with a studio deal which did not renew after one year and subsequently optioned it to another company with a studio deal that expired without a deal. I did everything I could to get each of these companies to throw down some dough and attach an A-list writer, director, and talent. No dice.

During those two years I pushed hard to get the story told by 20/20, Dateline, and 60 Minutes. Just after my second option expired I finally got Mike Wallace to talk to me. Six months later, the story made the air with Mike Wallace doing the interviews. Two days later I got a call from CAA, ICM, WMA, et al., several production companies and creative execs. The story sold several days later, within a week of hitting the air.

If your story can grab someone's attention, do all that you can to get someone at a News magazine to cover it. I called every producer I could get to at the top three News network shows. Nearly everyone I called, called me back. I made sure to call after hours so I got their voice mail. The story was strong enough that my short message garned many return calls. Some passed, some strung me along for awhile, but I only needed to convince one important person to respond to the story.

If your story is strong enough it will get some attention, but it is more likely to do so if you push it into the limelight. Someone in this thread said you need to make them come to you. They were right. Even though I was able to get some attention before I got the story into the mass media, no one cared much until it made 60 Minutes and they started coming to me.

In regard to the script: Write it now. If you sell the story the buyer has nothing to loose by reading your script. They can always pass, but you have to at least try. I tried. They passed. It was my first sale, so I wasn't surprised.

Good luck!

05-11-2004, 10:18 AM
d5517...what was the story? Whose life?

05-11-2004, 11:13 AM
Whose story is indeed the question? You describe the kind of infamy needed to attract the media. Without that there is little interest, and I doubt many personal stories meet this scratch test.

05-11-2004, 04:35 PM
d5517 ~

Thank you so much for taking the time to post this.

I have so many questions about the actual step by step business details of this story that your patience would be too severely tried. I'll just ask:

How did you find this person to begin with?

You got paid twice by production companies for options to a successfully pitched true story -- based on LAT articles you succeeded in getting into print -- that thereafter expired?

After 60 Minutes, there's a script now in development or production -- or the true story is still sitting in a third (money in the bank) option with no script written yet?

I'm serious: The story was obviously worth buying and developing before it appeared on 60 Minutes . . . . can't anyone in Hollywood think for themself? Or do they just refuse to? (Or do they expect reporters to do all their legwork for them?)

I hope this thread is helping some others, too, because it's become instructive and interesting but moot for me in particular at this point. (My true story is probably just going to stay where it's already been in print. Case closed, unless I spend the years of study and practice required to get an archetypally relevant and resonant script written to sell myself.)

05-11-2004, 07:10 PM
You can write a script faster than that, but we're talking a high level of infamy as I said to attract interest.

05-27-2004, 04:59 AM
Obviously I don't visit here often.

Still no movie, the story is just sitting on the shelf. I'm hoping for a pickup in turnaround.

Sometimes it seems you have all the pieces, but instead outcomes 2 Fast 2 Furious or another Independence Day instead of something intelligent and interesting.

I found the guy (a former FBI Informant) through a friend that knew him.

I'd be here all day if I explained the rest. Email me d5517@hotmail.com.