Today’s episode about pitch tape budgets may be the most serious we’ve ever recorded. It includes important tips for anyone who wants to pitch TV shows, but also a warning. We’ve received a cluster of emails in past weeks reporting something that concerns us. Some companies are asking aspiring producers to fork over thousands of dollars. Why? To create pitch tapes or sizzle reels for these producers’ original TV show ideas. Is this legit? Should you consider this? Would established production companies ask you for $30,000 or more to make a pitch tape for your concept? We have important answers for you. You’ll learn the real “why” behind pitch tape budgets. Plus, sizzle reel goals you need to set for yourself, no matter what.
Pitch Tape Budgets, Goals, and Realities
We’ve discussed pitch tapes (a.k.a. sizzle reels) before. Essentially, a pitch tape is like a “movie trailer” for your unscripted TV show concept — whether for a documentary series, reality TV show, or even feature length doc. (For instance, we made pitch tape for Dying to do Letterman originally framing it as a documentary series long before it made it to theaters and streaming as a feature film.)
The goal when making a pitch tape is to get a TV network or legit production company interested in your concept. This begins a journey that hopefully ends with your TV show concept on the air.
There’s no doubt that pitch tapes are an important part of our industry. Our own pitch tapes jump-started our careers and have sold numerous TV shows. That said, we’ve also preached about not going broke while putting together these kinds of presentation tapes.
Playing the Numbers Game (Without Going Broke)
The honest truth is that every individual TV show concept pitched (including those created by Mark Burnett, J.J. Abrams, the two of us, or anyone in Hollywood) is a long shot. You always pitch more shows than you actually sell. When you need to pitch so much, so often, it just doesn’t make sense to spend big, big money on any one pitch tape.
In fact, when we first started out, we never spent more than $500 out-of-pocket on our pitch tapes (and often far less than that. Granted, we were also shooting, editing, and making the graphics for our own productions, so that helped a lot.) To this day we warn people not to spend more than a few hundred dollars on their first-crack at a pitch tape.
Scary Emails from Some of You
That’s why we were so concerned when we received several emails — all within a relatively short time — from people asking if it was normal for production companies to ask them to personally fund pitch tapes. And these were enormous pitch tape budgets! Tens of thousands of dollars to make a sizzle reel for a concept these producers had pitched.
Most frightening was that the producers who reached out to us were seriously considering paying up — all so their ideas could eventually get “pitched to TV networks.”
Now, we’re not saying that, in all these cases, there was some kind of malicious intent behind these big asks. We don’t know these companies in question (nor did our agents.) That doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who run these places are trying to “rip producers off” or are “bad people.” We don’t know or understand their business models.
However, our own production company would never ask someone to pony up out-of-pocket cash for a show concept we wanted to pursue. Neither would any of the companies we worked at when we were younger, or those companies we consider peers in the unscripted TV industry. In our experience, that’s never been how it works.
That’s why today we discuss:
- Good reasons for big — and small — pitch tape budgets
- Three considerations for every pitch tape you make
- Developing your pitch tapes in stages
- A simple sentence to remember when working with legit production companies
- The one thing you should gladly give to any production company
- How to get more lasting benefits out of your pitch tape budgets
- Should you charge up your credit cards to make a pitch tape?
- The rare circumstances under which your might consider spending big money on a pitch tape
For all this and more, hit that giant red button above!
Transcript Coming Soon!
Helpful and Related Links
- What is a pitch tape? Should You Make One? Title says it all. More in-depth info on making sizzle reels and pitch tape budgets.
- Sizzle Reels: Budgets, Investors, and More – more good info, especially if you’ve ever considered trying to get investors for your pitch tapes.
- Sizzle Reel Secrets: How We Sell Shows – more specifics about making great pitch tapes.
- In our free ebook How to Pitch a Reality Show, we have a whole section discussing reality TV pitch materials.
- Thinking of (gasp!) shooting a whole TV pilot on your own? You need a great reason, and selling a TV show DOES NOT COUNT. Check out Should You Shoot Your Own TV Pilot?
- Find us on Twitter and Facebook
Let’s Make Some TV Together
Are you trying to break into unscripted TV, reality television, or documentary series? Want to pitch to our company? Here’s what you need to know:
Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.