How to Break into Hollywood

How to Break into Hollywood with the Creators of Stranger Things

How do you break into Hollywood? How do you break into Hollywood when you have no existing connections to build upon, no relationships to leverage and no network to work?

Well, that’s the situation the Duffer Brothers found themselves in back in 2007. If the Duffer name doesn’t ring a bell, you will certainly know them as the creators of global Netflix hit show Stranger Things.

So how did they get their first break in the Hollywood scriptwriting scene and, ultimately, successfully pitch a new TV series to Netflix with them attached to write and direct?

And how can any of this help you find your way into the film and television industry?

Well, they outline their exact process in one lesson from their Masterclass course, The Duffer Brothers Teach Developing an Original TV Series.

In this short article, I’ll share some of my practical takeaways from that speifiic lesson, talk a bit about how incredible Masterclass is (because it really is)! and try to convince you that you should sign up today and start drip-feeding world-class inspiration into your life on a daily basis. Discount Code?

Several times a year offers a 2-4-1 deal where, if you’re feeling generous, you can buy one, gift one of their subscriptions, or if you’re feeling thrifty, you and a friend could split the cost and effectively get Masterclass for 50% off.

One of Masterclass’ longest running sale periods is from Thanksgiving/Black Friday through till Christmas, (RIGHT NOW!) but they also usually offer the same deal around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day too.

At their current pricing this means you and a friend could get a year’s subscription to Masterclass for just $60 or effectively $5/ month!

Masterclass filmmakers on film editing

If you’re looking for some direct advice for film and video editors from some of the immense filmmaking talents who also teach courses, then check out this previous post, Master Filmmakers on the Craft of FIlm Editing, which features editorial wisdom from Ron Howard, Ken Burns, Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, Jodie Foster, David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, and Hans Zimmer!

Duffer Brothers Masterclass Review

Before I get into the Duffer Brother’s story from their lesson, Making The Pitch, here is a quick overview of what is all about.

What is

It’s a rare opportunity to learn directly from some of the greatest filmmakers, musicians, chefs, business leaders, politicians, writers, comedians, journalists, gardeners, magicians, hostage negotiators, investors, entrepreneurs, mathematicians, astronauts and much more in a concise, constructive and high-calibre learning environment.

Is worth the money?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s an annual subscription that works out to $10/month on the most accessible tier. (Or $5/month if you and a friend split the cost of their limited 2-4-1 offer!)

I’m a huge fan of Masterclass and have enjoyed learning from the world’s most exciting lives and minds since its launch in 2015.

The main reason I love it is because I’m constantly curious to learn new and interesting things from people who have actually built up a life-time of authority on a subject, rather than smashed something half-baked onto YouTube.

In today’s amateur info-opinion saturated, fake-news poisoned media landscape that is certainly worth $10 a month!

Here are some quick links to my detailed Masterclass Reviews:

What does the Duffer Brothers class cover?

The course is 18 lessons long, lasting over 5 hours so it’s meaty enough to be useful but not so long as to be exhausting. Each lesson is around 15 – 30 minutes. So you could easily digest the whole course in 30 minute increments over a week or two.

Here’s a brief outline of what most of the course includes:

  • How to Develop a TV Series Idea
  • Conceiving the idea for Stranger Things
  • The Duffer Brother’s Approach to Writing
  • Character Development
  • Developing a Season Arc
  • Writing Your Story Outline
  • Writing Demo: How to Write a Hook
  • Getting to the Pitch
  • The Stranger Things Pitch
  • You’ve Sold Your Script. Now what?

Is the Duffer Brothers Masterclass any good?

Yes, absolutely! It’s a great opportunity to walk through their creative process in detail and see how they shape an idea all the way from their first concepts to something you’ll actually see on screen.

They open up their notebooks and pitch decks so you can see exactly how they did it and they share their precise pitching process and techniques in a solid amount of detail. For any fans of Stranger Things, there are plenty of insider details and discussions about the show, so you won’t be left wanting there.

A fun aspect of the course is that they also work through a hypothetical spin-off idea ‘live’ on camera, so you can see how they sift, filter and expand on ideas in real-time.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the class was how humble the Brothers come across as, and they seem to be genuinely keen to share as much as they can about what’s helped them make it into the film and TV world, in the hopes that it really will help you find your way into the industry too.

Overall, as an editor, the things I took away from the class were more to do with the business side of the industry, rather than direct creative insights, although anything you can do to strengthen your understanding of storytelling and writing as the underpinnings of your editorial craft, is time well spent.

How to Work Your Way into Hollywood

While this story is about scripts and pitching projects, the same basic principles apply to other industry sectors as well. You have some form of ‘calling card’ piece – maybe a reel, maybe a short film, maybe a pitch deck – something to introduce you and display your talents.

In the Duffer Brother’s case, they had their first feature film script, called Origin, but absolutely no industry connections at all. So what do you do? How do you get someone to read your script, and how do you use it to create worthwhile connections?

Here is their story in a few select quotes from the lesson, Getting To The Pitch.

Step #1 – Getting Past the Gate Keepers

What we’re gonna talk about now is how do you get [your script] to Netflix or HBO or Amazon? And the answer to that is, you’re gonna need an agent or a manager.

Why do you need an agent or a manager? Basically, they’re your conduit into the whole Hollywood system, right? So they’re able to get your script out to producers and producers will be able to get your script to studios and networks such as Netflix.

So the key is just gonna be to find someone that responds to your script and that can represent you and get it in the hands of the right people. And again, all of these people know the right people. So you just gotta get it in their hands and they gotta like your script, which seems simple, right?

So, okay, I can’t send my script to Amazon or Netflix or Apple. So I’m just gonna send it to some management companies or agencies. Unfortunately, it’s also not that simple. They’re also gonna most likely throw your script in the trash and not even look at it.

And this sort of becomes a bit of a chicken in the egg situation.

The Duffer Brothers

Step #2 – OK, so how do you get an agent?

What you’re gonna ask, which is a completely valid question, which is, well, if I need an agent to sell my script, but an agent won’t read my script, how do I get an agent?

And that is the most complicated part of this entire process. And I wish there was a better system in order for this to work, but we’re gonna at least tell you how we managed to do it.

Hopefully your advantage is you have a really good script. That’s the best thing that you can have going for you, so that when you do make that connection, you hand it to them, the script is going to work for them.

What do you do if you don’t have connections?

We did every internship we could find, and we met as many people as we could. We tried to put in and do a lot of good work there. I mean, it’s not the most fun thing in the world, these internships but do good work.

And so I guess what you might ask then is, okay, so I found an internship. And so now what do I do? Do I just hand this brilliant script that I’ve written to someone in the company and they’re gonna read it and they’re gonna get me an agent?

It’s also not that simple.What you really need to do, like Matt’s saying is, you just gotta put in the work.

Step #3 – Earning Trust & Finding Your Franklin

I was working at a company called Appian Way and one of my bosses there was Franklin Leonard. He runs something called The Blacklist, which is a list of people’s favorite scripts they’ve read this year within Hollywood.

So the point is, Franklin was a great boss and I did work with him and you start to earn trust and I remember I told him about this show called The Wire and I got him hooked on it and he became obsessed.

And just little things like that, again, just like with your scripts, baby steps, you start to earn people’s trust. You didn’t hand Franklin the script the day you walked in there. No. Like he’ll never look at it.

I think this was probably at least after 9, or 10 months of working there. And I go, hey, here’s a script. If you happen to have time, I’d love your thoughts on it. Franklin read the script. And again, we wrote this script in college. It’s a pretty messy script. It has a lot of issues. But it has a pretty strong first five to 10 pages.

Whatever it was that convinced Franklin, he thought that there was promise in this and he sent it to a couple agents. They also thought there was promise in it. We took those meetings and we had, and through that we were able to get agents.

So the point is, you have to find your Franklin. It may not be through internships. It may be through some other way, but the key is you need someone with connections to hand your script to an agent and say, “Hey, this is good.”

Step #4 – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

It’s still gonna take time. It was a couple years of interning and working before we were able to even get our script in the hand of someone who knew an agent, much less meet an agent. So it is a process and it is gonna take some time.

So just to show the other side of it, and I think I was just as good of an intern, if not a better intern than my brother, right? And I put in about a year and a half at this company that shall not be named, and I think I did good, solid work, and I hand the same exact script over to them, and say, will you read it for us?

Nothing happened, okay? It didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t send it to an agent or a manager, right? They didn’t help. So this is why don’t bank on one single person or one single company. Spread out, if it’s just you, just then you need to spread out and go to a bunch of different internships. Don’t bank on any one person or any one company and just try to meet as many people as you can.

Step #5 – Taking Meetings

So what happens next? The agents then send it out to producers who they think would be a good fit for the project and then they’ll see which producers are interested. Then we met with those producers who were interested and then you just hear them out and you see which ones seem to get you and get the project and seem genuinely passionate about them, pick a producer. That’s a key step is picking a producer.

And then that producer along with the agent will, when they feel the time is right, send it out to studios. And then they read it.

We’re like, here we go! And we’re just waiting for the big paycheck and waiting for someone to buy it. And that did not happen, which happens all the time by the way.

But that’s okay, because even though the script didn’t sell, we were taking all these meetings. We’re meeting some big time producers. We’re meeting over with studios. And it felt like, okay, suddenly the door has opened and we’re into this world. We haven’t made a penny yet, but at least we’re starting to make connections.

And again, once you know people and you know the right people, the key is just gonna be to write a script that works. And unfortunately, Origin didn’t fully work, which is why it didn’t sell. So, it is what it is, but it got us in the door and that’s the key.

I think with your first script, listen, I hope it sells. I hope it goes out and sells in a bidding war. But if not, if you can get it to open that door for you and get into the world, that is a huge first step.

And it was a huge step for us in terms of getting to where we are now.

The Duffer Brothers

Don’t forget you can try for yourself for $120/year or $60/year if you and a friend split the cost on their holiday 2-4-1 subscription offer.

More Creative Career Wisdom from The Duffer Brothers

The Duffer Brothers spoke at their alma mater Chapman University, about their journey into the industry and the process of getting to write and direct Stranger Things.

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