How does an independent filmmaker get their movie on Netflix?

Filmmaker Question
: Hi there, I'm trying to figure out how to get my documentary movie on Netflix. Is there some kind of process to submit my film? Any guidance? Thanks!

Answer from Peter Hamilton / Documentary & TV Business Consultant

Hi Janice. This is actually a very common question with indie filmmakers. 

Netflix is staffed with a team of documentary buyers who are located in Los Angeles, and increasingly in major global centers like London and Paris.

They do not have a formal submission process, however there are several paths to reach a Netflix buyer:

Option 1: Pitch to Netflix directly

By studying the credits of Netflix Originals, you can identify the executives on their documentaries team who are responsible for the projects that most align with your proposal.

Email the most promising exec for your proposal package. And wait.

And wait some more. 

That’s because the Netflix buyers receive up to a thousand emails a day. 

I heard a producer joke that she needed to have negotiated exclusive access to Elvis’s return from the dead for her package to break thru the clutter.

But a strong proposal based on a powerful story and with a great title and can grab their attention.

Option 2: Find an agent

Agents are expert in improving pitches, arranging meetings with buyers and guiding the development process to greenlight.

They have earned their access and credibility. 

The leading agencies are WME (William Morris Endeavor), CAA (Creative Artists Agency), ICM (International Creative Management) and UTA (United Talent Agency).

There are also smaller agencies and independents who enjoy access to Netflix buyers. 

The top agencies provide their clients with regularly published notes on ‘What networks and platforms want’, and these can be really helpful reality checks for your pitch.

Option 3: Work with a distributor

Distributors meet regularly with Netflix buyers, pitching a portfolio that ranges from their catalog of completed programs to productions that are underway but require finishing funds, and others that are unfunded proposals.

Distributors are always on the lookout for exciting new projects. They can make great partners.

Free B2B e-newsletters like Realscreen and C21 are great sources of information about the activities of distributors.

And to understand how distributors operate, including information on their standard deal terms, search through back issues of my newsletter DocumentaryBusiness.com for presentations by Off The Fence, Windrose and others.

Option 4: Marry up with an A-list producer

Netflix loves celebrities. Their projects are studded with A-lister Hollywood actors and Oscar- or Sundance-winning documentary producers.

I have said in jest: “If it doesn’t star Leo DiCaprio, it better be executive produced by Leo DiCaprio!”

I often advise talented newbies to ‘marry up’ with a production company that has a solid track record with Netflix.

You’ll lose much of the control and equity because they bear the contracted responsibility to deliver. However, by successful partnering, your career will take a giant leap forward.

You can find a list of 200+ A-listers in my NETFLIX Guide here.

Option 5: Hire a top attorney

Specialist attorneys are involved over and over again with Netflix documentary projects. They often enjoy working with talented newcomers. 

For recommendations, over the years I have called organizations like the Sundance, Tribeca and HotDocs documentary festivals; non-profits like the Independent Feature Project and Women in Film & Video; and even successful producers who are often eager to make a referral.   

Option 6: Go Global!

Your film may appeal to a Netflix executive who specializes in buying for markets outside the U.S.

Netflix operates in close to 200 territories.

What’s more, the company is coming under increasing pressure from politicians and regulators to buy locally-produced and -appealing content.

You may find a fit with a regional Netflix buyer or one of the preferred production companies in the regions.

You can find a list of Netflix executives in my Netflix Producer's Guide, or research their names and activities in the B2B newsletters.

In Short

There’s no silver bullet for making the killer pitch to Netflix, though hopefully these suggestions will help you lay out a credible path to submit your great project to Netflix!

NEW! Netflix 2021: What You Need To Know Now!

About The Author

Peter Hamilton is a former CBS executive who has directed his New York-based international consulting firm for 30+ years.

His clients have included NBC, A+E Networks, National Geographic Channels, Global Canal+ and BBC; the Rockefeller Foundation; and governments, including Singapore’s IMDA. He has planned and helped launch dozens of channels, notably for Discovery International.

Peter is the founder, editor & publisher of DocumentaryBusiness.com, giving weekly insider analysis to 20,000+ executives and producers worldwide.

His office, Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc produces numerous industry reports/guides including: Netflix 2021: What You Need To Know Now!

Hamilton was educated at The Wharton School, UPenn (MBA) and UMelbourne and regularly presents at major conferences, including MIPDoc and Sunny Side of the Doc.

NEW! Netflix 2021: What You Need To Know Now!

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