How To Pitch by Leftfield’s Brent Montgomery

Pawn Stars: Press Shot. The History Channel.
Pawn Stars: Press Shot. The History Channel.

Pawn Stars Producer Brent Montgomery recently sold 80% of his company to ITV Studios for a reported $380 million. Montgomery was the subject of much discussion at last week’s Realscreen West … There’s the ground-breaking Pawn Stars season order of 104 episodes, and the strategic path from Show Runner to media mogul orchestrated by agents (according to the agents anyway). We caught up with Brent Montgomery during ‘Meet A Mentor’ and learned the tricks that have helped Leftfield to reach it’s position today.

Brent Montgomery at Realscreen West  (pic credit Jacqui Moore).
Brent Montgomery at Realscreen West (pic credit Jacqui Moore).
  1. Use Your Relationships Outside of the Programming World – Montgomery takes time to build relationships with other network departments (eg. marketing and research). The rationale is two-fold. Firstly it enables Leftfield to pitch to people who are passionate about their ideas, secondly it helps them to get an idea of what the networks are looking for.
  2. Just Get Your First Deal – Regardless of whether you make money or not Montgomery stated the importance of getting your first deal. He advised not to put all of your eggs in one basket and to consider partnering with a production company or getting an agent to increase the chance of pick-up. Production companies and agents have template deals with most networks already in place. (Leftfield’s revenue split is project dependent but their aim is always to be fair and competitive … they want you to come back).
  3. Be Mindful Of Your Investment – This refers to both time and money. Montgomery spent a year producing a 32 minute pilot that didn’t sell. He says:“I lost a lot of money, but I learned a lot along the way”.
  4. Develop For More Than One Network – Networks have passed on series which Leftfield has been able to get commissioned elsewhere. It’s important to develop projects that can be pitched to more than one player.
  5. Ask For Quick Turnarounds – Network execs and program mandates can change rapidly, so its important to get your deals done as quickly as possible. Some networks prevent you from shopping your idea elsewhere while they consider it (such as MTV). Leftfield doesn’t pitch to these networks.
  6. Be Organized – Being organized with your ideas is crucial. Leftfield has a development grid (listing title, treatment and sizzle) enabling them to stay on top of their ideas and pitch to multiple networks, or those quick changes in program mandates and changes at the top.
  7. Open Up Your Idea – The aim (and the Networks’ aim) is to achieve a long-running series. It’s crucial that you’re sizzle opens up a portal to on-going episodes and renewable seasons.
  8. Make Your Sizzle Specific – There is no magic formula to sizzle reels, it really does depend on the subject. You may lead with character over narrative, narrative over character, or shoot a specific scene. Generally your sizzle should fall between 1 – 6 mins but Montgomery once sold a series on a 45 second concept tape. You don’t always have to pitch with tape. Sometimes a single picture or title can sell an idea …although it’s a harder sell.
  9. Don’t Tell A Network Exactly What The Show Is – Network Execs take pride in being part of the development process, so your pitch should make room to allow them to do shape the series in their way.
  10. Invest In Casting – Characters are critical, they are the writers and actors in the non-scripted world. However Montgomery warned of falling in love with the talent for a show that could work with other talent.
  11. Be Honest With Your Talent – Only 2 out of 10 series get picked up for a second season, so it’s important to be honest about the commitment and expectation. Montgomery tells his contributors: “This is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You’ll have to invest your time and money … are you sure you want to do this?”. Companies get on board with reality TV as you’re able to help them to do something that they can’t do for themselves. (Some production companies may factor this into their contracts and take a percentage of the upswing in their business).
  12. Toughen Up – Montgomery got used to hearing ‘no’ in one of his first jobs doing sales straight out of college. He hears no 80 – 90% of the time. You have to toughen up. Practice pitching and ask for honest feedback.

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