Prime Time ’18: How to pitch Netflix

Netflix exec Elizabeth Bradley sits down with Halfire's Noreen Halpern to talk shop on getting shows on the platform.

Netflix is a complicated topic in Canada – both a foreign giant with high consumer appeal, and a disruptor with deep pockets. So anticipation has been high for the company’s first major public appearance since the Creative Canada announcement last fall, in which Netflix became the de facto poster child for the government’s cultural policy.

Amidst all that, Elizabeth Bradley, VP of original content coproductions, took the stage Friday morning at Prime Time in Ottawa, offering a friendly demeanor to a room that was likely an equal mix of enthusiasts and skeptics. She was joined by moderator and longtime producer Noreen Halpern (Alias Grace), who got quickly down to business. “I’d like to get the big ‘drinking game’ question out of the way,” she said. “Five hundred million dollars in Canada: let’s talk about it.”

“Netflix is going to invest a minimum of half a billion dollars over the next five years,” Bradley said in response. “Half a billion dollars, if you didn’t catch that,” she added jokingly.

She immediately made it clear Netflix is keeping its definition of Canadian content pretty loose, saying that it will spend on “production that happens in Canada, shows that we can find in Canada that Netflix can greenlight, content that we can acquire that has been produced by Canadian producers. And we want to do all of that in lots of different formats. Everyone wants to know how and when it can be done. We don’t know that – that’s the fun of it. That’s why we’re meeting everyone, that’s why we are here.”

With that in on the table, Halpern steered the conversation to pitching and content, drilling down on exactly what Netflix wants to see in pitches, and how. While the company’s definition is understandably broad – it has 117 million subscribers globally –  Bradley was specific about how the company likes to be pitched.

Because it is not a traditional developer of content, Bradley said she and her colleague are looking for a strong vision, clear ideas and innovative “ways in” to a story, all of which they’d prefer to see in a script, delivered to the company by a professional.

Bradley was explicit that she and her colleagues are not interested in workshopping an idea in the room: they don’t want writers asking where Netflix thinks the show could go next, or what a character might do. In short, she said, they are not looking to “make your show for you.”

She readily admitted the company doesn’t tend to invest in early development and that’s why they like to work with traditional broadcast partners.

“It’s definitely not that Netflix doesn’t develop but, as I said, we’re looking to get stuff on screen, so spending time that could be years and lots of projects on the development cycle right now is not the primary focus for us,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we would never develop but it’s been part of, for us, the incredible pleasure of getting to do a co-commission, or as we call them, coproductions… we’re aware for us that it’s a unique pleasure that we’re taking advantage of that initial development.

“In the short term,” she continued, “the fastest way to get your show made is to come to us with a script, as we continue to learn who the talented writers are in every country, and the producers who can execute it. Show us you are ready to execute and we are thrilled to greenlight straight to series.”

And what is the kind of content that will earn that greenlight?

Noting that Netflix is looking for “everything,” Bradley specified that the global nature of the platforms means stories need, to a certain degree, to have a universal touch-point. This doesn’t mean, she stressed, that a show must have multiple international locations and a multinational cast. Rather, like the platform’s The End of the Fucking World, a story about two 16 year olds, a show must have a a touch-point people universally have access to (like being 16 years old). “What’s essential is that you can relate to what that character’s going through.”

Correction: this article previously stated that The End of the Fucking World was “upcoming” when in fact it is currently on air.