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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Screenwriter's Guide to Success Part 2: The Market

Is your screenplay going to sell or just sit on the shelf? Well, what is it? What are you writing? What are you working on now? Are you writing a high concept buddy comedy? A twist filled low budget thriller? An epic fantasy? A historical biography of Cardinal Richelieu?

A project’s fate is usually determined in the first few moments of its creation. Success or failure often begins before the first word is committed to paper. How is this possible? How can your screenplay be doomed to exile on your hard drive before you’ve even started? Simple. You didn’t check the market beforehand.

Writer’s live off of pure inspiration and creativity. They live for the moment when they’ll come across an article or some piece of random information and then suddenly everything clicks and they’re off to the writing race track. In a matter of days inspiration flowers into a fully formed vision of a story. It’s great. It’s awesome. It’s completely and utterly not what the studios are looking for at the time.

Here’s the thing you’re not bigger than the market. If horror is out right now, you’d have to be somebody of the stature of JJ Abrams to get an original horror project greenlit. What chance do you think you have as an unknown?

Always have an ear to the pavement. Pay attention to what is selling and also what isn’t. This is where your representation is a big help. Sometimes it goes part and parcel with getting representation. At least it did for me. I got representation because I asked what was selling at that time. A company I had developed a relationship with told me. Family films, they said. I went home and started brainstorming family film loglines. By the end of the week I had a logline that caught their interest. A few months later I had a script the company was excited about. Later that day I signed with them. I had spent the previous seven years busting my head against the brick wall of Hollywood, trying on my own to get somebody, anybody to read my work. I spend seven years as a nomad. Then suddenly, with just asking the right questions, in three months I was repped. It was a happy day and an eye opener. If I’d been stubborn about writing what I alone found interesting I might still be wandering the desert.

There are so many out there who are still wandering. They write from the heart and can’t believe nobody would want to read their work. At some point it really does become a question of do you want to make a sale or not. If you want to make a sale, then you have to give something the buyer actually wants. If you have a manager or agent, ask them what’s really in demand. Studios execs probably call them up every day with wish lists. Those areas we want to concentrate your efforts. If you don’t have representation yet, you can still find out. There are blogs by people, like this one, in the know who will tell you. You can also read the trades and the spec sale websites and work out what’s hot and what’s not. You have a lot of options available.

Writing is a career like any other. You can plan for success. Success isn’t assured by planning but it sure helps.


  1. Hi, Michael. I like your advice. I tell aspiring fiction writers the same thing all the time. They assume that because something is interesting to them, it's interesting to everyone. Even one of my critique partners recently had to ponder the question, "Do you want to write the book the way you have it, or do you want to sell it?" I'm just barely beginning a screenwriting project. I've never written sceenplays before but looking forward to learning how. I write romance novels in real life but my script/movie ideas are not romances. Victoria Chancellor.

  2. Victoria,

    Welcome to the world of screenwriting. You're in for a fun ride. Don't cut your ties to Romance entirely. Romantic Comedies are one of those genres that can sell!



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