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Monday, August 31, 2009

Why are you writing a screenplay?

Before you put down one word ask yourself what you expect to get out of this story. Why are you writing it? What do you hope to get out of it? What are your ultimate goals for this story? Knowing where you want to go is essential if you want to get there.

You want it to be produced by a major studio: Good luck! Studios are optioning fewer and fewer specs, almost none are getting produced. So what if you have a really great commercial story and your sure audiences will flock to it? You have two options. The easier of the two is to transform your project into a novel or graphic novel, get that turned into a bestseller and have Hollywood come calling to you. The second way is to get your script into the hands of a celebrity filmmaker or actor and get him to attach himself to the project so it can be sold as a package. Keep in mind, A-Listers will never get a script by an unknown. They have a legion of assistants to prevent that very thing. And most B and C-Listers won’t attach themselves unless there’s money involved or if they just fall in love with the story. But in all cases you have to make sure it has a great high concept and mass market appeal. It should also have great roles for actors. You want to show that you know what the audience really wants.

You want to produce a great low budget indie: Even more difficult. Unless you’re writing a low budget horror, chances are your project will lose money. You need to find investors or an indie producer with his own financing. Obviously you need ayour script to be budget friendly. You have to be able to make this with the loose change from your couch. Again you can help your cause by getting name actors attached to the roles. The whole point is to show off your talent here even with a low budget horror. It should be “festival friendly” so it can be easily entered and wow audiences who see it. Many festival darlings never get distribution but they get recognition for the people who made them.

You want to get attention: There’s a subset of scripts which are actually never ever meant to be produced. I know that sounds crazy but they are meant to get people talking (usually laughing) and getting the writer some good buzz. These have outrageous premises, Idi Amin as your next door neighbor, Bewitched as a lesbian porno, they’re designed to jump out of a very full inbox and grab attention. The thing is, once you have their attention you have to deliver the goods. A number of these “shock and awe” scripts I’ve read have good premises but often fall back into cliché. Some have only catchy titles but are otherwise unreadable. That’s kind of like jumping up and down yelling “look at me!” and then just doing some armpit farts. If your going to go this route you still have to deliver a top notch well written script.

You just want to tell this story: Good for you. Every now and then a writer has to just take a flier on his artistic instincts and see what he comes up with. It’s important to know that you’re more than just loglines and market research. But don’t expect millions to result from this. The truth is we have lots of instincts. Some of them really aren’t worth following, some are worth it but only on a personal level. Years ago I got an itch to write a samurai with a mid life crisis film. I finished it and sent it off to a trusted reader. She wrote me back “Well now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, time to write something you can sell.” There is a chance that your personal vision will result in a record breaking hit, but be honest, if your deep instincts were that in tune with the mass audience you’d already be a huge success.

There are no restrictions on what you can write or imagine. There is a limit to what you can sell or produce. Think about you want your script to do. Don’t be expecting your deeply personal musings to deliver you that six figure deal. Don’t write a low budget indie as if you have Bruckheimer’s pocket book. Think about what you want to get out of your script, then work on delivering the goods.

1 comment:

  1. The harsh business of screenwriting! At the moment, I'm writing to show that I can write. In England it's even more difficult to get something produced. With less television drama hours being produced - apparently, the established writers have first dibs. And I'm not even going to bother mentioning the British Film Industry! :s

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