Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hot Script

"What happens when the market is suddenly flooded with scripts of the
same genre you've just written? Say you've finally finished what you fondly imagine to be the best spin on the space vampire movie, only to find ten other space vampire movies have just gone into production. Will it worsen the chances of anyone taking yours on, or does it depend on how those space vampire movies go down at the box office? Will a cracking space vampire script regardless, or does good (or bad) timing have more to do with these things than anyone admits?"


Sci-vamp-com. There’s something there...

The answer to the question is that it’s really a mix of all of the above. If you have a great script, it doesn’t matter what’s gone before it or what’s happening in the market, someone will want it. But at the same time, if you’ve written a specific genre that’s enjoying a current trend - last year’s zombies e.g. - then it’s unlikely that your particular take will merit a purchase, no matter how good it is. There is the possibility that canny producers will option it for an appropriate length of time and patiently wait for the genre to come back into vogue. And then there’s the matter of your standing in the business - are you a newbie that no-one’s heard of (pass), or someone with at least one screen credit and/or solid TV background (consider)?

But this issue raises a whole heap of other questions and considerations for the budding screenwriter. Do I try to second guess the market and write the genre that I think will sell? Or do I write what’s in my soul and let the script stand apart with its impressive quality and heart? The standard advice to new screenwriters is “write what you know” because you need to establish your original voice and talent. “Write what you know” doesn’t necessarily mean “write about your own life”. It means “write what you know about the human condition”. It’s assembling your experiences and emotions and transferring them into original characters and ideas which you then dramatise into a satisfying story.

There are two genres that are constantly in demand, no matter how exhausted they seem to be in the spec market or at the box office. Romantic comedies and horrors. These films are consistently appreciated and requested by the key cinema going audience of 15-25 yr olds. So, if you’re a genre writer, the smart approach would be to gen up on what makes romcoms and horrors work, understand the process inside out, then write an original one of your own and watch the offers roll in as you sit by the pool sipping a pina colada. It is interesting though how a particular genre will establish a trend. It seems that all genres are cyclical in their popularity and demand. Whatever’s out of favour now will be fought over in a few years’ time. I predict a glut of werewolf films to be the next hit for horror while romcoms are generally stuck in the ‘boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl’ routine so it’s a snappy premise and equally beguiling style that wins out there. In an interview, Richard Curtis commented that when he wrote Four Weddings, he wanted to write something that no-one knew as well as he did - the wedding circuit and its impact on a group of friends who have reached ‘that time of life’. So he combined his original voice and insight into a genre script and the result was a unique, warm and hilarious romantic comedy.

I think, at the very least, you’ve got to write what you enjoy. I could probably come up with a good idea for a romcom but I don’t think I could write it. If I did, it might be efficient in terms of concept and structure, but an astute reader/exec would see that my heart wasn’t in it. So, I try to come up with ideas and stories that I think are cool and would love to see, and if they’re similar to what’s already out there or tread on familiar genre territory, then it’s up to me to make it as original and subversive and appealing as possible. It’s always going to attract attention that way; get a few meetings, talk about options etc, and hey you never know, it just may be the script that is the key to unlocking the gate to a happy career.

5 comments:

Steve Dix said...

Is that why "Sean of the Dead" works then? - as a romantic horror comedy?

Danny Stack said...

I think why Shaun works is because Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg had developed a strong reputation thru Spaced (status in the biz). They love zombie films; they knew the genre inside out. And it's genuinely funny. And zombies were very much 'in' last year.

james henry said...

Useful stuff - thannks very much!

The Moviequill said...

excellent post Danny, sometimes I find myself wrapped up with the current script sales and what is out in the theatres and wonder if I should bend, twist or tailor my current one to fit in with what is 'hot'. But part of me does listen to sensibility (whether that is the little voice in my head or the little voices coming to me by blog comments and emails to be later determined) and I just keep doing what I have to do

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