Thursday, November 26, 2009

Today's Nugget: Well-written vs. Marketable

[h/t to JPenny for today's topic!]

Before I moved to LA, I really thought I knew what a marketable script was. It's a well-written script, right?

I've seen lots of scripts since then & "well-written" does not necessarily mean "marketable."

Sometimes a well-written script will not get made b/c the budget is too small, or it doesn't fit the company's slate of pictures, or simply b/c it's a great read but no one will come see it. ex. I covered an amazing children's fantasy spec script by an up-and-coming director for $15M. But the budget was waaaaay too small, especially with all the talking CGI animals. That is the reality of screenwriting.

To me, a marketable script is a script that is:
a) well written;
b) at the right budget; &
c) will draw in a crowd. (NOTE: I didn't say it had to be a large crowd, but a crowd.)

Why? I've heard the head of a production co. put it this way: If he loves a script, but knows it's not going to make a lot of money, it has to at least break even....or he won't be able to stay in business to make more films.

So how do you know what's marketable?

Step 1 - You should educate yourself to the hilt.
- You must know the market, what's selling, what's not, and WHY.
- You should be reading the trades every day (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com).
- You should be aware of sale trends. (ex. The Scoggins Report, an unofficial tally of monthly spec sales, is very enlightening. http://www.lifeonthebubble.com/).
- You should streamline your script & avoid excesses (ex. Is the 6th car explosion really necessary?)

Step 2 - When you sit down to write, you should throw it away.

Yep, set it aside while you write, & don't limit yourself. I can't emphasize this strongly enough: WRITE THE BEST SCRIPT YOU CAN. Focus mainly on the character flaws, escalating conflicts, structure. You should be writing to entertain. You should be focused on quality. Always, always quality.

If it's a truly great script, a funny thing happens: You automatically streamline. You talk about universal themes that speak to people. Your unique voice begins to shine through & that's what sells.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: You need to know the market, but not be ruled by it. Don't go chasing the latest trend, b/c once you do, you've lost your voice & no longer stand out.

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