If you’re a screenwriter, you have two options. Produce it yourself, or option your work to a producer. In order to option your work, you need to understand who is going to buy your movie. Unfortunately, there’s more bad and incomplete information than there is good information out there. Recently, a client of mine forwarded an email he got back from a contact in Hollywood who worked as a script doctor. This email epitomized that bad information, so I thought I’d redact any contact information and publish it for others to learn from as well. (I did check with my client first, and he was good with it.)
Here’s what the script doctor said Hollywood wanted. Their responses in title, mine in the paragraphs following.
1. Contained Thriller or Horror: ideally one location about 5-8 actors (no A-listers needed). This is most scripts being bought or sold these days.
I know this because I've repped several of them. Most times the script doctors don’t actually know how the producers or production company end up getting paid, as the writers (and ESPECIALLY "Script Doctors”) are paid up front
More than 20,000 films are made in the US every year, at most 10% of those get distribution to any meaningful degree. Thrillers and horror films are the only projects that have a chance at getting into that to 10% without IP or Talent, but in the end you still end up competing with 2,000 other films, most of which have better assets and positioning than you do. This is why I'm increasingly advocating other paths forward.
In general, the only way this is advantageous is if you produce it yourself. We're doing family films because that's what most every buyer wants right now, and there's an easier pipeline to follow that has a better chance of success if it gets done.
2. Something with an existing IP. A novel, a graphic novel/comic book, short story, a short film... anything that already has a fan base or following ideally.
This is why I’m helping this client option the rights to some books, as it's the most reliable path to success even if its slightly longer path it is a better chance at success. If you want to get a film made first to make that part easier, it is a viable path. However, if you want to raise a larger amount of money so your film has a better chance at finding a bigger distributor and bigger audience, then you’ll need some level of recognizable IP. I heard Brett Ratner say in an interview at AFM several years back that if he was just starting out what he’d do is read voraciously and find the newest up and coming IPs. To option and use to build an audience. The alternative is to generate your own IP, but that in itself is a very long road fraught with danger, as this video from Lindsay Ellis illustrates very well.
RELATED VIDEO: HOW TO GET YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED IN 10 YEARS OR LESS!
Also: HA! He thanks expanded short films sell. That hasn't really been true for more than a decade since the amount of ready to sell feature films being made has ballooned, in fact, it's almost like features are the new shorts in terms of distribution revenue. But that's a topic for another day.
3. A specific character piece for an actor looking to stretch themselves. If you’ve got a character-driven piece and can get an A list actor attached because it is something they haven’t done before, you’re good to go.
I heard this a lot in film school, but the real-world applications are limited. That is to say, that while there is a kernel of truth in this, when it comes down to the implementation it's really more a platitude or truism at this point. There’s a strong case to be made that casting against type has its merit. The issue is that in general, the only way you can make it work is if you have a direct path to the name talent you want to talk to, and even then you have to get lucky and catch them at the right time. There are reasons I know this that I can’t publicly say…
4. Anything that will do well overseas. With China eating up all of our movies, they need scripts that are, fun, fast, action packed and translate well and easily (aka not a lot of dialogue).
Again, something of a platitude or truism. Of course, you have to think about overseas, which is one big reason that comedies and dramas are complete no gos. The books below go into that in more detail than I can in a blog. (yes, there are affiliate fees, but it's only pennies and I picked the books custom for this blog.)
That’s the basics right now. Of course, the caveat is if you write a brilliant script, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, but in reality, your chances of having it made, sold, and even optioned are very difficult roads ahead.
And here's the crux of the disagreement with this script doctor. The brilliant script isn't so much as a way of breaking through any of the other things you need to be listed above, it's more a prerequisite to succeeding with any of them. We all hear stories of films making it through the studio system, but these are the exceptions, not the rules.
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My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of Producer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.