Matching your idea with the Hollywood business model…
June 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
If you’re in this screenwriting game long enough, you’ll quickly learn after a series of rejections that your idea or screenplay must find a champion who wants to tell your story. Your script could be the greatest piece of writing ever—but it still needs to find a producer who believes in the material and make your type of movie. A successful action producer is probably not looking to produce a small and intimate story about your Grandmother’s summer trip on Cape Cod when she met your Grandfather.
You can’t write in a bubble and ignore the commercial business demands of Hollywood productions. The producer’s business model requires the least amount of risk in a very financially risky business. Even in the lower-budgeted world of indie filmmaking, a movie has to reach the widest possible audience and sell to overseas markets for a shot at financial success. For example, if a producer has an output deal to sell films to the Lifetime TV network, that producer will make films tailored to the network’s audience. The network will sign off on the movie before it goes into production and if your script doesn’t fit into that business model, the producer will not make it. The endgame is having your script produced, the movie finding the largest possible audience, and returning the investor’s money. If your first movie is successful, it will be easier to get another one made. I know it’s not romantic, but making movies is first and always a business—and never forget it.
Feature films with theatrical releases pose a much bigger investment and risk. Many less riskier, smaller films get a limited theatrical release to help with ancillary markets and may be in the multiplex for only a week as larger films continue to fill the distribution pipeline. Big film or small film, a producer must sell to as many foreign markets as possible and try to make the film a successful return on the investor’s money. No producer sets out to make a film that loses money. It’s a gamble every time out, so producers try insure success with big name talent and even bigger ideas with the hopes it will draw in the widest audience.
Some companies or producers have a very narrow scope of the material they want to develop and eventually produce. Maybe your idea is fantastic, but it’s too small of a story and may not sell well overseas. Maybe it’s too grand of an idea to produce on a particular budget? You always have to do your homework on the companies you are pitching and really know if your idea is the type of film they want to make. You can’t pitch an $80 million Sci-Fi action movie to a production company that does films in the $5 million range. You’re wasting everyone’s time. Action films and thrillers do well overseas while comedies have a more difficult time with translating the humor.
I think back to my early days of my screenwriting journey and my first spec script sale and its seven-year journey from script to screen. The script was a tough sell originally because it was a WWII period piece with kids as the main characters. The project bounced around Hollywood for years to all the wrong people. Early on a production company offered me an outright buyout of the script for very little money. The deal was — take the money, walk away and don’t look back. At the time an agent told me to take the offer because, “period films with kids are death now… even Disney isn’t listening to a pitch about the subject.” I slowly learned that I had written a personal script that didn’t immediately fit into Hollywood’s business model of that time. What was I going to do? Soldier on brave screenwriter!
I turned down that company’s the paltry offer, as I had been through too much with the script and now considered it my baby. Regardless of it being commercial or not, my heart and soul went into the writing and I wanted to make this film. I was only going to sell my script to a producer whose passion for the project equaled mine. I never lost faith in the story or my ability to write, and eventually found a producer who wanted to make the film I wrote. Of course the agent who originally told me to sell because “no one is buying period scripts” then offered to broker my new deal, one that I already found and cultivated myself. Typical. I never returned that agent’s call.
If you haven’t written your idea, but have been out pitching it, you may have been on the fence about if you want to commit to finishing a script. If they buy your pitch and you’re paid to write it, they obviously believe in it enough to at least get the script written. Finding the financing and actually producing the film is a whole other adventure.
What if no one bites on your pitch? You have to seriously consider if you want to burn the precious time and write it as a spec screenplay. If you go ahead, ask yourself, “who is my audience and what is the current marketplace for the film I’m writing?” Don’t create an idea based solely on a trend in Hollywood, but be aware if films of a particular genre are being produced—or conversely if they’re not being produced. Your idea may not match the Hollywood business model at this time. These are all important factors to consider when trying to match your idea with the Hollywood business model. It will help you in making your decision to move forward and write the next great Hollywood screenplay.
“If you wish to be a writer, write.” —Epictetus, Greek sage & philosopher
“When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.”—Robert McKee