Does your idea fit into Hollywood’s business model?
February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
If you’ve ever pitched your ideas to producers and executives, you quickly learn there is a huge difference between art and commerce. It’s a given your ideas must be creative and artistic, but do they fit into the business model of the producer or executive you are pitching? As they listen to your ideas, they will be primarily be thinking if they can take your idea to their bosses, and does their parent studio or network make your kind of movie or series? You need to know this going into the meeting so you don’t waste their time with ideas that are completely off the mark. The same goes for your spec screenplays. It’s a hell of a lot easier to pitch an idea and have it rejected, than working on a script for six months that ends up rejected because of the story. You can easily tweak a pitch, but a screenplay will need to be rewritten. Time passes quickly as you pursue a career. You must learn how to use time efficiently for the biggest result. Don’t toil away on a screenplay that is taking you nowhere. What’s the point? Move on to another. If you’re writing screenplays that are not selling or opening the necessary doors, maybe it’s time to reconsider what you’re writing. It’s as important as “how” you write it.
When you start screenwriting on assignment, you will be very aware of the difference between “art” and Hollywood. Yes, there is room for artistic merit, but the screenplay has to match the notes from a variety of people above your pay grade. Everyone from the producers, executives, a director, and the buyers. Sure, you probably would have written the screenplay differently as your spec, but you don’t have that luxury now—you are under a contract and a mandate to follow a story treatment that either you created or it was given to you. This is a “work for hire” job and most screenwriters who actually do work for a living do so with screenplay assignment jobs. If that’s a harsh reality for you, remember that you can protect your lofty ideals by staying at your day job and watching other screenwriters live out their dreams.
You also need to know the type of movies or series that were recently picked up or are in development. If you are pitching a movie, make sure it’s not something that is in development or in production especially with a big name talent attached. Your idea will also have a much tougher time to make it through and you’ll waste precious time. Years ago, my then writing partner and I wrote a movie on spec based on a true story. Our manager sent it out only to learn that an “A-list” actor had a similar project set up at a major production company. Apparently, he had always wanted to play this real character and was taking the steps to do just that. Do you think our script moved forward? A script from two unknown writers? No, but the production company actually requested to read our script, probably to see their competition . It didn’t help for our sale and our script quickly became a writing sample. You can’t win every time out, but you try with solid material.
You also don’t want to pitch ideas that are similar to movies or TV series that did not do well. Imagine you pitch your idea to a company that just had a movie bomb or a series get cancelled and your idea is very close to their last nightmare. I doubt you’ll get another shot with that company as there are plenty of other writers who did their homework and will pitch ideas they need. This is why knowledge is precious currency in Hollywood.
I pitched a producer who has direct openings at two networks. She loved my idea and wants to take me to the networks to pitch, but enlightened me about what each network would look for in my story and where I need to focus on those elements in my pitch. This is invaluable information. An example is that one network is looking for stories to have a “feature movie” feel and a bigger scope but done on a budget. My story needs to have that feel otherwise no matter how good my idea, it won’t be a good fit into their business model and most likely they will pass. You have one shot up to the plate and you’d better do your homework on your potential buyers before you enter the game.
I immediately fixed my pitch to highlight each network’s interest in my particular type of story and will highlight those elements when I go into the meetings. It’s the same story, but now with a bit of tinkering, it fits each network’s mold. The producer also informed me what parts of my story might be a turn off, so I took out those elements and will be pitching a story that will attract and not detract. There are subtle differences to every producer’s needs and it’s an ebb and flow based on if their last movie or series was a success or failure.
Hollywood producers can be extremely picky about what they buy to develop. Production companies and networks have a very narrow scope of the material they would produce and you must bring them ideas, stories and scripts that fit their business model. Always have your ear to the ground, read the trades, read online entertainment sites, and talk to your contacts because information is king. It can mean the difference between scoring a job or losing out.
As a working writer you constantly need to come up with new ideas and write more scripts even if nothing gets produced. The goal is to keep getting better as a screenwriter. If you’re frustrated that your genius idea is being changed after you sell it… welcome to the film business. You can fight if you want… or you can make the best of the situation and establish a reputation as a team player and collaborator. Your calling cards are your screenplays that can get you in front of the producers and executives to show them you’re the writer they need for that open assignment. The more you write and receive feedback the better you become as a screenwriter. Equally as important, the more you are out pitching and making the necessary contacts, it’s then only a matter of time when you will snag a writing job and start your career as a working screenwriter.
“A.B.W.” – Always be writing! And rewriting!
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.
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“International box office now accounts for nearly 80% of a theatrical release’s total take. If you want to play with the big boys and girls in the studios, you’ll have to write scripts that play to a global audience.”—Scriptcat
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”—Ray Bradbury
“The motion picture made in Hollywood, if it is to create art at all, must do so within such strangling limitations of subject and treatment that it is a blind wonder it ever achieves any distinction beyond the purely mechanical slickness of a glass and chromium bathroom.” —Raymond Chandler
“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway
“… I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens – when there is any to destroy.” — Raymond Chandler