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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Anything New Under the Sun?

When Michael Lee and I began discussing our collaboration on Hell on Wheels, one thing we discussed was the subject itself. While I knew there had been almost no vampire western films produced (I was able to dig up one from 1959 called Curse of the Undead but that was it), I also knew that the genre combo alone was not a purely original idea. It had been used in comic books and video games, and I'd heard from many other people that vampire western scripts were always making the rounds in town, though they'd rarely been picked up.

Then, the day that MLee first mentioned the idea of collaborating, I started searching around the web, and found out that literally the week before, Sony Screen Gems had picked up a vampire western called Priest for Sam Raimi to produce through Ghost House. I understandably had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, would another company be interested in making a vampire western when as big a name as Raimi was already planning one? On the flip side, however, was the fact that it proved that there was a market out there for such a script, if it were good enough. And in all honesty, based on the little bit that I've read about Priest's plotline, I truly think our film has a much stronger concept to it. And as I mentioned previously, I feel one of the strengths of how we envision our screenplay is the melding of equal parts western and vamp movie. We're really hoping for HoW to play on the strengths of both genres, which I believe will help make this one stand out.

So we decided to go ahead with it anyway. Even if we find, down the road, that we are unable to sell HoW due to the above mentioned reasons, I still believe it can at the very least, open some doors for us. It will be a great sample, if nothing else, plus it is providing a great learning experience for each of us, in terms of the collaborative process. I still feel this way, even after reading the following in an interview (with Sheila Hanahan Taylor of Practical Pictures, formerly known as Zide/Perry Ent.) that was sent to me by Warren, over at The Screenwriting Life:

The other thing we see a lot of is the horror hybrid genre. So it'’s either vampires in the Old West or werewolves in the Far East. We see hundred of them. I can'’t tell you how many vampires in the Old West I see! Tricky because of the [sic] rules for one genre are tough enough --– splicing them is a challenge.

Okay, so this obviously gave me some pause. I knew they were out there, but I didn't know really how many such scripts were out there. And it got me thinking, is it even possible to come up with a script built on an original premise, and how much does it matter? (Yes, I know I've addressed the issue of originality before, but that was more in terms of the specifics within a script, rather than the concept itself.) Is there truly nothing new under the sun?

Well, in truth, I don't know. I'm not saying you can work in a complete bubble and completely ignore what is going on in the market. This is a business, as I'm sure you're all aware. But still, at some point you just have to write what you want to write and hope that it's good enough to get you to the next point in your career. The erudite (no, I'm not trying to embarrass you; I mean it) Philip Morton recently addressed this issue over at ScreenwriterBones:

You can't worry about it. It's impossible to live as a creative spirit and constantly work from the outside in. You have to work from the inside out.

As he rightfully continued:

Point of it is: every year there are probably four of the same films being developed at every studio. And I mean, the same film. This is the nature of the business, massive companies trying to thread the eye of the needle in what they hope will be their commercial blockbuster. And their eye of the needle is just that - it's quite narrow creatively. So that means - a superhero movie, a cop movie, a killer thriller, a broad teen age comedy, a romance. They're going to develop about four of each of these to try and get one that doesn't suck, so they can pump more money into it than is in most third world countries.

Does Volcano vs. Dante's Peak sound familiar to anyone? Deep Impact or Armageddon? How about competing Columbus movies in 1992? Or the recent race to make an Alexander the Great biopic? It happens even more so in the TV world. When one show becomes a hit, others try to knock it off in similar, yet just different-enough fashion. I'm not going back to check the order of such shows (which aped the other), but you've got Bewitched and I Dream of Genie, The Adams Family and The Munsters, or Dark Angel and Alias.

I urge you to read the rest of that post (and actually to continue reading ScreenwriterBones), because there's a lot of good stuff in there. But as Morton pointed out, when he had a script around town with heat, even though no one picked it up due to similarities to other projects in development, it still led to a lot of other good outcomes for him. That's all I can really hope for with HoW. And it would be a great thing if it did.

The good news is what Sheila Hanahan Taylor said a bit further in that interview:

Everyone swears their idea is unique. The only thing that is usually unique is voice and storytelling --– because we'’ve seen most loglines.

So that's what MLee and I are going to have to focus our energies on! Making the best-told version of Hell on Wheels that we can.

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Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

That's all you can do. & just bc Raimi is planning on making a vamp/old west movie doesn't mean it will get made. plenty of scripts get killed in development even when attached to a great director.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Indeed Tennessee (I want to call you Jed, fo rthe Dead song). Morton mentions that exact point in his article as well. I'm hoping that's what happens with Priest, at least from a selfish perspective! ;-)

7:00 PM  
Blogger John Donald Carlucci said...

It's the only thing you can do. Besides, just because Raimi is doing one doesn't mean it's good. I love the man, but the Grudge was a meandering pice of hapzard anti-climatic meh (I own the original and the sequel - even with their faults, far better films).


7:02 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Yeah, absolutely the right decision I think. Just write a great script and don't worry about the market too much.

The thing about there being a similar project in production is that it can help or hinder. Huge hit, and they may rush a bunch more into production. Bomb and your script will still be a great writing sample. A friend wrote a medieval adventure spec, and his agent decided to hold it to send out the week Kingdom of Heaven was released, hoping for a huge hit. Obviously, it went the other way. There's so much luck involved in the spec sale business. You'd go crazy trying to predicate all of the permutations.

Just show 'em that writing ability and don't worry about the rest. Good luck!

9:09 PM  
Blogger Steve Peterson said...

Hopefully the fact that Raimi is doing one will help you -- since it might show that the vampire-western is a viable genre.

Still, it would make me a little nervous if I heard there were of lot of them floating around already.

Do you know if there are a bunch of vamp-post apocalypse scripts are out there? Because, if not, it should be fairly straight forward to convert the western into more of a Mad Max kind of setting. I think I heard that one company picked up the rights to a comic book focused around this idea, so perhaps it's a genre that has appeal yet hasn't had its market flooded.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

I agree - write what turns you on and wait for everyone else to catch up - it's your voice that is ultimately unique.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Hey folks! Thanks for the support.

I hope I was clear -- I'm really happy and excited to be doing this script, and am not having second thoughts at all. I was more trying to communicate WHY I feel the way I do!

But glad we're seeing a consensus on this!

Oh, and welcome new commenter, Josh!

4:47 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Oops, forgot to respond to your comment Steve!

You are correct that some western type stuff could shift to Mad Max-type post-apoc stuff. But one of the things about HoW is that it is built on a very specific premise that really firmly sets it in that era. So we're going to leave it there.

Plus, while not the reason I'm doing this, I think there is something cool about setting the vamp film in that time. Since vamps (within the mythology) have been around, "living" for thousands of years, they wouldn't just be making an appearance in our times. They would have been around during the old West as well. So why don't we ever get those tales? Moving it into the future would not play the same role, I don't think.

9:25 AM  

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