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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.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Matters Most

Some nameless person in the comments to my last post asked:

I share many of your thoughts regarding the Business vs. Art aspect, but let me ask you, as a reader do you view material the same way, meaning do you ever think to yourself "maybe this isn't the best story, writing, etc. but you are in some way able to see a film that you think would make money -- do you recommend on this basis or do the other factors cause you to pass?

I responded that typically the opposite is more common. It is more likely I'll read something that is well-written but is unlikely to succeed commercially, rather than something that is poorly written but still seems likely to prove commercially viable.

I'd like to talk about this a bit more, and specifically about those rare times when a poorly written script still might be worth buying. It is no secret that ProdCos will not infrequently option scripts that are not perfect. There is a very good reason that the department in charge of acquiring scripts is called the "Development" department. So I wanted to talk a bit more about these flawed screenplays that still get picked up.

Let me begin by stating that there is nothing better than a script that is excellent (and by this I mean both a unique, commercial idea and solid technical execution). But still, since many of the optioned scripts don't fully meet these criteria, let's examine what else it takes to sell a spec in Hollywood.

First, I'd like to point you to a post from last week by relatively new Scribosphere blogger Screenwriting Guy. He has a blog called "I Am Trying to Make You Laugh," and posted on a related topic, HERE. I think he does a great job of distilling the core of what makes a Great Movie Idea. Go read it -- I'll wait.

Back? Okay. So as I read that post, it reminded me of my most recent article for scr(i)pt magazine (not out yet), and how he's covered half of the puzzle. I'm not going to spell everything out (since I do that in the article), but I will say this: there are two aspects that are most important in selling any spec screenplay. Concept and Story. It is rare that anyone in development will read a script that has a bad story and concept but has such inventive dialogue or vivid characters that they'll decide to buy it anyway. However, if a writer displays lower quality technical skills, but still has come up with a solid story built around an inventive and commercially appealing concept, the necessary rewrites become more appealing and feasible.

It is much easier to rewrite for details than to rewrite for the big picture. That's why these kinds of scripts still sell sometimes. Think of a just adequately written script that has a great premise and story as an extended version of a pitch, because that is essentially what it is, with a few added elements. But it is typically easier to sell a spec than a pitch, especially for an unproven screenwriter. Thus, you'll be better served writing a spec with a great idea and story, than trying to sell the same material as a pitch. And while you ideally want to have a great script in all aspects (especially if your goal is be a working writer, rather than just to make money off your idea), you still need to focus on getting those two aspects right before anything else. Without a good idea and a well-structured story, you will have an almost impossible time selling your script.

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Blogger Screenwriting Guy said...

Thanks for the shout out.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Devin B. said...

Good stuff Joel -- thanks.

Best Regards,

10:15 PM  

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