6/22/10

The Backlash

Recently, a writer asked me kind of a loaded question: do spec scripts still sell?

In a market place filled with pre-sold franchises, do spec scripts have a chance in 2010?

The best answer to this question can be found at the most likely of places: the movie theater.

Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Marmaduke, Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Sex and the City 2, Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, The A-Team, The Karate Kid and Get Him to the Greek, (a sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Eleven movies, all part of an existing franchise.

On the spec script side, we have: Splice, Letters to Juliet, Killers, and Date Night.

Four.

According to Box Office Mojo, out of the top ten grossing films of 2010 so far, only three are not pre sold franchises. Same thing for 2009 and 2008.

Here are the #1 grossing movies of each year from 2000 to 2009:
The Grinch, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Shrek 2, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Spider Man 3, The Dark Knight and Avatar.

So out of the entire decade, only ONE original movie made it to the top. And Avatar is not a spec script (and some people would argue, not original; but I don’t want to get into that right now).

So what does this mean to the average, not-sitting-on-a-million dollars screenwriter? It means those 110 pages that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, has a very little chance of getting made.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a CHANCE that it might get made. And an even better chance that it might sell. If you hop on over to sites like Done Deal Pro, or read the trades, you’ll see that specs are selling often.

They’re just not getting made. Hundred of specs bought per year that just sit there doing nothing. All because there isn’t a comic book, novel, or other movie already attached to it.

Studio heads are often ridiculed for not taking chances on original material. But look at those odds.

This is a business before art. And money doesn’t lie.

So the question remains: do spec script still sell?

Yes. But not how you think.

The 90’s are long gone. There’s no more epic bidding wars for that script that you wrote in a month. In 2010, a spec script is more like an audition.

Your spec script sells you as a writer, not the other way around.

Executives want to know that you can handle the big six: structure, characters, concept, dialogue, set pieces and story.

Nailing those six factors is tough. But that’s what they want. Most of the time, not even all six of them.

Let’s say your spec has excellent dialogue, and Transformers 3 needs a dialogue rewrite. Well, guess who just got the job.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t care about Transformers 3, I want to get MY script made!”

In good time.

Before you get your own script made, you have to prove yourself. If you write Shrek 5 and it’s a hit, then they’ll trust you with anything.

And then you can sell that spec of yours.

There are many people out there that can make your spec script the best it can be (me included), but in this economy, no one can guarantee your script to end up on the big screen (me included).

It’s 2010 and the spec is dead.

For now...

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Keep in mind the age old axiom: “nobody knows anything”.

Mr. Goldman was right. Hollywood is filled with people who think they “know” what the public wants. And right now, the public “wants” pre-sold franchises.

For now.

But how long can the public withstand sequel after sequel? How long can they watch movie after movie based on a novel or comic book before they figure out they can cut out the middle man and just read the novel or comicbook?

There’s going to be a backlash.

Just go to any cineplex and you’ll hear rumblings of “the book was better” or “I like the first one more”.

But if you listen real closely, you might just hear someone say “I wish they’d just make something original.”

And that’s the backlash.

It won’t take long before everyone is thinking the same thing.
And it won’t take long before the studios freak out.

And who are they going to turn to?

You.

You and that spec you’ve been writing for a year. Suddenly that spec is looking fresh and new. Suddenly, original is the way to go.

So don’t give up on that spec quite yet. Because when the backlash hits, it’s going to hit hard.

And you better be ready when it does.

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