THIS IS THE KIND OF FEATURE SPEC YOU SHOULD BE WRITING - Complications Ensue
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Monday, April 17, 2006

We saw Thank You For Smoking last night, after it was sold out Saturday night. Kids, if you're looking to write a feature spec that sells, take a good smart look at this movie. You can write the next big-budget action adventure with a decent hook and it may well get bought, but you're up against other big-budget action adventures written by top scribes at the top of their craft. And even if you sell your script, and thereby get on the list of rewriters, the odds are your movie doesn't get made.

On the other hand, if you write a script about a controversial subject, with a surprising and fresh point of view and/or a compelling character we haven't seen before, with lots of great character roles, which can be produced for little money, with a title that grabs people, then you are in very fine shape. Thank You For Smoking is the kind of script every producer wants to find. It takes a hot-button subject (smoking) and hits it from an unexpected angle -- a satire about a divorced dad who takes shameless pleasure in doing public relations for Big Tobacco. There are the kinds of well-crafted small roles that pull in name actors -- Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, Adam Brody -- and because it's a hot-button subject, actors are likely to sign on. The movie's pyrotechnics are all character and dialog. (I particularly liked that all of the characters remain passionately, gleefully and unapologetically true to themselves, and no one does anything stupid except for good character reasons.)

So the moral is: don't write yet another serial killer movie. Write something no one's thought of before. The audience is always looking for something new, and that means producers are, too.

UPDATE: Joe Unidos points out below that the movie is based on a book, and is therefore not a spec. Waaaall, sure, I'm not sure I said it was a spec. But it is the sort of movie you should be writing as a spec. Just because Christopher Buckley specced a book doesn't mean you can't spec a script that's equally clever. Right?

5 Comments:

I guess I see your point, although "TYFS" was based on a book and wasn't a spec --so itmight not be the best example of the point you're trying to make...

By Blogger Joe Unidos, at 5:58 PM  

Well,

It might be easier to write the book, rather than a spec screenplay. It would be interesting to read the book now (which was published, I believe, four or five years ago) and see what is in it or what's not.

Some stories are easier to sell as movies when they're something else. Can you imagine trying to pitch LA Confidential without a successful book to point to?

By Blogger Joshua James, at 12:33 AM  

And, if you can swing it, be the son of a famous movie director.

Man, this is way easier than I thought!

By Blogger af, at 2:13 AM  

Isn't that what Lord of War did? And do you think that film was as effective?

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:09 AM  

Is there a way to get this script? I can't find it anywhere online!

By Blogger go mighty orbots, at 9:59 PM  

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