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Monday, July 26, 2010

Not sexual, mind you. It's just that I find my ideas for scripts, and the scripts I've written, to be not necessarily un-commercial, just a little too unusual. For instance, [snip].

I've been told that the writing is good (if too long), but that it's hard to 'market,' or sell to a producer, etc. Concepts that are unwieldy. They say originality is an asset --- but I suppose there's a balance to be struck?
Certainly. It's a truism that producers are looking for something that is just exactly like this year's hit, but slightly different. And Lord knows there are enough TV shows about a person with an ability and a cop sidekick, solving crimes.

In cable TV, and in indie features, it's less true. But all TV channels have a certain kind of thing they're looking for. For a while, HBO was all about dysfunctional families.

And there are certain kinds of stories that work in features. The medium itself has requirements. Movies generally like one central character (or in a rom com, two), and a story that would make sense to an intelligent ten-year-old. (They don't have to be a story you would necessarily want to tell a ten year old, but a ten-year-old ought to be able to understand it.)

So not everything works.

So what do you do if you find that your stories are offbeat?

Certainly you want to focus on those stories that tickle your muse that are also in the ballpark of other movies or TV shows that have got produced. If you want to make an indie movie, watch an inordinate number of indie movies. You'll get a sense of what similarities they share, even if they seem at first blush to be all different.

If you want to make blockbuster movies, watch a ridiculous number of blockbuster movies, preferably in a row. That will give you a sense of what's being bought.

A family friend of mine was a bit of a struggling book writer. His books sold, but not really enough to support him. So one day he went into his agent and said, "I want to write a bestseller. What do I do?"

Agent said: "Read every book in the New York Times fiction bestseller list." So our friend sat down and read ten bestselling novels front to back, in a row. (It's important to do it all at once, so the similarities stand out.) Then he went and wrote a novel about killer bees attacking the US.

Bestseller. Movie deal.

Maybe your concepts are off base instead of offbeat. Have you tried pitching your hook to friends? To civilian friends who might be the audience for that kind of a movie? You should. You should be telling your waitress, your postman, the kid cutting your neighbor's grass, about the hook of your movie. If you really pay attention to how they react to your story -- if you listen to yourself pitching it -- your concept will streamline pretty damn fast.

However. As always, beware the feedback you're getting. You have to interpret it.

Note that the feedback is coming back "good (if too long)". Maybe the problem isn't actually that your ideas are too offbeat. Maybe the execution is too unwieldy. Have you tried pitching your story to an intelligent ten-year-old? No? Well go and do that then.

Remember when I told you in my books to pitch, not just your hook, but your whole story to civilian friends, out loud, without notes, over and over, until you can tell the whole story without forgetting anything? You didn't do that, did you? If you did that, your story wouldn't be too long, I practically guarantee it.

Also, movies are characters times story. You might have a perfectly valid popcorn movie, but the main character is uncompelling. Or there's no relationship at the core of it. DIE HARD wasn't a hit because of its concept. It was a hit because it had a good concept and a compelling character propelled by a relationship. Yippee kai yay.

Are you writing what you know? And I don't mean write about your high school experience; I mean write about what's in your bones. I know Morgan le Fay, at least my version of her. I care about Lucifer, or my version of him. But if you're writing about characters you don't really know or care about, we're not going to care, either.

In other words, maybe the concept isn't bad, but you need to step up your writing in general.

In general, as you go forward, you get a sense of what the market wants from you. But there are still projects I write that I think are ridiculously commercial which I can't sell, and projects I wrote in spite of the market that have found a home. That's why you should only write what you love. Ask yourself, not, "would someone pay $15 to see this?" but, "is a producer going to want to spend two or three years of her life trying to get this made?" Because that's what it will take.

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Or, it's possible that some good movies simply break the mold. Imagine pitching 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sometimes all you need is a producer who gets your vision.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 2:32 PM  

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