"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


Shifting Paradigms: The spec screenplay today

In the vastly downsized major motion picture market for a screenplay written on spec by an outsider, what is the best strategy for today’s aspiring screenwriter?

Here are some observations to keep in mind:

· The divide between the majors (Disney, Dreamworks, Fox, Paramount, Warner, Sony) and the independents (“indies”) has never been more clearly drawn.

· The majors are looking for major properties, screenplays based on nationally-known underlying properties such as bestselling novels, familiar comic books, hot graphic novels, existing franchises (like our “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”). They are buying ALMOST nothing else these days, as they have downsized the number of films they produce each year radically—fewer, with larger budgets.

· The EXCEPTION that causes my “almost” is a HIGH-CONCEPT screenplay that is so well written no one can resist it. What is High Concept? See previous postings on this blog and elsewhere, but in a word it’s a concept that can be described either IN THE TITLE itself (“Splash,” “Liar, Liar,” “Bruce Almighty,” or “Wedding Crashers”) or in a few words (“It’s ‘Wedding Crashers’ on a cruise ship”). So, yes, an extremely well-written spec based on a high concept is something that might sell IF you keep in mind:

· The few high concept specs that are selling these days almost always have an “element” attached (director, star, or financing). As manager-producers try to form alliances with creative elements before bringing a spec into the studios because studio execs make it clear they’re no longer in the development business: they want scripts with filmmakers attached who can guarantee that a film will be made.

· Although there’s plenty of room for smart concepts (almost always based on bestselling novels like “The Bourne Identity” or “Twilight”), keep in mind that the majors are in business to sell as many tickets as possible. That is why excellent movies like “The Crying Game,” “Juno,” “The Sunshine Girl,” or “Crazy Heart” are indie films. That’ll be the next thing I write about.

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