The article title may seem like an outrageous claim, but I’d bet my life on it. Read on to find out more!
I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret that will increase your chances of selling a script one hundred-fold. That is no exaggeration, my friend. Of course, a major concession will have to be made. You will need to write somebody else’s story. Or, at least, the core of the concept will not be yours. But this shouldn’t matter to you. Writing other peoples’ ideas is how the Hollywood screenwriting business operates.
So how does this magical pill work? Well, we all know that Hollywood is an IP-driven business. They want their Twilights, their Avengers, their Lara Crofts, because all of these properties already have a built-in audience. That’s what Hollywood is paying for when it buys a Harry Potter. An audience they know will spend money to watch their films.
But there’s a loophole to this strategy – a way to appeal to audiences just as big, but that will cost the studio nothing more than the price of your script (pennies compared to a deal for The Hunger Games). If you’re a studio head looking for any bargain you can find, that sounds like a deal too good to pass up. So what’s the loophole?
The public domain.
These are properties that have lapsed past the required 92 years in which a property can be owned, and are now available to anyone to write about. There are TONS of great (and popular!) stories that are available to you in the public domain.
And Hollywood loves these properties. Sure, they don’t have the “newness” factor of, say, a Katniss Everdeen. But in a way they have something better. LONGETIVITY. A proven track record that they’ve worked over and over again.
Now when I first started writing, I hated the idea of the public domain. Why would I write some bunk idea from a guy who died 200 years ago? Ahh, but here’s the thing. Nobody said you had to write the same story they did. And actually, you don’t want to write the same story. You want to put a NEW spin on the story. You want to make it yours. And the options to do this are as endless as your imagination.
You could write a version of Alice in Wonderland that takes place in the BDSM world. Or Romeo and Juliet set 3000 years in the future. You can also invigorate a property by changing up the genre, time, or origin of the character itself. Write a romantic comedy about Dracula. Write a Western about Frankenstein. Turn Cinderella into the bad guy. Or a man! I actually had that idea once, about an average-looking plumber named Syd E. Rella who finds himself at a large charity auction and strikes up a flirtationship with the beautiful CEO of the biggest company in the city.
There are so many examples of these scripts selling. There was a dark serial killer script where Peter Pan was the killer and Hook was the detective that sold a few years ago. A script about The Count of Monte Cristo set 30 years in the future that sold two years ago. Snow White and the Huntsman sold for 1.5 million bucks and we all know how much money that movie went on to make. One writer even got creative and went past Pinocchio to focus on his father, Geppetto.
The point being: Let your mind roam free. Find a popular property in the public domain and put your spin on it. I PROMISE you that saying, “I have a script about a bored suburban man who builds a time machine in his basement that’s based on H.G. Wells, “The Time Machine,” is going to get a lot more attention from agents than, “I have a script about a bored suburban man who builds a time machine in his basement” by itself. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s how the business works.
So with that in mind, here are the top 25 works/authors in the public domain. Feel free to suggest any that I missed in the comments section. If they’re obvious ones, I’ll add them.
THE 25 MOST BANKABLE WORKS/AUTHORS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN
1) Alice in Wonderland
2) The Wizard of Oz
5) Peter Pan (better lay off this one for awhile)
6) Robin Hood
7) Sleeping Beauty
8) Edgar Allan Poe’s work (The Raven, Tell-Tale Heart, etc.)
9) H.P. Lovecraft’s work (selected stuff – do your research)
10) H.G. Wells’ work (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds)
12) Brothers Grimm (Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel)
13) Jules Verne’s work (Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
14) Mark Twain’s work (Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn)
15) Robert Louis Stevenson’s work (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island)
16) All the Greek myths (Zeus, Medusa, etc.)
17) Shakespeare’s work
18) The Count of Monte Cristo
20) Robinson Crusoe
21) Sherlock Holmes (This is touchy one though. Do your homework)
22) Sleepy Hollow
23) The Great Gatsby (just entered the public domain)
24) Gulliver’s Travels
25) Charles Dickens’ work (Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations)
My suggestion would be to find one of these characters/stories that appeal to you and then find an angle that’s never been done before. That’s how your script is going to stand out. Feel free to test your public domain loglines in the comments below. Upvote the best ones and who knows, we may just find a few great scripts to write. For more works in the public domain, check out this link here, and this one here. Looking through each list, I’ve already found a handful of ideas I’d want to turn into movies. Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game?” Sign me up!