It’s 2017. You’re wondering what you should write. I’ve got good news. I’M GOING TO TELL YOU! There isn’t a person on this planet who knows what screenplays Hollywood’s buying better than me (it’s the new year, let me hyperbolize). But seriously, we know that Hollywood currently hates spec scripts. And who can blame them. The last three major spec sales (Collateral Beauty, Allied, Passengers), all underperformed this winter. If they had it their way, everything would be IP from this point forward.
But fear not! There are still plenty of script options a screenwriter can write and still sell. That’s what today’s article is about. I’m going to give you ten PROVEN genres that Hollywood will eagerly snatch up as long as you deliver the goods. Are you ready? Start taking notes. Cause this article is going to change your life!
Biopic – The biopic is still chugging along. Why? Simple. A-list actors are no longer needed to drive major tentpoles. Those A-list actors had to go somewhere to stay relevant. Enter the biopic, where they get to play famous historical figures and earn Oscar nominations. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? However, keep in mind that this genre is getting crowded. Everyone’s writing in it. So make sure you’re not phoning it in (i.e. don’t research your subject on Wikipedia). Find a unique and interesting way to tell the story so your biopic stands out from the rest!
True Story – This is the fastest growing spec genre out there and, in a way, the biopic’s little brother. But unlike a biopic, the subject doesn’t have to be super-famous. They need only have been involved in a fascinating true-life story. I’ve always wanted to write the real life story of Roswell (not the tin-foil hat version, but one based on facts and real interviews from those involved). Find that true story that you find fascinating, like yesterday’s David Steeves survival tale. Or the infamous “Astronaut Diaper” story chronicled in Pale Blue Dot. Or even the freaky tale about the woman who went crazy at that Los Angeles hotel and ended up in the water supply. So many great real life stories to choose from.
Female-Driven Anything – Ghostbusters didn’t deter Hollywood from their infatuation with female-driven fare. They want more female led films, both fiction and non-fiction alike. Action and comedy are the sweet spots because audiences pay the most for ass-kicking and laughs. But as long as you’ve got a great idea with a female in the lead, you should be good.
Budget-Conscious Action Spec with Franchise Potential – Action will never die. It’s the only genre that will play well in every single country it’s shown. The tough thing about action is finding an idea that hasn’t already been done before. John Wick’s secret society hitman world was cool. And while I didn’t like The Accountant, its non-traditional main character made for a unique take on the action genre. Also, you want to think franchise. So don’t make the film too self-contained. It should hint at bigger things to come. Also, don’t blow the roof off the doors with your budget. In order for something non-IP to get made, the first film will need to come in at a price, probably between 60-70 million. If the movie does well, the franchise begins, baby.
Horror Spec – The horror space is THE most competitive genre of them all. Horror has the biggest cost-to-potential-profit margin of any genre out there. A 2 million dollar film can pull in 100 million at the box office. No other genre even comes close to that kind of upside. For that reason, don’t give me another movie about zombies in the forest. You have to be unique. You have to find another way in. A good comp is A Cure for Wellness, the new horror film coming out from Gore Verbinski. It doesn’t quite feel like something we’ve seen in the horror genre before.
A spec in the superhero universe that isn’t about traditional superheroes – Newsflash. Hollywood is obsessed with superheroes. However, you don’t have access to the millions of dollars required to purchase famous superhero characters and write about them. Therefore, get creative. Find a superhero idea that’s not quite about superheroes. For example, a team of famous superheroes suddenly lose their powers and must integrate into society as normal people for the first time in their lives (think a famous boy band after the glitz and glamour is all gone). Something like that, where you’re coming at the genre from a different angle. Hmm, that’s actually a good idea. Maybe I’ll write that.
A “Voice” Spec – If people always tell you that you have a unique perspective of the world, or you see things in a different way, consider writing a script that highlights your voice. The great thing about writing a “voice” script is that you don’t have to write about anything exceptional. Your VOICE is the exceptional part. You can write about a guy with a shitty job, as long as you give us a perspective on guys with shitty jobs that we haven’t seen before. One note: Vocie-y writers go off the reservation too often. Voice is good, but you still need a story that goes somewhere, or explores something universal. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a very voice-y script, but it was exploring something universal – our fear of getting hurt, our struggles to overcome our past. It wasn’t the dreaded “rambling voice,” which is where bad voice scripts go badder.
Swords and Sandals Spec – I’m always looking for that genre that’s traditionally done well at the box office but hasn’t had a hit in awhile. The last swords and sandals hit was the Pirates movies. But the Pirates movies have become stale. I think a good swords and sandals script has the potential to explode onto the market. One note: HUMOR. I believe the reason Pirates did well while the recent Gods of Egypt did not was how well-done the humor was in Pirates. In fact, I was watching The Princess Bride the other day and thinking, “Someone needs to write the next Princess Bride!” A self-referential comedic swords and sandals movie? Start counting your money now.
A Forward-Thinking Spec – Our world is changing faster than it ever has before. Instagram, Uber, Fake News, Fake lives on Facebook, self-driving cars, our every movement being tracked, phone addiction, life disconnection — All of these things are dramatic elements that could be integrated into your next screenplay. Because if you’re writing a movie that could’ve been written in 1996, or even 2006, it’s probably not going to feel fresh. A comedy about what would happen to millennials if the internet went down for a week. I’d go see that. Shit, that’s another good idea. Why am I giving these away?
That Weird Idea You Have – This is actually the best time to write something weird, since the entire spec market has become so homogenized. There’s never been a time in history where more of the same hasn’t been peddled to film audiences. Your weird idea is going to stand out so much more than it did in the past. The weird idea spec may not sell, but like a good voice spec, it can catapult you into the industry and get you tons of work.