pacific-rim-poster-bannerScreenwriters need to be aware of International Box Office

As I’ve said before, one of your jobs as a screenwriter is to keep an eye on the market. You have to know which specs are selling, and which specs-turned-films are doing well. This doesn’t mean you should chase trends (“Another vampire movie got purchased! Maybe I should write a vampire movie now!”). Just that you should use the data to your advantage. There are some production companies, for example, who are looking for the next big trend. So by confirming no one’s purchased a jet-fighter spec in awhile, you can feel safe that YOUR jet-fighter spec is going to feel fresh and new. The point is, use the information out there to make better decisions.

What I thought I’d do today is highlight all specs-turned-films in the top 50 of the 2013 box office. That means no book adaptations, comic adaptations, video game adaptations, sequels, or original screenplays that were developed in house at studios. Some of these are tough calls because while they may be original scripts, they’re not necessarily specs (“Mama,” for example, was based on the writer-director’s own short film). I’ll use my best judgment for those films on the fence. Afterwards, I’ll highlight the major spec sales over the past month. I say “major” because I don’t want to include the tiny sales or the options. While I’m not devaluing those deals, I don’t think we’re interested in them. So, let’s take a look at the market!

SPECS-TURNED-FILMS
(the number in front of the film indicates its ranking at the box office this year)

8 – Gravity
Genre: Action
$220 million domestic
$428 million worldwide
Notes: I’m not sure I’d call this a spec. More a writer-director project, even though there was a second writer on the project. Still, it’s original material, which means it will influence the market.

11 – The Heat
Genre: Comedy
$159 million domestic
$229 million worldwide
Notes: Comedies are the spec world’s best friend!

12 – We’re The Millers
Genre: Comedy
$149 million domestic
$264 million worldwide
Notes: Surprised this did a little better worldwide than The Heat. Maybe the family angle made it a little more relatable?

14 – The Conjuring
Genre: Horror
$137 million domestic
$179 million worldwide
Notes: I’m pretty sure this was a spec but they obviously had to buy some rights to the real-life participants of this film. So it’s not a traditional spec sale.

15 – Identity Thief
Genre: Comedy
$134 million domestic
$173 million worldwide
Notes: Man, this script was not good. But, a nice twist on the traditional ‘wacky’ and ‘straight-laced’ pairing by making one a woman. Reminded me that it’s a great idea to update old material (in this case, Midnight Run) by changing the sex of one of the principles.

19 – Now You See Me
Genre: Comedy/Heist/Thriller
$117 million domestic
$351 million worldwide
Notes: The magic film was one of the bigger surprises of the year. And the film tore it up worldwide. I remember when I reviewed it as a spec way back in the day!

24 – Pacific Rim
Genre: Sci-fi
$102 million domestic
$407 million worldwide
Notes: You see how well action/sci-fi travels internationally? Wowzers. The biggest jump from domestic to worldwide yet. I remember this being a big spec sale.

25 – This is the End
Genre: Supernatural Comedy
$101 million domestic
$124 million worldwide
Notes: This is a spec sale, but a really unique one, with tons of actor attachments drawn into the story. Still, they had to work for it, creating a short film first to get people interested.

26 – Olympus Has Fallen
Genre: Action
$98 million domestic
$161 million worldwide
Notes: Interesting how this action flick didn’t travel. Might have something to do with the “rah rah save America” message. I’m guessing this didn’t play in China.

27 – 42
Genre: Sports
$95 million domestic
no worldwide release??
Notes: This was a writer-director project with the purchasing of rights for Jackie Robinson’s story, so this isn’t your typical sale. Also, it goes to show that baseball movies don’t travel, probably because no one else in the world understands the f*cking rules.
edit: Sorry, boxofficemojo.com seems to just not be carrying the worldwide gross for some reason.  Not sure why.  Baseball’s rules are still confusing though!

28 – Elysium
Genre: Sci-fi
$92 million domestic
$284 million worldwide
Notes: This is a writer-director project, so not a typical spec. Lots of people came down on this film, but it’s important to note that while it made $25 million less domestic than Blomkamp’s first film, District 9, it made $75 million more worldwide.

31 – Oblivion
Genre: Sci-fi
$89 million domestic
$286 million worldwide
Notes: Liked the script better than the film. Either way, it was nice to see a simple sci-fi concept with a clever interwoven mystery do well on the spec market.

36 – White House Down
Genre: Action
$73 million domestic
$205 million worldwide
Notes: HUGE spec sale. 3 milllllion dollars. Solid script. This would’ve done better if it were released before Olympus and had more inspired casting.

45 – The Purge
Genre: Horror
$64 million domestic
$87 million worldwide
Notes: This script is part of the new horror trend. Micro-budget ideas that have big hooks.

47 – Prisoners
Genre: Drama/Thriller
$60 million domestic
$108 million worldwide
Notes: Million dollar spec sale. The only drama spec sale on this list! And it sold four years ago.

mi6-headquarters-explosion-670x287MI6

RECENT MAJOR SPEC SALES

Section 6
Genre: Action/Period
Premise: The origin story (set back in the early 1900s) of Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.
Notes: Another HUGE spec sale. 1.2 million I think it went for. 4-studio bidding war (the dream!). Nobody seems to know who this writer is. Some speculate he/she is using an alias.

Incarnate
Genre: Horror
Premise: An unconventional exorcist who can tap into the subconscious of the possessed meets his match when a 9-year old boy is possessed by a demon from his past.
Notes: A new twist on exorcisms, mixing the supernatural with the technological. This was reviewed in my newsletter recently. If you’re not on it, what the heck is your problem!

Hyperbaric
Genre: Action-Thriller
Premise: Pitched as “Training Day” meets “Das Boot.” A traumatized sailor must confront the fear that cut short his promising navy career when he’s forced to pilot a homemade drug submarine.
Notes: In my book, I note how there hasn’t been a submarine movie in awhile (they come out once every five years or so) so it’d be a good idea to capitalize on that. Someone listened!

Reminiscence
Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: In a Bladerunner-esque Manhattan, Nick Bannister is a futuristic “archaeologist” who helps clients relive and often get lost in their happiest memories. But when one of his client’s memories holds clues that implicate a wealthy and powerful family in drug trafficking and murder, Nick finds himself on the run to unravel a series of mysterious crimes which continually lead back to the very woman he loves.
Notes: Huge sale. Like 1.5 or 2 million dollars? A footnote on this sale is that the writer, Lisa Joy, is screenwriter Jonathon Nolan’s wife (brother of Christopher Nolan).

Patient Z
Genre: Zombie
Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, a man with the ability to speak the language of the undead interrogates zombies with the hopes of finding Patient Zero and a cure for his infected wife.
Notes: This just recently sold for mid-six figures. The writer, Mike Le, came on the site awhile back to talk about pitching. It appears his writing did the pitching this time around.

Okay, so what can we learn from all this? Well, the most obvious answer is, check the genres. Look which genres are selling and doing well at the box office. It’s comedy, horror, sci-fi, action, and thrillers. If you want to sell a script (and I know I’m beating a dead horse here), those are the genres you want to write in. If you’re saying, “But what about dramas?? What about Captain Phillips and The Butler?” Well, you just answered your own question. All dramas are being written in-house and they’re either adapted from a book or from a real-life story.

I was actually surprised to see a full FIFTEEN spec sale scripts in the Box Office Top 50. The spec script is never going to compete with IP but that’s an encouraging number. It’s also important to note the worldwide grosses of all these films as this is the studio’s new obsession. In Pacific Rim’s case, the film made three times more overseas than it did here. Action and sci-fi tend to travel well. Comedy and horror don’t. Which is okay, because comedy and horror are a lot cheaper to make. But if you can come up with a big juicy fresh action film idea that’s well-written? My friends, you are going to cash in. So what do you think? Did you guys conclude anything from this list? Or do you subscribe to the “Fuck it, write what you’re passionate about” approach?

  • Lenny

    I hope you review Section 6 in the newsletter soon, Carson. There hasn’t been a good spy thriller in a while. I think the reason White House Down flopped at the box office is the parade of silly jokes plaguing the movie (“Don’t touch my Air Jordans!”). I can be wrong, but I think the original script was more serious. Compare with the no-nonsense aproach of Olympus Has Fallen: an R rated old school actioner that is not ashamed of itself, a real though guy in the leading role (not a fucking male stripper like Channing Tatum), a real time attack to the White House scene that seems at least believable and not a videogame… Of course OHF has the winning card.

  • ghost

    The “fuck it, write what you’re passionate about” approach doesn’t take into consideration your time, your frustration and most importantly, your wallet. Not saying it’s a wrong approach, I believe passion is actually *the* driving force, but what happens when reality starts biting at your ass — your electricity bill, all those years gone by, and this shit doesn’t look like it will sell… but if youre loaded, hey. me? I wanna sell! or option or whathaveyou

    • fragglewriter

      I agree but I think write what you know should be done during your spare time and the majority of the other time should be spent writing what sells. Even though I know most people don’t have the time for that, but think about taking any job just to make ends meet. It’s not that much different than writing what sells to get your name out there, many, and contacts. IMO.

  • Paul Clarke

    Write what you love, get enough attention to get number 1 on the Scriptshadow reader’s favourites list – and enough attention to sell Pacific Rim.

    • drifting in space

      Bingo.

  • Montana Gillis

    Carson, you hit the “White House Down” problem right on the money— it was the casting. I loved the script and was excited for the movie until I heard who was starring in it. Not going to bother to see it.

    I’m in the “write what you f’n want to but in a genre that sells” camp. If you want to explore relationship issues between family members, great. Just make one or more of those members a monster/world saving scientist or something else that is selling in the market.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      “I’m in the “write what you f’n want to but in a genre that sells” camp”

      Right there with you :-)
      I happen to be passionate about horror except I live in France where the genre desperately needs an emergency injection despite the fact that in the past years, French horror does pretty well outside the country. Anyways, I’m writing a psychological horror movie right now and was very lucky that a producer took an immediate interest in my script treatment. Nothing has been decided, done or signed yet (the script’s not even finished) but exploring what makes us tick (in my case, human behaviour/psychology) inside a genre we’re familiar with and love is a win-win situation.

      • Alex Palmer

        Speaking of French horror, The Returned (or Les Revenants, as wikipedia tells me) aired recently in the UK. Did that go down well in France?

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Yes, it did pretty well but the show aired on Canal+ which is a privately funded TV channel so Mr & Mrs General public didn’t have access to it. It’s out on DVD and will maybe air on a public channel a year or two from now. I haven’t seen it yet… Did you see/like it ?

          • Alex Palmer

            I watched the pilot yesterday and though it was intriguing. Kind of Twin Peaks-esque. I’m fighting the impulse to binge-watch the entire series :)

          • GYAD

            Keep going. It’s very good. The ending is more of a set up for a second series than a proper conclusion but it’s still worth it.

            If you haven’t already, the other recent French programme to watch is a cop series called “Engrenages” (“Spiral” in the UK).

        • A Tribe Called Guest

          It’s selling/sold everywhere basically. big thing at MIPCOM.

      • ripleyy

        Isn’t it strange that every country has its own horror genre and its own take? I love Spanish horror because it’s psychological (KM 31 for example) but French horror seems to be gory in a very blunt way (Martyrs for example).

        British Horror seems to be the only genre I can think of where it scares people only to turn around and be like “ONLY JOKING!” Like it can’t quite seem to take itself seriously – you know those people who are such awful liars and they eventually break and giggle when they try and lie to people? That’s British Horror.

        American horror is bland. I describe it as “glossy” because it’s not quite there but it is. It’s hard to describe. Like there’s a certain artiness to it.

        Anyway, good luck on the script!

  • Hadley’s Hope

    Okay, I know these aren’t ‘official’ loglines, but I can’t resist…

    Section 6 seems potentially interesting, but they don’t really tell us what it is about beyond the general subject matter and time period.

    Incarnate jumps out at me. BAM! That’s a movie.

    Hyperbaric seems like it has potential. The logline is a bit vague, but seems like it will involve smuggling via this makeshift mini-submarine. That could be cool. It is different at least.

    Reminiscence, I’m not going to lie, interests me as I’m a sci-fi nut. Overall though, it sounds like the type of cliche logline that would get torn to shreds here during an amateur offerings (sacrifice to the script gods?) buffet o’ screenplays.

    Patient Z is… well… at least a unique take on the tired zombie subgenre. I can’t really see how it would play as anything other than extremely silly. The language of the undead? “URGHH… BRAWWAHAH…. BRAINNNNZZZZZZZZ!!!!!” Maybe if it were done the style of something like Return of the Living Dead, or more along the lines of Sir Peter Jackson’s splatstick masterpiece Dead Alive. So maybe it isn’t the next World War Z, but a possible low budget zombie-comedy classic?

    • ripleyy

      I wanna get my hands on Reminiscence but especially Patient Z.

      Even though I can imagine it being a serious thriller, I can also see it being a comedy as well, like you said. “Well? What did he say?” “He said brains” “Brains? My God!” “No, he’s just asking for coffee. Brains in the language of the undead means coffee” “My God. What else did he say?” “He said braaaiiinnns” “Coffee?” “No, terrorist attack in New York. Twelve days from now”

      • Hadley’s Hope

        Yeah, I’m being a bit cheeky with my breakdowns of these spec script premises. Only because it is kind of a suckerpunch to see such concepts sell for so much as specs, which going by their premise aren’t sounding all that much better than a lot of the amateur entries that come through this place. Of course, the quality of the writing is what will ultimately set them apart from the herd, and that can’t be judged by a logline.

        As for brains being the equivalent of zombie coffee, maybe they blend them up into frappucino-like brain beverages.

        “Would you like soy or skim with your brainuccino?”

        “BRAINNNZZZZZZZZ” (as the zombie lunges forward, over the counter and attacks the brainbarrista).

    • drifting in space

      LOL! When I read the premise of Patient Z, I thought the exact same thing…

    • Citizen M

      Hyperbaric. I thought it might be Die Hard on a submarine, but it isn’t. Looks like that slot’s still open.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        Could be the premise for the next Die Hard.

        John McClane takes his grandkids on a tour of a recently decommissioned nuclear submarine docked at a naval museum, when terrorists commandeer the vessel to use in an attack on the nation’s capital.

        • Citizen M

          That’s pretty good.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            DIVE HARD

          • drifting in space

            You should be getting numerous offers soon. That is brilliant.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            There can be some more McClane backstory embedded into this one. Before he was a cop, John McClane was in the navy.

            There is also some great crossover potential. Jack Ryan could be like the new Al Powell ally that shows up the to help out.

          • drifting in space

            “I’m getting too old for this ship”

      • garrett_h

        Hyperbaric sounds A LOT like Narco Sub by David Guggenheim. Went out last year methinks. Dunno Narco Sub sold or not, but it’s almost the same exact premise.

  • romer6

    Carson, here is a question for you: do “dramedies” sell? I mean, are dramas with hints of comedy or comedies with a little bit of drama as tough to sell as full dramas? Is it worth to push the comedy over the drama or just scrap the drama off completely even if it hurts the story?

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      Judging from the Box Office results. No.

      I am writing now a dark comedy, and I do it because that’s how I imagine the story. I didn’t aim to make it fall under this genre.

      For me, one of the best indicators that you have a solid idea is the logline. If you can write the movie’s premise in ONE sentence and people are excited to learn more about it, then you should feel comfortable of spending the next 6 months writing it.

      • romer6

        Dark Comedies are still comedies so I guess you have a head start. Dramedies are more dramas than comedies and that´s what hurts them so much. Dark comedies are usually well accepted, look at “This is the End” for instance. But I keep thinking about movies like “Seeking a Friend at the End of the World”, a well praised script that ended up being ignored (and the movie was very faithful to the script as far as I can remember). It seems the more the script bends to the comedy aspect the better are the chances of it getting made. It´s not the case with “Seeking a friend”, I guess it was the Scafaria plus Carell effect.

        • Panos Tsapanidis

          Agreed. But there is one fact. If you write a genuinely good dramedy, you might not see your movie on the silver screen, but the industry will notice you, and you career will move one step forward.

          I think no matter the genre, writing good scripts will get you work. Work that might be in a whole other genre, but work nevertheless.

          • romer6

            Yes, I agree with you on that matter. I guess anything you write as long as it is VERY good (only good won´t cut it, there are too many good scripts around) will get you some attention.

            So the lesson is: to make money, specs; but to be acknowledged, anything very good, excellent or spetacular will do. ;)

          • Panos Tsapanidis

            That’s how I see it.

    • Alex Palmer

      Just a thought, but maybe consider writing a pilot rather than a spec. 30 – 40 minute dramedies are dominating British TV at the moment.

      • romer6

        That´s a great advice. I will definitely consider it.

  • romer6

    What we haven´t had for a while is a new Raiders of the Lost Ark (of course the Crystal Skull doesn´t count!), or a new The Goonies. Light adventure movies with lots of laughs, that doesn´t take themselves as seriously but doesn´t call us “stupid” either. With a fun plot, lots of clever dialogs and unforgettable characters. I haven´t seen that in a while. The other day I was watching “Romancing the Stone”, what a great movie that is. So fun to watch, we really come to care about those characters. Where are those? Why don´t some of us write this stuff? Would it be tough to sell to today´s audience?

    • fragglewriter

      I don’t think it would be tough to sell, but the studio would probably insist that the writer make it more marketable by adding in more action scenes (set pieces) and maybe add a child or death so that we can root for the protagonist.

    • ripleyy

      Diane Thomas wrote “Romancing the Stone” while she was a waitress. One day, Michael Douglas came in and she pitched her idea to him. That’s how it all started. He pushed it all the way.

      Also, Diane Thomas wrote the sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Not many people know that. It was considered a “horror” in the style of the 1930s and meant to be situated at a haunted castle in Scotland.

      So it just shows, if an actor or actress comes into your work, you elevator pitch them.

      • romer6

        Maybe those are too naive by today standards… Everything nowadays has to be “darker” or down to earth or more agressive! Take the new Batmans or the new Superman for instance. Or even the new Star Wars trilogy (killing jedi children? they really went that far!?). I wonder if a movie like Raiders would be as well received as it was in its own time… We are too spoiled by special effects and explosions and blood and gore.

        But I can tell you all this: a new spin in the adventure genre would definitely sell for a LOT of money. So let´s start working on that, shall we?

        • drifting in space

          That’s what I’m workin’ on as we speak. ;)

        • ripleyy

          I’ve been trying to write light adventures forever but I think trying to recapture the 80s adventure movies is a lot more difficult with this generation. There was such a charm about those movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that it has to take a certain someone who can try and get it again.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          I’ve got one of those fun adventure type of story ideas that’s been floating around in my noodle for awhile. Technically it is sci-fi, but the whole adventure angle is in there too. I figured it would be a hard sell, but maybe I’m being pessimistic?

          • ripleyy

            It’s not that writing adventure is hard, it’s not, it’s just coming up with a good enough macguffin (you know, the object of desire or whatever).

      • Mike.H

        Part III of Diane Thomas saga: With the proceeds of sale she bought her boyfriend a Porsche and they went for joy ride, with Diane being reluctant over the excessive speed… It crashed and killed them both. [ recalled from memory from an article I read] Tragedy…sadness.

    • filmklassik

      Man do I wish “light adventure” movies would become fashionable again but so far they haven’t. Even action/adventure and superhero movies that are SUPPOSED to be fun (those written by Joss Whedon, for example) have a tendency to take themselves too seriously.

      Just compare the two STAR WARS trilogies for a stark example of this trend. The second trilogy, in addition to being clunkily written, is ponderous, sanctimonious, and BORING.

    • DavydSC

      I think National Treasure and in a dumber way The Mummy were both in the fun, “light-hearted adventure movie” vein and aspiring to the Raiders tradition. I don’t know the numbers or the origin of the initial scripts, but both seemed successful and spawned sequels.

  • maxi1981

    “Fuck it, write what you’re passionate about” So if your excited about that drama about golfing or that period piece about Rasputin’s childhood or even that biopic about Kim Jong Un that you are so invested in then go for gold!

    • paul

      I’m really passionate about coming of age musicals about Amish teens.

      • romer6

        Wow. That´s a movie I´d like to see. I would not pay, but I´d definitely see it.

        • paul

          That’s why I’m so passionate about it!

  • RafaelSilvaeSouza

    “But if you can come up with a big juicy fresh action film idea” Wait a sec! I got tha–“that’s well-written?” DAMMIT!

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Comments from me as a European:

    We’re the Millers (Surprised this did a little better worldwide than The Heat. Maybe the family angle made it a little more relatable?): I think that Aniston is STILL cashing in on her Friends role as Rachel here in Europe.

    Olympus Has Fallen (Interesting how this action flick didn’t travel. Might have something to do with the “rah rah save America” message. I’m guessing this didn’t play in China.): Actually, we all got sick of the “rah rah save America.” Europeans, Africans, Asians… all. (sorry, my US buddies, but that’s what I sense from other people as well.)

    42 (Also, it goes to show that baseball movies don’t travel, probably because no one else in the world understands the f*cking rules.): Exactly.

    Oblivion ($286 million worldwide): I think that Tom Cruise’s reputation is not as damaged as it is in the US, with the Scientology and all.

    White House Down ($205 million worldwide): Going back to my comment on Olympus Has Fallen, that’s a mystery to me. You got me there.

    • fragglewriter

      I agree with everything above. I’m American and I still don’t understand about the rah, rah save America.

      • ripleyy

        I’m surprised Call of Duty or Battlefield has anything left to say, there’s going to come a point they’ll have to fight among themselves because they would have took on every superpower in the world

        • fragglewriter

          You know I was thinking about Call of Duty yesterday while I was procrastinating writer (LOL) and said that I’m really exhausted with the same movies being produced such as assassins, war, political, comic and spy. It’s all being to feel the same.

          Nowadays, crossover is not out of the question. Remember “Alien vs Predator”

          • ripleyy

            What a great movie, I still have the DVD somewhere. It’s a guilty pleasure. Plus, you find crossovers more in comic books and graphic novels more than movies.

            Aliens AND Predator have both been in Batman.

          • romer6

            Batman has probably faced/met every movie character available. I don´t recall a Indiana Jones/Batman crossover but I am pretty sure it happened.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            How about Harry and the Hendersons Vs Han and Chewie?

    • romer6

      I think your points work for South America as well.

    • filmklassik

      “Actually, we all got sick of the ‘rah rah save America.’ Europeans, Africans, Asians… all. (sorry, my US buddies, but that’s what I sense from other people as well.)”

      Well, I’m curious to know what other recent U.S. movies besides OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN would have made them “sick” of those kinds of stories. I only ask because shamelessly pro-American movies are fairly thin on the ground these days. They were all the rage in the 40s and 50s… fell into disfavor in the late 60s and 70s… came roaring back in the 80s under Ronald Reagan… but since 9/11 they are considered out of step again.

      Keep in mind that WHITE HOUSE DOWN came out after OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and, despite its logline, was not really “pro American” in the same way OLYMPUS was.

      In fact “DOWN” is much more about Obama-style Progressives vs. Evil, Greedy, Tea Party Republicans. It celebrates Howard Zinn patriotism as opposed to the John Wayne variety exemplified by OLYMPUS.

      Democrats and Europeans tend to prefer the former.

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        filmklassik, I agree that lately there are less and less, but if you count all the movies in those previous decades i.e.

        Count every movie with EVIL RUSSIANS.

        Add all those evil aliens that want to take over the world, but thankfully our world is saved by good ol’ American Joes.

        Add every movie with EVIL TERRORISTS, with those beards and middle-Eastern accents.

        As Bruce Willis said in an interview, if you open the yellow pages you’ll see an ad that says “Bruce Willis: Saves the world.” (I can’t quote him exactly, but this was the gist.)

        Of course, I understand that the american movies are primarily targeting the American market, so it is only natural that the main action will take place in a US city and the hero will be an American. I would do the same as a producer and also as a writer raised in the US. It would be silly to research how life in a Russian town is instead of writing about how life in an American towns is, for example.

        I think it’s a “side-effect” of the fact that the amount of movies that draw people to the theaters are American. (and, in my opinion, rightfully.) We have to live with that. And, I guess, Americans have to live with us complaining about the fact that in the movie universe, the US is always the center of this planet, and the center of every major conflict, and its citizens/heroes always the most brave and capable ones.

        Peace,
        Panos

        • filmklassik

          “I think it’s a “side-effect” of the fact that the amount of movies that draw people to the theaters are American. (and, in my opinion, rightfully.) We have to live with that. And, I guess, Americans have to live with us complaining about the fact that in the movie universe, the US is always the center of this planet, and the center of every major conflict, and its citizens/heroes always the most brave and capable ones.”

          Good point — one that’s very hard to argue with.

          Cheers!

          filmklassik

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    “Did you guys conclude anything from this list? Or do you subscribe to the “Fuck it, write what you’re passionate about” approach?”

    I strongly believe that you can’t write about a genre you are not passionate enough. So, you’ll learn a hell lot more from writing really good dramas than writing mediocre action specs.

    My personal goal lately is to write good scripts, no matter the genre. If I learn to write good scripts, I can then jump to almost any genre.

  • Cuesta

    So the consensus here of “you have to write a contained-boring-thriller if you really want to be a proffesional/sell/have any chance of your script being produced” looks like it isn’t backed by the reality.

    • fragglewriter

      Look at Eli Roth’s films. I tried to watched “Hostel” & “Cabin Fever” but I had to stop it within 30 minutes of the film because of bad acting and storyline, and for some odd reason, he still gets financing.

      • Lenny

        Like Omar Little said, Eli Roth has ‘suction’… cough… Quentin Tarantino… cough…

        • saywhatnow

          Omar Little said that?
          When, where, to whom??

    • SandbaggerOne

      It is and it isn’t. Sure some writers have made big spec sales with action/sci-fi films, but it is very, very rare. Like 1 in 4000, if not more. And I’d bet that out of those those scripts that were specs, about half those writers already were professional script writers and half of the remaining spec sales were from writers working in the industry at assistants, agents, crew, etc… so they had an “in”.

      If you are someone who isn’t already a working writer and are not working in the film industry, then the odds of selling a major, big budget spec script is incredibly low. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

      The simple fact of the matter is the higher the budget of the script you write, the fewer companies can make it. Out of dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of film companies there are maybe 6 that can make a $50 Million + film.

      I’d estimate that for about every $5 Million dollars of your film’s budget the number of studios that could make your film gets halved.

      If your film is $1 to $5 million there are maybe a 200 companies that could make it.

      If it is $6-11 Million then there are maybe 100. $12-20M maybe 50. $21-25M maybe 25 companies. And so on…

      So, yes, while there are the very rare big budget spec sales from writers completely outside the film industry your smartest bet is to try and write something that has the best chance to sell, get your foot in the door, THEN write and try and sell your big budget spec script.

      • drifting in space

        I’d believe this to be true. And of the 6 studios that could afford the big budget movie, 0/6 will be willing to make anything from an unknown writer.

        Pacific Rim was made because Travis had made a name for himself prior to making, plus he had source materials that he had come up with. It was unbelievably laid out for the studio, which is rare.

        They figured it would be a sure thing. I think they were right to a degree, but it wasn’t a roaring success like they anticipated in the US.

        • Citizen M

          0/6 will be willing to make anything from an unknown writer

          If this is true, it’s rather sad. Do development execs not have faith in their own judgement? Do they not believe they can tell a good script from a bad one, no matter who the writer is?

          • drifting in space

            With how much you hear about them getting fired, I don’t think anyone can tell a good script from a bad one.

            Plus, most of the big budget movies are already in the works from the major studios with big name writers attached to them.

            There is ALWAYS a chance, but the odds won’t be in your favor.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Few do.
            The real business of Hollywood is about executives keeping their jobs.
            If a movie flops, they want to be able to say they had a well respected writer.

          • SandbaggerOne

            Honestly it is not a matter of judgment of if a script is good or bad, that is only a very small factor in making a movie. It is a business that involves a lot of different, constantly moving pieces and the script is only one of them.

            Apart from a script you need a director and actors willing to attach themselves to the project, then you need to find a time that works with all of their different schedules and other filming commitments and then you need a budget that the studio can live with (and if it is not one of the major six studios, then they need to raise the money to make the film from investors and pre-sales) and if any one of those pieces drops out (like an actor or the director) then you have to start all over again.

            For example the Producer decided to make the film because the Director wanted to be involved. The Director took the project because the Budget was high enough to fit his vision. Lead Actor A took the film because he wanted to work with the Director. Lead Actor B took the film because she wanted to work with Lead Actor A. But then the Studio Accountants worked the numbers and predicted the Film would only make $XX, so the Budget was reduced. This cause the Director to leave the project, which caused Lead Actor A to leave the project, which caused Lead Actor B to not be happy. And then the Producer loses interest because it is no longer the Film he wanted to make, so the project goes into Turn Around and ends up never getting made. Since at this point the Script has only been optioned (they rarely buy a script until all the piece are in place) so all the Writer ever gets is his option fee and shattered dreams.

            That is why something like The Black List (how it use to be) was created. It was a list of all the good scripts that never got purchased that Development people would pass around because they liked them, but the studio heads wouldn’t buy them.

            If a development exec likes a script, and can convince his bosses to get interested in it, then it might get optioned. Hundreds of scripts get optioned for next to nothing (and never go anywhere beyond that) for every script that finally sells.

      • Cuesta

        Hmm. So it’s very rare to break with anything else than cheap , shabby stuff. Yet in that damn list above there is barely any of that.
        Then we conclude it’s almost impossible to turn pro without help, connections or sucking extremely well, right?

        Perhaps everyone of us can save the time going straight for a job to a Taco Bell.

        • SandbaggerOne

          Pretty much. In this day and age, unlike the 90’s, amateur scriptwriters need to start thinking about selling spec scripts not as “winning the lottery” but rather as a career choice and work at it like a career. It is a long slog in any business going from the mail room to the corner office and being a script writer isn’t really any different.

          If you are really serious about becoming a professional script writer then you are easily a 100 times more likely to break in if you live in LA or New York or Toronto (and are willing to network). You are then another 100 times more likely to make a sale if you work in the film industry in any of those cities.

          Despite all the pretensions to the opposite, the mainstream film industry is a Business dealing in Art, not Art working with Business. If someone wants to create “art” then become a novelist or write and direct a microbudget film or internet show and hope it goes viral.

          But honestly, any realistic career vision or path of becoming a professional screenwriter involves first working in the industry, or writing very well written, low budget, easy to make scripts that a very small company buy and produce. And after that sale, you can get an agent and manager and start slowly moving up the ranks of a professional screenwriter.

          Any other version is really, basically, just hoping to win the lottery.

          I know a writer that placed in the top 10 of the Nichols fellowship, and still the only way she got an manager was the fact that she was an assistant to a Producer and that Producer put in a good word for her. She then wrote a couple of other scripts (while still working as an assistant) that her manager used to get her an agent, and again, it was the Producers and managers good word that help get her the agent then, finally, she was getting into real meetings and pitch sessions (while still working as an assistant), But it was, and still is, a process that can take years even with a very high placing script in a major, well respected, competition plus having a manager and agent.

          • T.Tune

            And there’s always sleeping your way to the top!
            Just kidding, Just kidding.

  • Alex Palmer

    Love the fact that the genre of Patient Z is listed simply as “Zombie”. Just goes to show how saturated pop-culture with those shambling (or sometimes running) critters.

    Speaking of Patient Z, it’s unclear from the logline whether the premise is being treated straight-faced or not. I hope not: a movie about a “Zombie Whisperer” sounds like a slice of campy fun.

  • paul

    How realistic is it for a newbie writer to go out with a spec for a big budget special effects movie that’s 60 million to 100 million dollar budget? I know there have been some sold…but how many were first time specs versus heavy hitters selling their scripts when they are hot.

    Also, many articles have indicated that specs are being lowballed now….but just from the article above there seemed to be a lot of million dollar sales…even a 3 million dollar sale…..so is the trend coming back up where there are these huge million or more dollar sales?

    • fragglewriter

      “Snow White and the Huntsman” was a six figure spec sale that was submitted by a writer, Evan Daugherty, through the contest Script Pipeline.

      • Kay Bryen

        Seven figures actually. $3.2 million I believe. Gives us all newbies hope.

        • fragglewriter

          I also read that two other writers were brought in to do the rewrites.

          I watched it for the first time about 2 months ago, and thought the movie was boring, and predictable, even though I like Kristen Stewart’s acting, but hated her in Twilight (I hate that movie just to be clear) so go figure.

      • gazrow

        Actually he won the contest with “Killing Season” in 2008. Script Pipeline hooked him up with manager Jake Wagner. Daugherty didn’t sell “Snow White and the Huntsman” until 2010. :)

        • fragglewriter

          Ok. I thought it was the other way around. I haven’t watched”Killing Season” even though it got panned based on the reviews and movie grossed.

          Do you know if there was much different between the script and the movie.

          • gazrow

            Haven’t seen the film to be honest. Heard it went straight to DVD. Pretty surprising when you consider it stars De Niro and Travolta!

    • romer6

      The movie industry is just that, an industry. If your script will make them money, they couldn´t care less if you are a newbie, an alien or even an undead. Write an awesome script, take it to the right hands and it will be sold. I have no doubt about that. But you can´t dream of “making it” with a script that is “kind of good” or that have a couple of good scenes or even that “makes you laugh a little”. It must be something really good, they must see your effort and care, they must feel that you take the craft seriously. I guess that´s why Carson is so harsh sometimes with amateur scripts.

  • paul

    Should budget be a factor in your thinking as a spec writer? Do you have to write these cheap found footage/contained horror thrillers when what you really want to write is a blow up the world movie starring Brad Pitt.

  • fragglewriter

    Carson, maybe you should write your vampire script and add time travel as a twist LOL.

    I haven’t gone to the movies to watch any of the above films because they don’t appeal to me except for “This is the End”. Do you know that they are making a sequel to “Olympus has Fallen?” That’s a shock.

    Also, for the recent spec sales, ditto.

    For spy movies, after Bond, I’m really bored with it but they keep on selling, so there is a market for it.

    I say you have to combine what’s hot to sell, action & thriller, but put a twist on it by combining it with what your passionate about. Just play around with the thought in your head and if it seems right, outline it.

    • romer6

      How about a drama centered around a couple of survivors of the zombie apocalypse that learn they can survive if they turn into vampires and then become able to travel the long distance from our planet to the planet of the aliens that brought the zombie virus to Earth and then bring justice by using an altered version of the virus to anihilate their own species? “A one way bloody trip through the stars they would never see…”

      • fragglewriter

        I think I saw that movie on Chiller LOL

    • lesbiancannibal

      Funnily enough, I challenged my wife to come up with a high concept – “spy vampires” was her response.

      • fragglewriter

        I laughed so hard that would make a good comedy. And the twist is that their spying on another vampire and it turns into a thriller in which those spy vampires are trying not to get staked. The plot twist is that the person who hired them set them up LOL

  • Stevetmp

    This is very interesting, especially as someone with drama sensibilities. I believe you should write what you love. You have to given how long you’re going to spend with it but as Carson says, great to be educated and to use information like this to guide decision making.

  • J. Lawrence Head

    What? Zombie is a genre unto itself now? Now where did i leave that EPIC FAIL rubber stamp.

    The submarine stuff and the fighter jet stuff are both covered in my latest feature spec (on 3rd rewrite currently), Angels of the Deep. Good to know I’m on the right track!

  • garrett_h

    I guess I’m in the Write Whatever You Want camp. Because if you like drama and hate sci-fi actioners, if you tried to write one your heart won’t be in it. And that kind of thing comes across on the page. I’m sure we’ve all read some assignment a working writer was just trying to get a paycheck for and it shows.

    To take the baseball thing a little further (just because Carson hates baseball) it’s almost like telling a right-handed pitcher to switch to leftie because left-handed pitchers are in high demand. That ain’t gonna work.

    So if you love dramas, write dramas. Just know that the bar you have to clear is A LOT higher than a genre piece with a cool concept. But it can be done. Just look at The Kings Speech writer. I mean, it took him a few decades, but he broke in!

  • Kosta K

    Writing is writing. I think, as amateurs, the only thing we should be concerned about is selling at this point, not selling out. I think a lot of people are confusing the two.

  • drifting in space

    Don’t write what sells now. By the time you have a finished product, who knows what the trend will be. Write what you are passionate about. Something your heart will be in.

    • filmklassik

      Amazing how contradictory the advice can be on this score. Sometimes the same issue of CREATIVE SCREENWRITING will advise writers to “Follow your passion!” in one article and to “Be mindful of trends” in the next. Drives me crazy.

      • drifting in space

        I know, it drives me nuts. I mean, obviously don’t try to write about a drunk pirate searching for his ship, but almost anything else can be sold if it is WRITTEN WELL.

        I think a lot of people are looking for excuses to avoid being great writers and think they can sneak in with a big concept.

        • J. Lawrence Head

          A drunk ship looking for his pirate. Now that’s a new twist on the classic tale. I’d go see that. … maybe

  • Stank

    Thank you Carson. My favorite article every year. I wish we could do more analysis of what is selling when it is selling, truly the most important aspect. In terms of “what you love” vs “what the market wants”.

    I can say first hand that if your passion is telling stories, you can find something you are passionate about in any genre. I am passionate about telling stories or people who succeed at becoming better people through a series of challenges.

    I started writing all dramas. Like most writers, I felt drama got to involve the most amount of emotional impact and opportunity for mind blowing dialogue. Then I realized I was being an idiot, I switched and wrote my first Sci-Fi/Thriller and Quarter Finaled at Nicholl. There was nothing different about switch the genre. I WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT MY CHARACTERS JOURNEY.

    Maybe different people are more specifically passionate about something, but I recommend everyone try a different genre. Just try it. If nothing else, it’ll make you better.

    Write a comedy to improve your humor wit in a dark drama, write a thriller to help increase the tension in an action script, write a drama to help improve the relationships in your horror script.

    If you are passionate about writing…. then just write.

  • Citizen M

    Stephanie Palmer recommends finding a genre you can work in and sticking to it.

    How to Be a Writer Executives Want to Hire

    • wlubake

      That is probably good advice, for contract work. However, I’d lose my mind if I didn’t change genres. Maybe build an expertise and write other genres on spec (maybe with an alias?).

  • Fistacuffs

    I don’t understand why Baseball film’s don’t do well world wide. Baseball if just as, if not more, popular in Asia than it is in North America.

    • drifting in space

      Just because they play it doesn’t mean they want to watch a movie about AMERICAN baseball. I think that’s the issue. Unless you make it about an Asian-American that crossed over. There probably isn’t a huge market over there for Jackie Robinson’s story OR how to win using sabremetrics.

      • garrett_h

        Don’t forget South America as well. Baseball is probably the second most popular sport worldwide, behind football. Although basketball is gaining in popularity.

        You’re probably right, though. It’s not about the sport of baseball itself. It’s the types of stories we’re telling that don’t resonate with an international audience. Also, sports movies in general don’t do that well anyway. So that’s another factor.

        • drifting in space

          Yeah, exactly. To us, baseball is a tradition, rooted in our blood. To most of the world, it is a secondary sport picked up over the years. 42 isn’t as much about baseball as it is about breaking the color barrier. Most of the world probably doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            Major league
            ——————
            Budget:$11 million
            Box office:$49,797,148

            Field of Dreams
            ——————-
            Budget: $15 million
            Box Office: $84,431,625

            The Sandlot
            —————-
            Budget: $7 Million
            Box Office: $33,832,313

            The Rookie
            ————-
            Budget: $22,000,000
            Box Office: $80,000,000

            Admittedly there were a few flops like Mr. Baseball ($$ wise it lost money) and For Love of The Game. But overall baseball movies do well. It’s not the genre, it’s the story being told. Baseball movies (as with most sports movies) have to be about underdogs overcoming. About a person or team doing when everyone else says the can’t

          • drifting in space

            Yes, but we’re talking about why they don’t do well overseas. They will always have a chance in the US. Major League and The Sandlot are two of my favorite movies.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            Ditto. I’m also partial to “Rookie Of the Year”, because I like to see the Cubbies do good every now and then, also because I love John Candy. RIP.

          • Paul DeWolf

            I too am a fan of the baseball film and that’s why I wrote one with a spin I hadn’t seen yet:
            https://www.dropbox.com/s/jcz070wyv7057hv/Seveny-three2013.pdf
            But the primary feedback I’ve always gotten, (even here on this site when the logline was listed) was-baseball movies don;t sell-so don’t bother-
            If you’re interested in baseball stories-always looking for feedback..

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I wanna do for a baseball movie what Oliver Stone did for a football movie.

          • wlubake

            What is the spin?

          • Paul DeWolf

            I was interested in the writing a story about someone who is on the wrong side of baseball history. What developed is essentially a revenge film with baseball as backdrop

          • FD

            What about the Bears? That film was awesome. Even the sequel in Japan was awesome. It was, exactly as you say, about underdogs overcoming. That theme will always sell, even if the sport is dodgeball – oh, already been done. Might be time for a tiddly winks movie.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I put that one under the category of “Goes without SAying”

      • Fistacuffs

        Very true. I guess I will now commence my Ichiro spec script.

        • drifting in space

          Being in Seattle, I would be first in line to see this.

      • J. Lawrence Head

        Back in the 80s , Tom Selleck did a movie called Mr. Baseball, about an american player who goes and plays in the Japanese leagues. It wasn’t miind-blowing, but I enjoyed.

        • Fistacuffs

          Love that movie!

  • Jim Jones Juice

    Too bad all of the specs turned films (perhaps Oblivion is a minor exception); are complete crap; and though the recent spec sales look promising; these films have a very small chance of actually hitting the Cineplex.

  • Eman

    3 million is monster for a script, White House down was made for 150 million 3 mil is like 2 percent. Pacific Rim perhaps the most high concept f the bunch commander less why is the script market so inconsistent when it comes to the market price for high concept materials are writers not aware of what other scripts are selling for ?

  • drifting in space

    I think one thing to remember with all of this data is:

    No one knows anything.

    There are SO MANY FACTORS that go into each sale, data as cut and dry as this doesn’t really tell you anything.

    I read recently that an idea was pitched about an ex-con who gets a job driving a school bus. The PITCH sold for $1mil. And that idea isn’t even feasible. An ex-con could never get a job working around children. Ever.

    Just goes to show you. None of this shit will ever make sense. Write what you want to write. Follow Brian Koppleman’s vines, his advice is the best. Whatever idea you have that scares/intrigues you the most and you’re not sure if it will be well-received… write that one.

    Just like any art, it’s rooted in passion.

    • J. Lawrence Head

      A crack-smoker can be Mayor. Anything is possible.

      • Fistacuffs

        At least he wasn’t caught smoking salmon ;)

      • FD

        Did he inhale?

      • Crazdwrtr

        Only if he smokes crack while drinking and talks about killing people and gorging out their eyes. Oh, and they have to live in Toronto.

    • wlubake

      Eh, you could do the School of Rock approach to the bus driver one. The Ex Con wasn’t hired for the job, but he’s the guy that showed up in the name of the guy hired. Add a fake ID and a lazy government employee and you are there.

      • drifting in space

        Mmmm, I suppose. It’ll probably make $100mil, too. Ugh.

    • Linkthis83

      Ummm….what about the J smokin Janitor at Mr White’s school!!!!!

      • drifting in space

        Smokin’ a J won’t make you an ex-con! (I hope) ;)

        • Linkthis83

          Haha. I think he was an ex-con (or he at least had a record).

          • drifting in space

            Well, darn. I guess it’s possible.

          • Linkthis83

            They wrote around it by having some of the parents outraged at a school meeting after the janitor was arrested and some supplies chemistry supplies had gone missing. Basically just yelling out loud “How could this happen” which really isn’t far off from our own reality. Like how drunk drivers still have their license somehow even if they’ve been caught quite a few times.

            I think in the case of this School Bus story the challenge for the writer to come up with a scenario that is plausible (or even just somewhat). Or the writer could be bold as shit and just write it as is and see what happens. People might be willing to overlook it. I mean, in the Princess Bride EVERYBODY overlooks that fact that Westley is a cold blooded mass murderer. He was the Dread Pirate Roberts for a time who leaves no survivors. But we just conveniently never focus on that. LOL

          • drifting in space

            I’m pretty sure it’s the writers that work with Seth Rogan on his stuff, so I’m assuming they will just go the bold route and have us all on board with the humor.

            And yeah about the Princess Bride, YEAH LOL!

  • Poe_Serling

    “Today’s audience isn’t the same as it was, 25-30 years ago, for better and worse.”

    That comment got me to thinking… So, after a bit of research, out of the almost 90 major spec sales back in ’93 – only 10-15% of those ever made it to the big screen.

    >>> Script: Multiplicity. Logline: Man clones himself so he can have more time to spend with his kids. Starring Michael Keaton.

    >>> Script: Getting Even With Dad. Logline: 11 year-old boy blackmails his ex con father into going straight by hiding the loot from his latest job. Sold for: $500K/$1M.

    >>>Script: The War. Logline: Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, a 12 year old boy and his friends build a treefort to hide from the bad kids in the neighborhood. As a result of a life threatening situation for one of the kids, the other children bond together in an effort to save him, and in the end, understand the futility of war. Sold for $500K.

    >>>Script: The Cure. Logline: Two 12 year old boys befriend each other, and when it is discovered that one of themhas AIDS, the other decides to find a way to heal his new friend. Sold for a $1M +.

    >>>Script: To Wong Foo (Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar) Logline: Three drug queens’ car breaks down in midwestern town where they interact with the locals. Sold for mid six figures.

    >>>Script : The Stars Fall on Henrietta. Logline: Early days of wildcat oil drilling in Oklahoma. Another mid six figures sale.

    >>>Script: Species. Logline: Actioner in vein of “Predator” and “Aliens”. A test tube baby, who is part human, part genetic information, is taken from an alien radio transmission. Sold for $500K/$750K.

    >>>Script: The Truman Show. Logline: Surrealistic story about a New York-based insurance adjuster who slowly realizes that what he knows as reality may not be so real. Sold for $750K/$1.5M.

    >>>Script : Mr. Herrick’s Opus (Mr. Holland’s Opus). Logline: Music
    teacher’s dream to become a professional musician is not fulfilled as
    he spends thirty years in classroom. Only late in life does he understand the profound ways he has changed their lives. Sold for $475/$975K.

    >>>Script: Assassins. Logline: Veterain hit man is being stalked by younger, hungrier colleague eager to take over as top dog. Vet must survive the attack by enlisting the aid of a female surveillance expert. Selling price a cool $1 million.

    Etc.

    Also, here are a couple of big name spec sales from that same year that I believe are still bouncing around in development hell:

    >>>Script: Smoke & Mirrors. Logline: Set in 1850′s, illusionist Robert Houdin is sent to Alergia by the French government to expose a religious sorcerer who is provoking attacks against the French colonials. Sold for $500K/$1M.

    >>>Script: Suspension. Logline: Terrorists seize control of the George Washington Bridge during a traffic jam. Writer: Joss Whedon . Sold for $750K/$1M.

    • romer6

      Wow, only 10-15%? That is a really low rate. Maybe they were only buying those scripts to take them off the market.

      • Poe_Serling

        Another thing I noticed from the ’93 list of films produced from specs is that it seems only The Truman Show, Species, and Mr. Holland’s Opus made a significant dent at the box-office.

    • andyjaxfl

      I finally got my hands on Smoke & Mirrors last week and it doesn’t disappoint. What a script from start to finish.

      • Poe_Serling
      • drifting in space

        Can you send that to me?

        driftinginscripts at gmail dot com

      • garrett_h

        One of my favorite spec scripts of all time. Such a shame it hasn’t hit the screen.

        • andyjaxfl

          I’m try to stay hopelessly optimistic that it’ll get made. How can something this good not get made? But it’s been 20 years and how many scripts go this long without someone making it? Even one as good as this? Unforgiven took 15 years. That’s the lengthiest time gap I could find with a quick Google search.

          (sighs and waits for another Paul W.S. Anderson movie instead).

        • Mike.H

          In today’s dollars, probably would cost $160 million for a risky project. Would you bet $16,000 to win back $500 dollars? Adverse risk is too great.

      • drifting in space

        Could you send this to me? (My comment disappeared)

        driftinginscripts at gmail dot com

        Thanks!

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Hey :-)
        Would you send me the script, please ?
        Being somewhat of a Houdini afficionado, I’d love to read it !
        Thanx.
        marija dot nielsen at gmail

  • Paul DeWolf

    Was just watching the writer’s roundtable here:
    http://www.indiewire.com/article/watch-george-clooney-julie-delpy-and-nicole-holofcener-on-the-highs-and-lows-of-screenwriting
    Thought it was interesting, and pertinent to today’s article when Danny Strong, writer of the Butler notes that he was writing big broad comedies for Jim Carrey because that’s what was selling, and he was not breaking through. He changed gears into writing something he was passionate about and the Butler was born…

  • ximan

    Writing scripts that have a good chance of selling is so second nature to me, that I really don’t understand the aversion that drama writers have toward this practice. These are the kinds of movies that I grew up on, and thus inspired me to write in the first place. Star Wars, 2001, Alien, Aliens, Superman, Batman, Total Recall, The Abyss, James Bond, Terminator, Raiders, E.T., Jurassic Park, The Matrix, etc.

    What I will say is that after I’ve written two or three Sci-Fi/Action scripts, my brain is absolute MUSH! Then I find myself writing these rando dramas that have ZERO chance of getting made, and only writing like 20 pages of the story before I put it aside. And during that time I can’t even LOOK at another high concept idea, let alone write one. Then I repeat the cycle all over again.

    • J. Lawrence Head

      How many have you sold?

      • ximan

        Lol! None yet, but WHEN I sell one, I’ll have several more in the pipe ready to go, which is what ALL the professional writers I meet recommend. “You only have one shot at being the next great screenwriter, so you better be ready to strike when the iron is hot. Write, write, write,” they say.

        But selling isn’t the end-all, because my ability to write commercially has led to other opportunities. The best was a development gig at a major prodco run by an A-list actor. They didn’t hire the guy whose passion was to write/develop dramas. IJS.

        • J. Lawrence Head

          That’s right.

          “IF” = 2 letters. “WHEN” = 4 letters.
          Conclusion: “IF” is for lazy people.

  • lesbiancannibal

    i like seeing them all come together for the World Series

  • John Bradley

    Thanks Carson for the great article, this is one of the best reads I have had in a while!

  • Kosta K

    When you’re at the bottom, it’s really easy to get discouraged if you keep looking at who’s on top. I keep picturing writers like the zombies in World War Z, climbing over each other in a mad attempt to get over that wall.

    • J. Lawrence Head

      Never compare Act 1 of your career to another writer’s Act 3.

      • drifting in space

        I can’t even get the logline of my career to work. LOL

        • J. Lawrence Head

          A writer from Seattle tired of the rain writes great scripts so he can get to LA before he gets waterlogged.

          • drifting in space

            I think that’s why my wife gives me all the time in the world to write. She wants warm, sunny beaches. Not cold, damp everything.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I’m from Vancouver. Same weather.

          • drifting in space

            Ah, nice! Very beautiful up there I hear. I’m too frugal to get a passport.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I don’t know what USA charges, but I just shelled out $120 for a new passport here.

          • drifting in space

            It’s about that much here as well.

          • Kosta K

            My wife loves to dream about Hollywood and warm weather, but when I start talking about my scripts, she goes into a one thousand yard stare. I already cut her from all my acceptance speeches.

          • drifting in space

            Dude, I feel you. I try to bounce ideas off her and she says “not really my kind of movie.”

          • romer6

            My girlfriend loves all my ideas. Don´t know which is worse. And she is a classic movies kind of woman, so I don´t know what to think of her appraisal.

          • drifting in space

            I’ve decided to keep her in the dark on my writing. She has the most random taste in movies, it’s impossible to figure it out.

          • Kosta K

            If I asked my wife if she wanted to go see the new Ryan Gosling movie where he plays a down-on-his-luck necrophiliac who’s life changes when the zombie apocalypse hits, she’d say: “You had me at Ryan Gosling”. She wanted to go see “The Counselor” because Brad Pitt was in it. That’s a hard fucking truth.

          • Kosta K

            Don’t marry her, bro. I think I’m seeing a pattern.

          • wlubake

            It’s funny, if you were describing a movie by reading the review, it wouldn’t sound at all weird. But when you are describing the same concept as something you are writing, suddenly it sounds like you are a weirdo or psycho.
            Imagine explaining the plot of your new script, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, to your in-laws.

          • drifting in space

            Her – “It just sounds like a bunch of random ideas.”

            Me – “No, they’re connected because –”

            Her – “I’m gunna go cook dinner…”

            Me – “Okay.”

          • J. Lawrence Head

            If you cook her dinner, i’m sure she’ll be happy to listen to you talk about your scripts!

          • wlubake

            This is my wife too. She’s fully supportive, as long as she doesn’t have to hear about what I’m writing.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            SOunds like it’s a good thing im staying single for a bit

  • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

    Best advice I’ve heard came from this site (I think….)

    When you start out, write what you’re passionate about. Don’t worry about what is selling because what you’re writing isn’t going to sell anyways. Cut your teeth doing what you love.

    Once you’ve put in your time and have learned what you need to learn to write something that MIGHT sell because it’s “well written” … this is the time you start thinking about what type of genre you will want to actually be writing and identified with as far as what actually sells on the market place… not drama, not existentialist character pieces, not westerns. Thriller, comedy, horror, etc. … genres that are saleable.

  • Poe_Serling

    Since today’s topic is specs and the spec market, here’s my latest one:

    DOWN, DOWN, DOWN

    Logline: After creating the world’s #1 screenwriting site, the charmingly modest Carson Reeves suddenly finds his idyllic internet world turned upside ‘down’ when a rash of
    disturbing ‘down’-votes threatens to bury his blog with an avalanche of negativity.

    Selling points: Strong male protagonist/possible star-making vehicle for just the ‘right’ actor (meaning: someone really, really, ridiculously good-looking). Contained thriller with a cyber twist. A JJ Abrams mystery box super villain – who really is the ‘black down arrow’ culprit????

    I might even consider submitting it for the AF spotlight.

    • wlubake

      Ha. I hadn’t even noticed, but yeah, there is a vengeful down-voter in our ranks right now. No comment is safe.

    • klmn

      POE
      Our down arrows will block out the sun!

      CARSON
      Then I will blog in the shade.

    • ripleyy

      DOWN DOWN DOWN is “Black Hawk Down” (sort of) meets “The Thing” (spot on)

      “When a happy-go-lucky commenter is suddenly down-voted, a community of struggling writers trapped in a screenwriting blog must figure who the killer is before they find themselves down-voted next”

      • carsonreeves1

        lol – it’s got a goal, stakes, urgency. I love it!

    • Citizen M

      SOCK IT TO ‘EM
      When a sock gnome is made redundant he discovers he can create an equivalent amount of annoyance by downvoting commenters on a screenwriting site.

  • Writer451

    Re: 42 “Sorry, boxofficemojo.com seems to just not be carrying the worldwide gross for some reason.”

    That’s b/c films about black people don’t do well overseas. Americans love to hate on themselves for being racist, but the racism you find abroad is a lot worse.

    • FD

      I beg to differ. I’m pretty sure exactly the same people watched 42 who watched Money Game – and that had Brad in it. Baseball just isn’t on the map for most people, and especially not for the people who spend money on cinema. I also resent the claim that people outside America are racist.

  • peisley

    Thanks, Carson, for taking the time to break down what can be a confusing marketplace.

  • Crazdwrtr

    Ineresting reading – spec script sells broken down for last year.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/121723238/Scoggins-Report-2012-Year-End-Spec-Market-Scorecard

  • Greg dinskisk

    Pacific Rim did make a lot overseas, but it still lost about $60 million, in projections… So… that says something? I don’t know. Awful film, either way…

    Horror or comedy would be the easiest to sell, probably.

    • Lenny

      Agree. Guillermo del Toro is one of the most overrated directors working today, a bullied chubby fanboy who makes movies like he was the master in some demented role game. Seriously, see the house where he lives. This dude needs an intervention. Quick.

      • Greg dinskisk

        He’s done some great stuff, like The Devil’s Backbone is stellar, Pan’s Labyrinth is pretty solid, but… Yeah. He needs someone to tell him that every idea he has isn’t gold.