View Full Version : Is the western genre dead?

04-02-2005, 08:52 PM
I just watched David Milch (Deadwood) on Dinner For Five. In discussing the "Deadwood" show, Jon Favreau made the comment that you can't get a western made anymore because most of the funding sources are foreign and they don't support westerns overseas. He said that even a movie like "Unforgiven" didn't make any money overseas.

So then David Milch made the comment that Great Britain is going crazy over Deadwood, that they're being offered a lot of money for syndication, because in actuality, Deadwood is a show that attacks America.

I've been working on a script that takes place post Civil War. The central characters are involved in a love triangle in the midst of anarchy and, yeah, the cavalry's involved, and I could throw in some worthwhile sex and nudity. But I've been writing into it an underlying theme which is critical of contemporary political policies because the Reconstruction era is when all these current failing strategies were first implemented.

So, given that my story, in effect, attacks America, am I just deluding myself that anyone would be interested in a period drama these days? And if the story is truly compelling, isn't that what really matters?

I would really appreciate some feedback because I've spent a year on this story already. And I may just pursue it in novel form.

04-02-2005, 09:41 PM
This is a tough one to answer. Westerns are typically not all that popular with the masses anymore and are a tough sell. The reason? The younger audience tends to view them as "period" or "historical" pieces and aren't all that interested in learning anything when they go to the theatre. They already take it in school.

The hard sell about any western is typically audience appeal. And that's taking into consideration that you may already have a fantastic script. How do you make a 14 year old group of teens head out to watch it? PG-13 or not. It better have an actor in their age group or who they can relate to. Among several other things but that tops the list.

Sales are not in blood and gore, not in guns, not even great characters (something that's a must for any script). Sales come from the proper combination of story elements that appeal to a wide range of individuals from 10-70. If you close that gap to 20-50 you just lost half your audience.

Westerns typically lay at 30 - 70. I would guess because of reasons stated above. And regardless of how well a movie does overseas, it has to aim to do well here. And attacking America isn't necessarily the greatest seller.

Westerns are tough. You have to sit down and figure out what elements to include that would appeal to everyone. Add fantastic characters, and go from there.

A list might look like:

Two original types of explosions
Character driven sex scene
Horse chase with original stunts
Extremely fancy gun handling

And the list goes on and on. Once you got that list. You can write your western. Understand the market, write a great character driven script, then make a sale. Because when you write with all the elements including demographics in mind, you're writing to make a production company money, and THAT'S a writer knowing their job.

Someone from Sony might say to you...

"Hey, Kid. Great script. Absolutely had me right to the last page and I cried when Brian died. Moved to tears. But I can't film it. There's no market."

As opposed to...

"Nice. I could picture that scene where the guy gets the rifle butt in the face. Jesus. And that teen, lookin' through the knothole in the wall when the protag was gettin' ready to do the Sergeant's daughter. It was like I was gonna blow my socks off. The tension was unreal. I'll tell yah what. Work on the scene where the gunsmith's shop blows. It's too cliche then call me and we'll talk. You really got something I can put on screen."

04-02-2005, 09:54 PM
you won't know what the "market" thinks about your script until you finish it and get it out to them. doesn't matter what it's about.

thousand reasons for you to not write anything. about anything.

write what you write.

and best of luck.

04-02-2005, 10:10 PM
I still think you have to know your genre to write it. And it's tough to write something "new" into a genre that's old.

04-02-2005, 10:11 PM
to me it sounds like the poster is knee-deep in writing a western.

i don't know anything but i'd suggest the poster finish his/her western.

tough to write anything new about anything.

it's not the horseshit or the cattle or the spaceships or the navy jets or whichever war that makes the story. that's the setting. the spice. the stuff that binds things together.

it's the story behind the props and costumes that's important, not what the actors ride into or on into town.

make it all work, and you got something.

the market is quite fickle seems to me.

just write your story.

then find out if the market likes it.

they'll let you know right quick.

04-02-2005, 11:36 PM
Great Britain is going crazy over Deadwood, that they're being offered a lot of money for syndication, because in actuality Deadwood is a show that attacks America.
:eek Huh?

Well, as I have said before, people choose their own reality to believe.

America is the country that it is fun to kick right now, so I guess that is what leads these people to interpret the show that way.

04-02-2005, 11:59 PM
Bizarre thoughts re Deadwood being a show that attacks America. Just never occurred to me. Having read the quote, it still doesn't occur to me. Someone's been smoking pot.

Bizarre squared, since casey's synopsis sounds uncannily like my latest W which contains all Revisionist's plot suggestions. Twilight Zone theme.

My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies. (http://hometown.aol.co.uk/DPaterson57)

04-03-2005, 12:05 AM
even more bizarre-

this thread got moved to the business section.

sticks out like a western.

04-03-2005, 12:10 AM
Who's actually designing a movie's action sequences, the stunt coordinators or the writers?

How much should the writer put into designing an action sequence in the script? Is it just a basic idea or is it a blow-by-blow description?

Make no mistake. It always starts with the writers. Those ideas only pass preproduction if they're fresh enough (usually). That still means, however, that a writer must know what they're talking about.

You can't write horse stunts if you don't know horses.
You can't write a cavalry charge with the bayonets pointed forward. Guess why?

Put all pertinent action in an action sequence. And nothing more, nothing less. And the action that takes place surrounding your protag must reflect your protag's personality. If your protag is a shy girl stuck in a fight scene and they kill a person. The fight must reflect that. Maybe her attacker trips and falls on the knife she's holding up with her eyes closed. A personality involved in authentic action creates emotion. Emotion creates audience identification and that is why we're here.

Depending on your 'action' you'll have other people involved, but you don't have to worry about that. Horse trainers, stuntmen, directors, DPs, actors, set technicians, all of them and more could have input on how a stunt goes down. It's your job to tell a story through that stunt and make it relevant to plot.

Read "Maverick" or "Tombstone" to find action within the script that reflects main character's personalities. Because that is your job. Write what happens as it happens. Let the Director deal with the rest.

04-03-2005, 12:11 AM
edited for haste and idiotic comments.

04-03-2005, 12:18 AM
AnconRanger, are you saying that it IS the stunt coordinators and technicians that end up designing all the stunts?

04-03-2005, 12:19 AM
i'm saying your post sounded to me like you wondered if you should even write or finish your story...when you sounded neck deep in it.

your reservations boiled down to money.

i'm saying, go back to your story. if you want to.

you can't predict money.

but do what you want, of course.

and revisionist, just reread your post and i was way off.

gonna edit. sorry pard.

04-03-2005, 12:26 AM
Thanks for the input, Revisionist. I can tell you put a lot of effort into it. Just when I'm on the brink of losing faith, someone always gets me back on track.

So, in devising some original stunts to include in the story, I have some more questions:

Who's actually designing a movie's action sequences, the stunt coordinators or the writers?

How much should the writer put into designing an action sequence in the script? Is it just a basic idea or is it a blow-by-blow description?

"attacking America"--yeah, that's a direct quote from David Milch. But I'll go further to say I think a more extensive meaning of that quote is that we're not being critical enough of ourselves which has allowed a loss of objectivity in our government's foreign policies.

I heard an interesting comment shortly after the last presidential election and so many people in the creative community were fuming over the results -- The only good outcome of a bad result of the election is that it could be the catalyst to some of the best film-making ever produced as artists rise up to cause change in our culture.

04-03-2005, 12:37 AM
English Dave, tell me why you think Great Britain loves Deadwood? Sounds like a good western could be popular overseas given the right storyline. And are you aware of what the reaction to "Unforgiven" was over there?

04-03-2005, 12:38 AM
i understand you're trying to help here and all of that, but do you know about stuntmen and directors and DPs and actors and set technicians?

Fact: Bad stunt sequences make it to the screen in every genre.
Fact: Anyone who happens to think a "bad" stunt sequence is "bad" is likely to have it changed during "pre-production" (an obvious place to fix something) so something "original" is always your best bet when writing a script.
Fact: Stuntmen are involved with, ahem, stuntwork.
Fact: Horse stunts require horse trainers.
Fact: Directing requires a director.

I don't have to have carnel knowledge of a set, directing, or acting to know that they are used to make movies. You need to know who's in charge and who does the work. But it all starts with the writer.

What happens after that is up to the "people" who make the movie. I think your above advice is sound. But I also believe that when dealing with any genre, especially westerns, you really have to know your sh!t when you hit the keys.

It isn't rocket science to know at least a little about the markets. It only takes reading articles, watching movies, studying genre and the public's reaction to it. I believe you should understand "why" films fail as much as you should know the reasons they succeed. The western genre has evolved to bring in many sociological changes occurring in modern society in order to stay current and marketable.

Things like bullying in high school could easily turn up in the next "western" script. We study as writers to maintain our understanding of format and story. But how much do any of us really understand about "what" we're trying to sell? We're trying to sell "emotion" and in order to do that you have to find something original in content and present it to the reader so they say, "Hey, man. My kid's going through that right now." Or, "Fvck, my boss is just like that. Sexual harassing sonofa..."

I stick by my original post saying not to worry about what the stunt guys, the director or the grips are doing. Write a great script. Write action so the reader can see it.

04-03-2005, 12:52 AM
And Ancon... Don't worry about it. You actually pushed me to bring up some really valid points that I forgot to mention. See the "keeping current" comments in regards to the westerns and how to make them fresh.

04-03-2005, 12:53 AM
cool beans.

just focusing on the initial post...

i think the focus when trying to write a story, should be on writing the story.

the story.

not the market.

the story.

space suits, business clothes, people toting six-shooters, whatever...keep focusing on that story.

then the market may just open up to you.

my thinking.

but, whatever...

04-03-2005, 01:07 AM
AnconRanger, yeah I'm actually hellbent on writing the story in one form or another. I started out just thinking about a screenplay, but as I developed the characters' backstories, it occurred to me that all the extended work might make a nice novel.

The western isn't anything irrelative to me. I'm a fifth-generation Texan; a John Ford devotee; I've grown up around horses and I know their capabilities; and I'm a Larry McMurtry fan when he writes a good novel. Really, the only thing I'm not comfortable with are the cavalry maneuvers, but I've spent the last year researching military theory as it was taught at Westpoint during that era because I want it to be as authentic as possible.

I was just concerned that I was so immersed in the western culture that I couldn't be objective about the commercial viability of a western in today's market.

I greatly appreciate everyone's contribution. It's been very helpful and insightful

04-03-2005, 01:08 AM
That is focusing on a great story. Making sure you're writing something with open arms universal appeal is writing great.


You're right. The question was "is the western genre dead" and I think in a lot of ways it is. But it's not unresurrectable. And that will take a GREAT story to do it because right away the odds are stacked against you.

Yes. Focus on the story. I got out of hand trying to explain WHY the western genre was dead and went off track. STORY. CHARACTER. STORY. CHARACTER.

Always first. Always. That never changes. I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea because it seems I might have. Let's just say I'm thinking out loud. And trying to help at the same time.


Imagine how many scripts would be less butchered by production companies if writers wrote for the market AT THE SAME TIME AS writing for story and character. If we wrote for the widest possible audience understanding the business as well as the format, how many scenes would be changed, how much action would be altered?

Makes a person think. That's all I'm saying. And I agree with Ancon that the script should be finished. And the next one should be started.

English Dave
04-03-2005, 01:12 AM
Deadwood is a diamond in a sea of crap. Great acting and scripts. That's the reason everyone I know watches it over here. Don't know anything 'bout the propoganda stuff or who's been talking to David what's -his face, but Rupert Murdoch isn't going to shell out sheckles on the basis he gets the anti- American viewer.

Hey if we want to watch anti American programming we can watch Fox News. :p

04-03-2005, 01:12 AM
There is the occasional western that does well - "Maverick" like someone pointed out. One of my favorite movies.

I am no expert, but I would say finish your script. Genres don't die, they run courses. All it will take is one kick ass western to get made and the genre will make a huge comeback.

English Dave
04-03-2005, 01:57 AM
Case, I think Deadwood is popular largely because there is nothing quite like it on television. The heyday of the TV western, in the 50/60's with Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Bonanza etc is pretty much forgotton by a lot of the viewing public. Or indeed it may be because it subverts that once clean cut genre that it is also popular with older viewers who didn't buy the fact that Trampass or Big Hoss never said @#%$ when they got shot.

Genre's are never dead, they may fall out of favour, largely because of some urban myth or the studios have pumped so much derivative crap out that the public are percieved to get sick of them for a time. Look how long it took to get back to the 'sword and sandals' epic, but since Gladiator we're heading for a glut of them.

That doesn't mean to say that if a particular genre appears to be out of favour you shouldn't consider writing it.

Unforgiven did pretty well over here though I don't know the exact figures. Certainly got a lot of critical acclaim and was highly thought of in general. And as a famous director said -'All movies are westerns,'

You know, if you listened to all the conflicting advice you're going to get on these boards you'd never end up writing anything. If you believe in the idea and the story and the characters then you've got to write it. Simple as that.

Concentrate on writing a damn good script and let the rest take care of itself.

04-03-2005, 03:03 AM
Just FYI... Gross figures for some westerns. Figure out what makes each good or bad. Then write the next big money maker. Won't be so easy... ;)

Maverick $101,631,272 5/20/1994
Unforgiven $101,157,447 8/07/1992
Open Range $58,331,254 8/15/2003
Tombstone $56,505,065 12/24/1993
Young Guns $45,661,556 8/12/1988
Pale Rider $41,410,568 6/28/1985
The Quick and the Dead $18,636,537 2/10/1995
American Outlaws $13,342,790 8/17/2001
Dead Man $1,037,847 5/10/1996 (starring Johnny Depp)

If you work backwards from the top money maker. You'll find that the highest, IMHO, has the most unique character and that moving down that list you get to the least unique. I personally liked the "Brett Maverick" character better than "William Munny" even though I enjoyed "Unforgiven" much more.

I thought "Tombstone" hinged more on the Doc Holliday/Wyatt Earp friendship than it did on the actual events. Etc. Just talking out loud again. The theory gets kinda shot down using economics over a 20 year period. If you calculate inflation over time (which I ain't doing) to adjust the numbers onto a level playing field it would be interesting to see what the results were.

04-03-2005, 07:13 AM
Maverick $101,631,272 5/20/1994
Unforgiven $101,157,447 8/07/1992
Open Range $58,331,254 8/15/2003
Tombstone $56,505,065 12/24/1993
Young Guns $45,661,556 8/12/1988
Pale Rider $41,410,568 6/28/1985
The Quick and the Dead $18,636,537 2/10/1995
American Outlaws $13,342,790 8/17/2001
Dead Man $1,037,847 5/10/1996 (starring Johnny Depp)

Interesting numbers. The top two money earners are as different as night and day. One, light and farcical, two dark and moody. Both were excellent movies, in their own right.

Tombstone is one of my all time favorites, along with Silverado and Outlaw Josie Wales, that didn't make your list. Surely they did better than Quick and the Dead and American Outlaws. They lacked all sense of the era and in general sucked.

Open Range was good, but perhaps a bit too internal for today's audiences.

I've always been a huge fan of the western genre and I'm a bit saddened to admit that the genre, while not dead, is at best a tough sell. That said, it's just like any other genre, if you write a great one and pitch it well, there is always hope.

Considering that your chances of a sale are abysmal, at best, why not write the story that drives you. If you write it well, your skills and heart might land you a job.

04-03-2005, 09:23 AM
My advice is simple... don't write a western unless it's going to be a four-star movie.

English Dave
04-03-2005, 09:36 AM
Don't write anything unless you think it's going to be a four star movie. ;)

04-03-2005, 12:56 PM
I totally think it's possible to write a four star western. Put it this way. Dramas and comedies do better than action in the sales department. Figure out how to make that western drama or western comedy relative to today's issues that the audience can sink their teeth into and then at least you have your premise. I don't care if it's a historical drama as long as the audience feels the characters.

After that you just have to write it so well it sticks out from the rest... In every genre. Only got that left to do...

Only that.

That'll keep yah busy.

04-03-2005, 01:08 PM
And, how much did BLAZING SADDLES make? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071230/business)
"So, given that my story, in effect, attacks America, am I just deluding myself that anyone would be interested in a period drama these days? And if the story is truly compelling, isn't that what really matters?" ~ caseymc
I'm researching an actual Civil War incident, (as a potential screenplay), which has many of the elements of the Western genre, (a prison escape, a bit of romance, bank robberies, a posse pursuit, capture of the robbers, and a courtroom trial); but, I would identify it as a period drama. What I think would help sell this screenplay is its intrigues, (which relate to some of the Cowboy attitudes displayed by American politicians and militarists in recent years).

Frankly, I'm amazed at the amount of true story material, concerning the American "War Between the States," which Hollywood has chosen to ignore, (in favour of the many fictitious and rewritten-to-death legendary gunslingers, in this genre).

04-03-2005, 02:01 PM
The John Wesley Hardin story should be told.
Here is a gunslinger that had more kills than Billy the Kid,
Sundance, Jesse James or Hickcock,
and at the end of his life
became a practicing lawyer.

04-04-2005, 04:31 AM
The revised list:

Dances With Wolves $184,208,848 11/09/1990
Blazing Saddles $119,500,000 2/07/1974
The Patriot $113,330,342 6/28/2000
Maverick $101,631,272 5/20/1994
Unforgiven $101,157,447 8/07/1992
Open Range $58,331,254 8/15/2003
Tombstone $56,505,065 12/24/1993
Young Guns $45,661,556 8/12/1988
Pale Rider $41,410,568 6/28/1985
Silverado $32,192,570 7/12/1985
The Outlaw Josey Wales $31,800,000 6/30/1976
Wyatt Earp $25,052,000 6/24/1994
The Quick and the Dead $18,636,537 2/10/1995
American Outlaws $13,342,790 8/17/2001
Dead Man $1,037,847 5/10/1996 (starring Johnny Depp)

It's interesting to see that Blazing Saddles blew everything else away except Dances With Wolves. Thought I'd throw The Patriot in the because of the original civil war topic.

04-04-2005, 04:41 AM
Oh, and don't forget to keep merchandising in mind for a western that draws a lot of kids. Look at the cash made on Shrek...



Funny thing is I can't decided whether I'm serious or not.

04-04-2005, 07:39 AM
Sadly, as a former advertising creative, merchandising is never far from my mind. Just can't seem to shed that dirty rotten skin of the self I use to be.

P.S.: I thought The Patriot was about the Revolutionary War. Oh well, one Heath Ledger period drama looks like the next.

04-04-2005, 03:08 PM
Never saw the Patriot, I just assumed. C'est la vie.

Talkin' out my a$$ again.

04-04-2005, 04:39 PM
The time period when westerns were most popular in the cinema... was when they were *recent* history. People could still remember that time, or it was the time period their father grew up in.

The "core" cinema goer in the USA is between 15-25 years old. Dating age. Movies tend to be aimed at that group. Now, that doesn't mean the characters have to be that age - most movie stars are older. But the films they are in have an appeal to that age.

Some issues with period stories:
1) They cost more to make.
2) They may seem like history lessons to the core audience.
3) It may be tough for core audience to identify with people who live in another time period.

And don't undersetimate the cost factor. If a film will cost more to make but may not attract the core audience, that's a big problem! Check out the cost of GODS AND GENERALS and the amount it made.

Write the same kind of movies you regularly pay to see in the cinema.

- Bill

04-04-2005, 07:47 PM
Write the same kind of movies you regularly pay to see in the cinema.
And the answer to that would be -- westerns.

I even paid to see Hidalgo. Sometimes I'm in a charitable mood.

04-04-2005, 08:04 PM
Turn your civil war western into Boyz in the Hood... Now you got a blockbuster... ;)

04-04-2005, 10:01 PM
i respect mr. martell tons and there is good, solid stuff to what he's saying for sure, but i wouldn't just go by the 'try to write the stuff you like to see on the screen' thing, and i definitely wouldn't try to turn your story into something that's hot now or whatever.

the winds change before you're done.

i'd focus on that story, and let it go where it goes, and finish it...if you want to. if not, don't. no one really cares what you do. good to know that, too.

no one cares.

which story do you think is good? which one wants to pop up on your screen?

you try to chase rainbows and all you'll do is keep running and trying to jump fences. beaten path under you, too. hard as rock. so hard there aren't even footprints on it anymore from those before you.

and you might be lugging along the pot of gold the whole time.

might not.

but probably the best pot you'll ever find. and more importantly, it may be the pot you can cut your teeth on. all of the stuff is in there, you just don't know what to do with it quite yet. but you'll learn much from writing that way.

it's real, see.

no cheating, no shortcuts, no trying to predict what the market will want when it's done, etc.

you'll learn to make a story work. very important.

take a long sit, write it out and see if anyone else thinks it's shiny inside when you're done.

at least in your queries, they'll know you believe in it, because you will. and it will show in a good way.

that's what i'd suggest. but i don't know much. but i do think if you try to do what the story is not telling you to do at the whims of your understanding of the "market," at best your characters and whatnot will just end up in some dusty pile in some office.

and you'll be posting next how long you should wait to ask about your script from wedontactuallymakemoviesproductions because they haven't contacted you in six months since your submission.

but do what you want of course and best of luck.

no one cares.

and that's a good time to really write a story. a good story, maybe.

04-04-2005, 10:32 PM
Actually, Ancon. Sounds exactly like yah know what you're talking about. Without a emotional involvement in the story on the writer's part, may as well shelve it right off the bat. 'Cause if the writer isn't emotional about it, why should anyone else be?

I also think it's possible to do some market research, come up with great characters, study the papers to see what social issues are relevant today, create a great story and STILL have that invisible set of strings you possess as a writer to link you to the marionette of story.

I don't think a writer should feel confined by the extra work involved. I think it should actually excite them a little more to know that their script is current to what the audience is looking for in a movie.

04-04-2005, 10:43 PM
i see what you're saying and agree with much of it, and i agree it's very important to know the biz side of the business, very important, but when writing a story, i think it best to focus on the story. to focus on learning how to write a story, etc.

fvck the biz right now, i got a story to write.

biz ain't in my story. six cowboys, one widow, a trail of dead men, two whores, one angel, one old enemy and whatever else are in my story. the biz ain't.

storytelling craft and all of that is in it, but not what's hot and what's not.

i got to focus on a story.

but lots of horseshit and trails to the top of the mountain, i hear.

and i try to spread my fair share of horseshit.

whatever works, i reckon.

04-05-2005, 08:17 AM
Seems like when Lonesome Dove hit the screen, there weren't any westerns out at the time. And then everyone became entranced for four nights by these two old geezers hittin' the trail north (which is based on the true story of the Goodnight-Loving trail, FYI). Rich characters and interesting plots.

So, is it time to put this to bed? -- 'cause I got this western I need to go finish.

Ya'll have been a pleasant distraction. Thanks everyone.

04-06-2005, 08:50 PM
I'm going to take on Mr. Martell's points:

Some issues with period stories:

1) They cost more to make.

My reply: A bit more, yeah. Most Western movies need to find practical locations, build sets, make props, hire horses, and make costumes. Contemporary films only need to find practical locations, build sets, make props, and make costumes. Damn the equines! I think that, when Hollywood spends millions to digitally remove television aerials and cell phone towers for Westerns, the problem is that they aren't using the right locations, (like Canada, where fewer vehicles are moving in the background, behind the re-enactors)!

2) They may seem like history lessons to the core audience.

My reply: "History's a bummer, Dude!" Isn't that the real test-audience attitude and why Hollywood studios never mind rewriting history into mindless drivel. Was anyone complaining about learning history from TITANIC (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/combined), GLADIATOR (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0172495/combined), or THE LAST SAMURAI (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325710/combined)? Were these box office failures?

3) It may be tough for core audience to identify with people who live in another time period.

My reply: I could never understand why the CBC stations kept broadcasting television programs like GOOD TIMES (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0070991/combined), THE JEFFERSONS (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072519/combined), and DIFF'RENT STROKES (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0077003/combined), (as tho most Canadians would readily identify with urban Afro-Americans), rather than help produce its own sitcoms with Canadian characters. Obviously, it was cheaper to use syndicated programs than produce something with quality. Why does the Robin Hood legend persist, even tho it is a period drama? If your audience cannot identify with the protagonist, the problem is in the writing, (not with the time period, unless you're Billythrilly).

And don't underestimate the cost factor. If a film will cost more to make but may not attract the core audience, that's a big problem! Check out the cost of GODS AND GENERALS and the amount it made.

My reply: Bad script. Bad performances by the principal actors. Too much reliance upon re-enactors to cut production costs, (at the expense of realism). It was about as interesting as a too-long game of checkers, (and too many pieces in play). No real focus! Ken Burns managed to grab the attention of a large audience with still photographs, (and actors who could read their lines), in THE CIVIL WAR (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098769/combined).

04-07-2005, 06:51 PM
Yes, you make some interesting points, Fortean.

My point with writing this particular post civil war/western is that policies were initiated during this time period that set various precedents for how the U.S. government conducts its business today. I want to create an "aha" moment without being too obvious or preachy. I've got it disguised with a love triangle, a revenge plot, some holdups, a good cavalry chase and a little bit of anarchy. It's the kind of story where the ones wearing the black hats actually turn out to be good guys.

Though I could write it in a contemporary time period (I have given that some thought), I really don't think it would have the same impact because of needing to present these policies in their historical context.

Tsinogatorp Eht
05-23-2010, 03:09 AM
I am bumping this topic to get opinions if things have changed. Writing an outline for a Western spec at the moment -- based of all of the facts I could collect during a Texas holiday a few years ago (Ranches, horses, cattle, and ****)

The Road Warrior
05-23-2010, 03:14 AM
I am bumping this topic to get opinions if things have changed. Writing an outline for a Western spec at the moment -- based of all of the facts I could collect during a Texas holiday a few years ago (Ranches, horses, cattle, and ****)

-- just my opinion but I think a western is a great thing to write, a few seem to slip through, but even if few are made, does that mean that because you choose to write a vampire script instead, it will sell. Probably not.

05-23-2010, 09:34 AM
I am bumping this topic to get opinions if things have changed. Writing an outline for a Western spec at the moment -- based of all of the facts I could collect during a Texas holiday a few years ago (Ranches, horses, cattle, and ****)

Get the outline done and see what you have. Sure you can go traditional western, but is your story suitable for any other time periods or locations that might make it more interesting and/or sellable?...

such as: Mexico, Australia or Argentina today?
a scifi outpost somewhere in the future?
other time periods of the past?

In many circumstances a 'story' should be workable into other settings and time periods. Put 3:10 to Yuma in modern New York and you could get something like 16 Blocks.

Take Fistfull of Dollars and swap the feuding Baxters and Rojos for drug gangs or two sides in a war. The setting changes, but the story could remain intact.

So many stories were made into westerns because it was so cheap and easy for old Hollywood to make them on the backlots of LA and nearby desert. I haven't seen True Grit in ages, but surely there are modern takes on the same story line...Taken perhaps?

And at the end of the day, if it is best to have it be an old fashioned western, then go for it.


05-23-2010, 09:39 AM
No Westerns are not dead, they're just sleeping on "Boot Hill" and they'll be back!!!

05-23-2010, 10:25 AM
In spite of the fact that it is extremely difficult to get a spec western read in Hollywood, there are currently at least THREE feature film westerns in production at this moment, one of them starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. That's right, the Lone Ranger rides again. The Coen brothers are directing a different movie being filmed in Texas, as we spesk, er... write.

05-23-2010, 10:45 AM
Definitely not dead. I mean Jonah Hex comes out next month. Plus with the success of the Red Dead Redemption videogame? People will be clamoring for westerns.

05-24-2010, 02:18 AM
Western have been out for such a long time that I see the chance of a new western wave possible.

What will go down are superhero movies and comic book movies. We've had those ad nauseam. We need something to replace this genre that has become so long in the tooth.

The world of the western is an exciting one: I like the good guy/bad guy contrast, almost black and white. Maybe we lost the ability to those clear, contrasting feelings. Cynicism ruled the spaghetti westerns of the seventies, who were morally inert and the funeral music of the western genre.

We haven't had a real western since then.

While I really love "Unforgiven", it doesn't feel like a real western. It's more like a gangster movie in the west, a revenge movie.

The aesthetic of the western is in a coma. When I think western, I see a contrasty black and white image, as much contrast as the good/bad polarization. (Sure, "The Searchers" were in color, but it was the muted color of the fifties. And already it was a step down from the clarity of the black and white world. To get this clarity into color, that would be an aesthetic start).

Why is the western so dead? Can't we indulge in moral naiveness to enjoy these stories? Has political correctness killed the black and white world of the wild west (can't shoot Indians any more, or show them as brutes. They have to be your best friend, see Kevin Costner's wolf dance kitsch movie).

Anybody who has a good story with a fresh moral approach and a sure hand in creating a new aesthetic for this genre will have a good shot at it, because we need this kind of movies.

Sure, Star Wars is a space western. Its success (even with the awful "episode" sequels) is an explanation why we need these movies.

Aesthetic values to reinvent the western for today: this means soundtrack, camera, editing and production design as well. Which is why I can't really imagine a writer being only a writer. The script is only the first step, and you shouldn't give it up.

05-27-2010, 11:47 PM
I think it's silly for anyone to ever say any genre is dead. The Proposition came out barely 5 years ago, one of my favorite films of the decade, easily.

No Country For Old Men is a western, a modern western, but a western nonetheless. That won a few Academy Awards if I remember correctly. Blood Meridian, which people call the bloodiest, craziest western ever written is being made into a movie by Todd Field, who has shown he can balance sharp drama with dark brutality, should be a good movie.

Justified has become a sleeper cable hit, Red Dead Redemption is the hottest game of the moment, all just proof no genre is ever dead. Might get ignored by the mainstream at certain points, but usually they'll come back around. In the past 25 years there have been what, 500 vampire movies made? Some of them are the top grossers in the genre, even if stuff like Dracula is still the best example of the genre, that doesn't nullify every movie made since. I'll always prefer Near Dark personally.

Point is, write your story if it is good. Don't set out to write a western if you don't have an idea for it. Real writing isn't paint by numbers, you can't pick a bunch of sets, characters, and actions and plug them in to expect an organic story. Write a western if it's where your story is set. Write a vampire movie if that's what you feel will best convey the meaning of your story. No genre is ever dead. It might be full of weak entries in the past few years, but that's why you write in that genre if you have a great idea, because no one has had one in years.

05-28-2010, 02:35 AM
I think an important reason for westerns fading away is because increasing years distanced audiences from the time period that western stories sprang from. The movie business began not many years after the great popularity of western "dime novels," which, along with newspapers and magazines, were an influential form of "mass media" before we had radio, movies and TV.

It was natural for the fledgling movie business to pick up the idea of cranking out these popular, pulpy western stories. At the time, cowboy tales and adventures and the conquest of Native Americans were quite recent history, fresh in the minds of the public, which had been consuming a steady diet of such stories straight from the frontier. As the movie business shifted to high gear, Westerns built up tremendous momentum, carrying for decades right into the "golden age" of TV (the 50s).

When the movie business began, the U.S. was just emerging from an agrarian society into an urban one. But the West was still much better established than the big city as the place for stories that reflected Americans' ideas and feelings about their identity and values. That changed in the first half of the 20th century.

As early as the 1930s, gangster movies set in the city became popular. The automobile and intense urbanization that accompanied it utterly transformed the country. Urban crime and police who battled it climbed in the public consciousness--and became ripe for popularization in the media. And that's what happened by the 60s. The Western paradigm was replaced by the Urban paradigm. The cowboy gave way to the cop. It happened on TV and it happened in the movies.

Of course, Western stories are not even very old. But in America, we zoom through changes in a hurry, and, increasingly, it seems that events from only a little over a hundred years ago are shrouded in the mists of some ancient epoch.

The Western will always hold an important place in the American soul, but I doubt, sadly, that it will ever make a big comeback or reclaim its place as a top genre in the movies. Too many years have passed. In our hurry to reach the future, American society and its memories and concerns have changed irrevocably.

05-28-2010, 05:38 AM
this just came in my mailbox yesterday

We are looking for completed feature-length Western scripts with a redemption or forgiveness story as a B-story. Would like to see gun fights and some martial arts.

05-28-2010, 05:46 AM
Three Ninjas In The Old West.

06-23-2010, 06:30 PM
The last western that springs to mind is "The Assassination of Jesse James", 2007. Apparently, it lost a lot of money, despite Brad Pitt (cost: $30 M, BO $15 M)

Then again, the last civil war era film I can think of is "Cold Mountain", 2003, which cost $79 M and made $173 M, plus it won (or got nominated for) a lot awards. So go figure... and go for it. I thought they were both about equally good, so I guess in short, you never know...!

06-23-2010, 06:39 PM
I rewrote a short civil war script for a director in NC. It's being filmed now. Considering the amount of interest there is for this short from everyone who hears about it. I would say that there are still many who want to see westerns and civil war flicks.

06-23-2010, 06:47 PM
this just came in my mailbox yesterday

We are looking for completed feature-length Western scripts with a redemption or forgiveness story as a B-story. Would like to see gun fights and some martial arts.

Makes me think of the old Lee Van Cleef flick, The Stranger and the Gunfighter

06-23-2010, 07:01 PM
Thought I'd throw The Patriot in there because of the original civil war topic.

I just wanted to correct someone who posted 5 years ago.

The Patriot was set during the Revolutionary War, not the Civil War.

Carry on.

06-23-2010, 07:21 PM
The Brigands of RattleBorge was picked up a week or so back by Phoenix pictures, who are no joke. So I'd say the western is alive and kicking.

I understand Ridley Scott is also has one in development now too.

06-23-2010, 07:43 PM
Sigh, I was just about to pack it in after a long day and another 2 hours here in front of the computer, email, notes to producer re: agreement and my accountant, etc. Then I spotted this thread. Only to find near the end that it was a "bump" from 2005?! :shifty:

So, a dead genre, Westerns are?

A couple of thoughts. Madeleine Stowe is setting up to direct her own saga, and her own script, "Unbound Captives", http://akas.imdb.com/title/tt1437369. It's for something like $90M though about half of that may be the cast, which is pretty impressive. It's been slow to get moving and I see it's been bumped to 2011, after being pegged at shooting in 2010 for a while. Oh well.

Another thought: You can always do the "Outland" thing; in other words, convert the genre as they did for a "High Noon" remade into a sci-fi, with Sean Connery. I thought Outland was pretty good, actually. Only thing missing was Grace Kelly. :love:

That's another thing. Similar to the wonderful "Unforgiven", if you get big stars there's always a better chance, one which I think would magnify outside the States where Yankee stars, especially aged ones, really have terrific reputations. No U.S. bashing is required. Now that GWB is retired.

... there are currently at least THREE feature film westerns in production at this moment, one of them starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. That's right, the Lone Ranger rides again...

Well, he's part native, eh?

06-23-2010, 11:16 PM
I would love to see a good western.

What is too much are politically correct thrillers and superhero movies.

But a good western, seen from today and not through the prism of old westerns...

...would be great.

What you could do with the kind of colors current technology can produce!