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View Full Version : Does Hollywood Only Want Elevated Thrillers?


UpandComing
11-14-2013, 01:14 PM
I queried a manager this week (from a prominent company, though not one which would be considered, say like, in the Top 10) with my action crime thriller script, and he responded by saying the idea was not "elevated" enough. This happens to be my Nicholl QF script, one which a (probalby Top 10) management co. and a few prodcos are reading right now.

His comment lead me to take a look at spec sales in the last two years, and there seemed to be a trend - it seems like the only thrillers Hollywood is interested in right now are either high-concept (which I define as having an ironic/unexpected/supernatural or sci-fi element) or elevated - which I think of as having extremely high stakes. Elevated scripts have storylines involving major crime fighters/proponents like federal agents, drug cartels, and Navy Seals. Or powerful figures like the President (Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down). And the stakes often involve a lot of people or a powerful person getting harmed/killed.

My script probably can't be considered elevated, as it involves a washed up everyman facing off against a corrupt cop and a local gangleader. And in many ways is more character-driven than plot-driven. Which leads me to ask - do you think that Hollywood is bored with those types of stories? Considers them too simple? Do you think that it no longer considers their stakes high enough, when you can have a story where the President faces off against a terrorist faction with a rocket launcher that he wields himself?

I'd be especially curious to hear from those who specifically set out to write elevated stories because of spec sale trends in the last few years. Also, I'd prefer that this not turn into a discussion about "high-concept" (Lord knows we've have more than enough of those on this site) as it will undoubtedly break down over what people consider its definition. I'm only interested in people's thoughts on the demand for "elevated", particularly in the area of thrillers, which is my current genre of focus. Oh, and please don't just reply that "Hollywood just wants great scripts". That's kind of obvious and a rather lazy answer :)

mgwriter
11-14-2013, 02:39 PM
Kind of tough to generalized about the types of stories all of Hollywood is looking for.

Sounds like your script wasn't "elevated" enough in the opinion of one particular manager. Another manager may not like "elevated" stories and think your script is great. Kind of like dating, you just have to keep going till you find the one right for you.

But I would never try to guess what ALL of Hollywood is looking for based on one person's opinion or the movies that got made the last few years. The next big thing could be your script.

UpandComing
11-14-2013, 03:26 PM
Kind of tough to generalized about the types of stories all of Hollywood is looking for.

Sounds like your script wasn't "elevated" enough in the opinion of one particular manager. Another manager may not like "elevated" stories and think your script is great. Kind of like dating, you just have to keep going till you find the one right for you.

But I would never try to guess what ALL of Hollywood is looking for based on one person's opinion or the movies that got made the last few years. The next big thing could be your script.

Good point. One person's trash is another person's treasure. But at the same time, there are periods when there are major trends. Found footage. Contained thrillers. R-rated comedies. I'm just wondering if, in the world of spec thrillers, the focus now is "the bigger the better".

mgwriter
11-14-2013, 03:56 PM
Trends? Well if there is a trend going on right now and you find out what that trend is, then what? Are you going to change your script or writing to follow the trend?

Talented writers with great scripts get passed on all the time. But chasing trends IMO is a bad idea. Maybe you can set a future trend with your script. Just have to connect with right people.

Keep at it. If you placed well in Nicholl, someone out there likes your script.

UpandComing
11-14-2013, 04:38 PM
Trends? Well if there is a trend going on right now and you find out what that trend is, then what? Are you going to change your script or writing to follow the trend?

Talented writers with great scripts get passed on all the time. But chasing trends IMO is a bad idea. Maybe you can set a future trend with your script. Just have to connect with right people.

Keep at it. If you placed well in Nicholl, someone out there likes your script.

I never stated an intention of chasing a trend. Sometimes it's nice just to have a better understanding of the state of the market. It's always good to be informed.

Ronaldinho
11-14-2013, 05:34 PM
To me, an "elevated" genre piece is one that transcends the bounds of the genre to make a larger point about something. It's about a social issue, has a lead role which will attract an oscar-hungry actor, goes into greater dramatic depth, or has some other quality which will bust it out of the thriller genre box.

The problem with writing something that isn't elevated, and isn't high-concept, is that there are a lot of those floating around and it's very hard to stand out. I think a lot of writers (or, at least, me for a while) hope that our solid execution and good writing skills will be enough to make us stand out, and the challenge is that a script often has to sell on issues that aren't execution-dependent.

Assume that you're going up against a bunch of other scripts in the same genre which are about as well written and about as well executed as your script. What makes it stand out? Being "good enough" isn't. What aspect of your script makes it jump and and down in a pile of equally-good overall scripts and say "pick me, pick me!"

If you can't answer that question in a compelling way, it's going to be hard to get a lot of traction.

UpandComing
11-14-2013, 06:36 PM
To me, an "elevated" genre piece is one that transcends the bounds of the genre to make a larger point about something. It's about a social issue, has a lead role which will attract an oscar-hungry actor, goes into greater dramatic depth, or has some other quality which will bust it out of the thriller genre box.

The problem with writing something that isn't elevated, and isn't high-concept, is that there are a lot of those floating around and it's very hard to stand out. I think a lot of writers (or, at least, me for a while) hope that our solid execution and good writing skills will be enough to make us stand out, and the challenge is that a script often has to sell on issues that aren't execution-dependent.

Assume that you're going up against a bunch of other scripts in the same genre which are about as well written and about as well executed as your script. What makes it stand out? Being "good enough" isn't. What aspect of your script makes it jump and and down in a pile of equally-good overall scripts and say "pick me, pick me!"

If you can't answer that question in a compelling way, it's going to be hard to get a lot of traction.

Thanks for that. Your definition of the term is actually more accurate. Just looked it up and saw this:

There are actually a number of ways to create an “elevated” script, but in general, it means there is something more intelligent, complex and involved than most normal stories. It’s not just a down-the-middle, by-the-numbers plot. It’s about boosting the audience experience.
http://gideonsway.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/what-is-an-elevated-genre/

Maybe if I'd done some Googling before I would've realized my usage of the term was problematic. Based on your definition, I realize that my script really isn't elevated. In comparison, another script I'm pitching, a supernatural thriller that explores racial issues in a small town, is. The funny thing is, I downplayed that aspect in my query letters, believing that it would make it stand out in a "groan" way. Though still managed to get a few reads.

Now that I think about it, looking back on my original post, I guess the answer is probably just that Hollywood likes high stakes, the highest possible - and that when you have main players like federal agents, Navy Seals, or the President, that is about as high as you can get.

EdFury
11-14-2013, 10:54 PM
To me, an "elevated" genre piece is one that transcends the bounds of the genre to make a larger point about something. It's about a social issue, has a lead role which will attract an oscar-hungry actor, goes into greater dramatic depth, or has some other quality which will bust it out of the thriller genre box.

The problem with writing something that isn't elevated, and isn't high-concept, is that there are a lot of those floating around and it's very hard to stand out. I think a lot of writers (or, at least, me for a while) hope that our solid execution and good writing skills will be enough to make us stand out, and the challenge is that a script often has to sell on issues that aren't execution-dependent.

Assume that you're going up against a bunch of other scripts in the same genre which are about as well written and about as well executed as your script. What makes it stand out? Being "good enough" isn't. What aspect of your script makes it jump and and down in a pile of equally-good overall scripts and say "pick me, pick me!"

If you can't answer that question in a compelling way, it's going to be hard to get a lot of traction.

This.

And it doesn't have to be an expensive effects laden spectacular either. It can be small and low budget. It just has to be something that makes the reader say "Wow" when they get through reading it. And no matter how well written a script is, if it doesn't have that "I don't think I've seen this before" vibe to it, it's going to be tough sell right now.

UpandComing
11-14-2013, 11:11 PM
This.

And it doesn't have to be an expensive effects laden spectacular either. It can be small and low budget. It just has to be something that makes the reader say "Wow" when they get through reading it. And no matter how well written a script is, if it doesn't have that "I don't think I've seen this before" vibe to it, it's going to be tough sell right now.

Thanks, Ed. Finding that "wow" factor is always the toughest :)

keithcalder
11-17-2013, 11:00 AM
In my experience, when agents and managers refer to something as "elevated" they just mean "good." I deal a lot with "elevated genre" submissions, and it's all just nonsense. It almost always just means "this is a genre script that I actually like." As opposed to all the genre scripts they hate, but that they still think will make money.

So if someone is saying your script isn't "elevated" enough, it probably just means they don't think it's good enough.

UpandComing
11-17-2013, 01:15 PM
In my experience, when agents and managers refer to something as "elevated" they just mean "good." I deal a lot with "elevated genre" submissions, and it's all just nonsense. It almost always just means "this is a genre script that I actually like." As opposed to all the genre scripts they hate, but that they still think will make money.

So if someone is saying your script isn't "elevated" enough, it probably just means they don't think it's good enough.

Ouch :) Ok, thanks.

kintnerboy
12-16-2015, 08:30 AM
My script probably can't be considered elevated, as it involves a washed up everyman facing off against a corrupt cop and a local gangleader. And in many ways is more character-driven than plot-driven. Which leads me to ask - do you think that Hollywood is bored with those types of stories? Considers them too simple? Do you think that it no longer considers their stakes high enough, when you can have a story where the President faces off against a terrorist faction with a rocket launcher that he wields himself?

I'm reviving this very old thread (inspired by the 'who gives a sh-t?' thread) because the quote above expresses what I've encountered better than I could have.

I have spent the past 6 weeks querying a crime-thriller to no avail.

Every single pass has been a variation on the same message. "This is well-written, but it needs to be more 'elevated', 'heightened', 'fresh', etc.

In other words, my script was dead at the conception stage, based on it's [theoretically] unmarketable premise.

There are a lot of replies in this thread that are of the opinion that elevated refers to quality and execution, but in my experience it's strictly a reference to the concept (although I will allow that maybe 2 years ago when this thread was started it meant one thing and now has been re appropriated by the new class of dream killers).

If you tried to pitch The Fugitive today, you'd here back: "So wait.... he's just trying to prove he didn't kill his wife?.... Where are the STAKES?"

As absurd as the image of the President firing an rpg out of the window of his limo is, White House Down would no longer be considered elevated.

You would need terrorists to take over the executive mansions of all G7 countries simultaneously (foreign markets!) and then reveal that the heads of state were robots the whole time.

docgonzo
12-16-2015, 09:19 AM
I don't think anyone really knows what they mean by elevated, especially me. But in my experience it seems more related to execution than concept. Granted, I do write TV and not features, so maybe it's different on the other side. Somehow, I have managed to write pilots that people have concluded were 'elevated,' but I honestly don't know how I accomplished that. Maybe it was just taking an idea and finding a new way into it, and then having my voice filter through. Who knows. But I never purposely tried to elevate something, because like I said, who the hell knows what that really means.

EdFury
12-16-2015, 09:32 AM
I don't think anyone really knows what they mean by elevated, especially me. But in my experience it seems more related to execution than concept. Granted, I do write TV and not features, so maybe it's different on the other side. Somehow, I have managed to write pilots that people have concluded were 'elevated,' but I honestly don't know how I accomplished that. Maybe it was just taking an idea and finding a new way into it, and then having my voice filter through. Who knows. But I never purposely tried to elevate something, because like I said, who the hell knows what that really means.

Exactly. It's also a nice way to say, "Pass". That said, I just read a very well written script that was just a two hour version of a good Law & Order episode. Nothing that you couldn't turn on cable or Netflix and see 24 hours a day. That's why before I start on any spec I seriously ask myself, "Will someone drive and pay to see this?" or "Would a smart financier invest in this idea?" and try to be honest with myself. And I've tossed ideas because they weren't special enough.

kintnerboy
12-16-2015, 10:18 AM
I don't think anyone really knows what they mean by elevated, especially me. But in my experience it seems more related to execution than concept. Granted, I do write TV and not features, so maybe it's different on the other side.

In my opinion, there's two sides to it. One is the idea that there is so much good writing on television, especially in the procedural department, that the demo for them is content to stay at home and would only get in their car for a spectacle (robots, hobbits, Star Wars).

I don't even necessarily disagree with that. I just have no interest in writing for tv.

The other side of it, which was expressed to me via consistent feedback calling my script too 'old-fashioned' or 'throwback', is that no one wants to see bigger budget procedurals like The Fugitive, In The Line Of Fire or Silence Of The Lambs anymore.

And I think that's silly. No one knows what people want, except for Disney over the last 10 years. But that doesn't bode well for anyone with original specs going forward.

Perhaps I'm just a frustrated novelist barking up the wrong career tree.

Pasquali56
12-16-2015, 10:30 AM
Agree with what EdFury said. The first thing you should ask yourself before committing to a screenplay is whether or not people will actually want to pay to see it as a film. Along those lines, I ask myself if the story/theme has a truly universal connection -- and if the characters are authentic and empathetic. I think a lot of beginning screenwriters are more interested in plot driven stories, but I think character driven is a better way of looking at it. Mind you, not just talking heads -- but you must have characters that people care about and will remember. And that goes for any genre you write. Also, writing something with limited locations and characters gives you more opportunities for production -- and a screenplay like that also shows how well you can write both efficiently and effectively. Just my two cents.

Terri
12-16-2015, 03:04 PM
I wouldn't change it to make it more "elevated" just because one person said it wasn't elevated enough.... unless they said something like they'll buy it if it was changed.

Keep it. Someone else may like your script as is.

re:trends
I don't think anyone's saying you're "chasing" trends. Just be aware that there are trends and that they CYCLE. So if your type of script isn't sought after at the moment... sometime in the future, it probably will be. It'll come back around.

Just keep writing. Write a variety of material. You like thrillers? (So do I.) Write different types of thrillers.
The more you write, the better your chances. :cool:

And don't stop marketing this script with this guy who said NO. The next person might be a YES! I've read so many stories on here (we should start a thread) where someone was told that the script'll never sell or that no one's looking for scripts like that... only to have the next person BUY or OPTION the script! Seriously. Hollywood is very subjective.

UnequalProductions
12-16-2015, 04:38 PM
There are a lot of terms that get thrown around town that mean completely different things depending on who says them.

The key is to not get bogged down by specific terminology, which I know is tough for us. We're writers. Words are everything. But that's not so much the case for everyone else in this industry.

There is never a one word reason why people don't buy your script. Oh, this would have sold if it was just more "elevated." Or it would have sold if it was more "high-concept." The only exception is "this script would have sold if it was better."

This isn't high school. No one is going to sit down with you and give you a play-by-play of what it would take to fix your script. It's more like online dating. You're just going to get "not for me" followed by silence.