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Old 03-18-2019, 02:52 PM   #1
JoeNYC
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Default Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

A writer once asked:

“If I don’t sell a script soon, I’m gonna die! What should I do?”

Chris Lockhart, executive at WME, replied:

“Start making funeral arrangements.”

Chris continued with:

“I’ll try to answer this question even though there is no answer. It all comes down to having the right script. This goes against modern wisdom that preaches write a great script. ‘Great’ scripts do sell, but so do bad scripts. Great is a buzz word. ‘How do I make it in Hollywood?’ ‘Write a great script.’ … I suggest writers write the right script. This shouldn’t prevent scribes from writing a ‘great’ script anyway. But great is subjective. In the end, only the person who buys the script may think it’s great which means it isn’t necessarily great. It’s just the right script for the buyer.”

Chris sums up:

“Maybe this is all just semantics. But many great scripts are written and never sell. And lots of bad scripts are written and do sell. So, my philosophy is to write the RIGHT SCRIPT. I think there are THREE basic ingredients that create the right script which could lead to a sale. They are: 1) CONCEPT 2) EXECUTION 3) MARKETING. CONCEPT is king in the Hollywood spec market … I hear lots of concepts from new scribes and rarely do any resonate with the sound of a Hollywood movie. Part of being successful in this business is having a good head for concepts.”

-- One might wonder why would Hollywood knowing produce a bad movie. The number one reason: MONEY!

Whether the powers that be, who are running the studio, think a script is great, or bad has nothing to do with their decision to proceed.

What counts are the three elements that Chris Lockhart mentioned:

Concept, execution and marketing: Does it sound commercial? Does it have a strong targeted audience? Will its execution resonate with its targeted audience? Does the budget make sense? Etc., etc.

Screenwriters write what they're passionate about. Stories that they themselves would enjoy watching.

The Hollywood businessmen can’t judge material by what they like personally and would want to see.

Take for example: “Dude, Where’s My Car?”

The majority of critics hated it. I took the loss and walked out of the theater playing this movie. Rotten Tomatoes had it at 18%. The consensus of the critics is that it wasn’t funny and the plot was too thin, but it was a commercial success. It’s budget was $13,000,000 and it had a wordwide gross of $73,000,000.

The combination of concept, execution and market worked.

The studio powers would love to also get great reviews from the critics, but if the material works, where it resonates with an audience, getting a good word-of-mouth, then they did their job properly. They get to live another day… sort of speak.

“Dude, Where’s My Car” could be perceived as not a GREAT script, but it was the RIGHT script for the right buyer.

Last edited by JoeNYC : 03-27-2019 at 07:06 AM.
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Old 03-18-2019, 11:50 PM   #2
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

facts.

personally, i couldn't agree with this more. to the point where i'm taking it to heart with my next script. just finished the first draft last week. went on holiday and am now ready to start the rewrite and polishing process before getting some feedback and ultimately send out.

i am first and foremost a sci-fi action/thriller writer. it showcases my strengths, but the budgets tend to be high. ground up world building takes money people. haha.

i wanted to show that i could handle more than one genre, but i didn't ever want to be pigeonholed into writing the traditional "female writer" expectation. it's like, yeah, news flash, some women can write a kickass action piece.

personally, i do not like rom-coms.

but i had this idea and it was perfect for a rom com. i mean, i could see all the hilarity like "snap.", and i do not usually enjoy rom coms. i don't even watch them, but the concept was just too good to pass up, at least in my opinion.

and it's actually funny. i mean, i am amused when i read it and when i wrote it. haha.

i remember when i told my previous manager that i can't write comedy and he said i needed a moment of levity to lighten the [very dark] story and i sent him a new scene the next day, and his first response was, "I thought you said you couldn't write comedy." i said, i can't, but i'm glad you like it.

my point is, that sometimes we must seek that which is uncomfortable, if only to learn that it's not so bad. and maybe that's the time to challenge yourself and go for it. crash and burn if you must, but at least give it a go. go for the commercial idea that you can execute and hopefully it will be the right time.

i am hoping that it is the right script at the right time for me. the budget is manageable. i think the concept is good. let's hope it's the right time.

here's the link to my website's description of it, if anyone is interested...

https://www.lisamolusis.com/project-01

March Madness: Tinder Sweet 16

good luck to anyone else going after the right concept, at the right time, for the right buyer, with the right execution.
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Old 03-19-2019, 12:05 AM   #3
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

Gonna sounds like a condescending ******* here, but nothing inflated my confidence more than reading 40 scripts from the 2017 Black List. These were all scripts that had achieved some degree of significant momentum in the industry. A few of them were excellent, but many of them were not.

I don't advocate a "crap plus one" attitude towards writing where you aim for something slightly better than the worst movie in theaters. You should always aim for that Men In Black, Back to the Future, or Prisoners level where reading the script is akin to watching a really good movie. That being said, it's evident that a good concept with suspect execution can go far if people fall in love with the idea.

I've read many specs that sold on the basis of the idea. However, if you want assignment work and/or to get staffed on a TV show then it stands to reason that your ability to execute might become as important (or more so) than your ability to come up with that great high concept that instantly excites people.
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Old 03-19-2019, 09:04 AM   #4
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

Here's my version, from way back in 2010: I pitched a producer of many commercial films who said he was no-unsolicited, but when I saw he was listed on VPF I tried there, drawing attention to the earlier email. He took the script, and when I followed up a month later he delivered the bad news: Mostly about too many genres at once, and that it's hard to do. HOWEVER, he did say one thing that for a long, long time I took to be a real compliment:

Quote:
"...I thought the writing was pretty good, I have read many worse scripts from agented writers..."
Which as an eager-beaver new writer I took to mean that it was "better" than some scripts with agents attached!

Well, it took a couple of years for me to realize that he was probably saying only that my script was not as "terrible" as some agented scripts.

Well, in fact, he may have meant the former, because just a year or so ago I reminded him of the comment and he responded "that WOULD be a compliment!"

But it just shows you...

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
Gonna sounds like a condescending ******* here, but nothing inflated my confidence more than reading 40 scripts from the 2017 Black List...
Not every good script ever written even gets put up on the Black List to be evaluated!
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Old 03-19-2019, 11:03 AM   #5
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

Quote:
Originally Posted by catcon View Post

Not every good script ever written even gets put up on the Black List to be evaluated!
i think DaltWisney was talking about the "annual Black List" that comes out from the industry voting on their favorite scripts that hit the town that year, which is different than the Black List website for evaluating and hosting scripts. though, of course, some of the pro scripts might be on both lists, but i think that would be a rare occurrence.

either way, your comment remains true.
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Old 03-21-2019, 09:33 AM   #6
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

Quote:
Originally Posted by catcon View Post
he may have meant the former, because just a year or so ago I reminded him of the comment and he responded "that WOULD be a compliment!"
Industry people are notorious for blowing sunshine up artists’ butts because they don’t want to ruin the possibility of working with that individual in the future just in case he came up with a great piece of material, but in your case, I believe the producer was sincere with his compliment. Hell, I’ve seen professional screenwriters’ produced and unproduced scripts that were lacking in worth.

It’s not so easy to write an original screenplay, even for professional screenwriters, where everything aligns perfectly and magic happens on the page. Otherwise, all of the members on this board would have produced screenplays.
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Old 03-21-2019, 09:52 AM   #7
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

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i am first and foremost a sci-fi action/thriller writer. ... but the budgets tend to be high.
I don’t know how elaborate your sci-fi story is, but if it’s an epic, the required special effects, among other elements, could have the budget hovering in the area of $200,000,000. And this is just for the production budget. Not counting marketing.

These numbers make the studios very resistant to greenlight when the material is original and it’s from an unproven, new writer. (It doesn’t matter that a writer may have been writing for over a decade. If you don’t have credits, to them you’re a new writer.)

When studios invest in such high budgeted projects, they want to make sure their investment is secure/safe. To see what “secure/safe” means all one has to do is look at what the majority of produced, high budgeted movies were: established pre-markets, such as, novels, sequels, comic books, theme park rides, remakes of TV shows, video games, etc. Especially, if it comes with other possibilities for revenue, such as, merchandising.

This business model worries me because I’m writing an action/adventure, where its budget is in the $125,000,000 area. I’m wondering, am I wasting a year of my life writing this?

In the past, another member was in a situation where he realized the script he was working on will never sell. It wasn’t clarified if it was because it was non-commercial, high budget, etc., but he asked Chris Lockhart the following:

“I’m pretty sure that the script I’m working on will never sell no matter how well-executed. However, with the caveat of well-executed, did it make sense to continue knowing it’ll only be used as a sample?”

Chris replied: “No. Managers and reps are looking for specs that sell. Samples are used when the spec doesn’t sell."

So, knowing that a writer could be wasting his time knowingly writing a script that wouldn’t sell, should he continue writing it?

In my opinion, it all depends:

If a writer is only passionate about a non-commercial, low concept story, then I would suggest to go ahead and write it.

If a writer is equally passionate about a low concept and also a high concept story, then I would suggest to write the high concept.

Managers want to spend their time and energy, first and foremost, on material that they believe they could sell. As Chris Lockhart pointed out, the “sample” route is secondary.

If I had a manager who said, “don’t write the high budgeted story as your first script to go out. Write the low budgeted thriller that you have,” then I would listen to their guidance, but I don’t have a manager, and I love the high budgeted concept and story, so I’m not gonna let the factor that it may not sell influence me not to write it.

When a professional screenwriter seen Chris Lockhart’s response of “samples are used when the spec doesn’t sell,” where it might have influenced the member to abandon his story for one he believed would sell, he posted the following:

“The spec I broke in with shares a number of similarities with a $150+mil tentpole that was announced just when I started writing the script. I wrote it, knowing that there was no chance it would sell. My manager signed me based on that script, and told me, ‘We’re going to go out with this, but there’s not much chance it’s going to sell.’ My agents signed me based on that script and said ‘We’re going to show this to people, and you’ll get work based off it as a sample, but it’s not going to sell.’ … The entire team signed on based on the writing, not on the potential for a sale.”

This professional screenwriter went on to have a successful career writing in the action genre.

This professional screenwriter’s experience goes to the point that DaltWisney made, which I’ll address shortly, but first I’d like to discuss something else that finalact4 mentioned.

finalact4 says, “personally, i do not like rom-coms. but i had this idea and it was perfect for a rom com. … i don’t even watch them, but the concept was just too good to pass up. my point is… sometimes we must seek that which is “uncomfortable,” if only to learn it’s not so bad.”

I understand the spirit of this message, but I think “uncomfortable” may not be the right word to use.

If I’m uncomfortable writing in a certain commercial genre, then I’m not going there, but there are exceptions. I’m not going to be purposely looking for concepts in the genres I don’t enjoy writing, or watching, but if a killer, high concept POPS into my head, where the story practically writes itself, then I’m certainly not gonna ignore this.

finalact4, I think this is what happened to you. You mentioned you don’t like romantic comedies, but you came across this concept that you thought was great and had to write it.

That’s the importance of having inspiration and passion.

A writer shouldn’t force himself to write a story just because he thinks it’s commercial and the one that’ll bring him attention, breaking him into the industry.

It’s been said time and time again to write what you’re passionate about, because the story will evolve from the writer’s sole and heart, where it blooms with characters and story that’ll have richness and depth.

Remember that mantra, “writing is rewriting.” Imagine coming back again and again to do rewrites on a story, striving to make it stronger, where the writer is “uncomfortable” writing in this genre. This will become a tedious choir, real fast.

What if this story is in a genre the writer doesn’t enjoy writing and it sells, becoming a commercial success? Now, this writer goes on the producers and studios’ list of writers for assignments for this genre that he’s “uncomfortable” writing.

Yes, there are some professional writers who’ll accept rewrite assignments in genres they don’t enjoy because of a big payday, but as a non-pro struggling to break in, I suggest to write what you are passionate about.

For the non-commercial, low concept writers, sure what you’re passionate about, for the most part, the major studios aren’t interested in. I understand these are the type of stories that you’re passionate about, so keep writing them. Enter them in contests, make relationships, etc. to get noticed for referrals and assignments, but instead of using the word “uncomfortable” in suggesting for you to write commercial, I suggest for you to be open to be INSPIRED by commercial ideas as you go about with your life in your world.

Last edited by JoeNYC : 03-21-2019 at 10:18 AM.
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Old 03-21-2019, 09:57 AM   #8
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

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Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
if you want assignment work and/or to get staffed on a TV show then it stands to reason that your ability to execute might become as important (or more so) than your ability to come up with that great high concept that instantly excites people.
This is a good point. When Craig Mazin was an active member, he tried to get this point across with the following demonstration:

“You have a choice. You can either be:

WRITER A: Just sold a BIG IDEA spec for TWO MILLION DOLLARS, but the writing is bad. You’re just not very good. The movie is getting made. You will get sole credit, but you will be massively rewritten.

or

WRITER B: Just went out with a spec that was incredibly well-written. Unfortunately, the subject matter pretty much ensures that it’s not going to be a hit movie. You sell it for $80,000. People think the writing is incredible. There’s a near 100% chance the movie will never get made.
Now, decide which you should be, but here’s the twist. You’re in debt for one million dollars.

Make your choice…”

After the members made their choices, Mazin posted:

“The answer isn’t B because B is cool and indie and awesome and brilliant. The answer is B because: THERE ARE VERY FEW GOOD SCREENWRITERS OUT THERE. … if you’re B… if you’re really good, then you won’t just work that year on that script. You’ll work every year, year after year, for a really long time. And you will make more than two million dollars. … when you really hit your stride, you’ll be clocking that amount per project, with a $200K/week rate on production rewrites… or more! … Meanwhile, the big splashy spec-sellers come and go. Anyone remember Lou Holtz, Jr?”

Mazin didn’t elaborate on who Lou Holtz, Jr was, so I did some research and found out Lou wrote only one script, and then he was gone. The script was the high concept “The Cable Guy.” Judd Apatow was a producer and also one of the writers who did rewrite work on Lou’s screenplay. Apatow lost a huge battle in Writers Guild arbitration with Lou Holtz, Jr to also get credit as a writer for the screenplay.

I’ve addressed this issue in past threads, such as “High Concept and Low Concept,” and “This is a sure-fire way to never having your screenplay rejected.”

Yes, the easiest way to break in is to be a commercial writer that can execute to the high degree, but breaking in with a non-commercial screenplay has been done, though it’s a tougher road.

Susannah Grant won the Nicholl Fellowship with a script that the industry deemed too soft to produced, but they liked her voice. She got staffed on the TV show “Party of Five,” and then went on to have a successful film career.

Michael Arndt won the Nicholl Fellowship with a script that would be perceived as non-commercial, but because it could be made at a price ($8,000,000 budget) it was produced where it went on to have a wordwide gross of $100,000,000. Michael Arndt went on to have a successful screenwriting career.

"Pulp Fiction," Memento," "Million Dollar Baby," etc. were perceived not to be commercial.

The point is: Trust you have the talent, skill and craft to succeed. No matter if it is a high budgeted story, or a non-commercial story.

Last edited by JoeNYC : 03-21-2019 at 10:07 AM.
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Old 03-22-2019, 01:30 AM   #9
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

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Originally Posted by JoeNYC View Post
This business model worries me because I’m writing an action/adventure, where its budget is in the $125,000,000 area. I’m wondering, am I wasting a year of my life writing this?

True story: I met a comic book writer at Rose City Comic Con two years ago and talked briefly about his past. He had lived in LA and tried the whole screenwriting thing, but could never get any traction with any of his scripts. Then he pitched a comic idea to a big publisher and, to his surprise, it was accepted. Fast forward a couple years and he now has two series optioned for TV/streaming by a prodco with a first look deal at a major studio.

I feel confident saying that this writer never would've gotten those opportunities in Hollywood if he didn't have something concrete in his hands that he could point at and say, "Look, this is a real thing already."

There will always be room for great specs to generate heat, but most people are risk-averse by nature and that certainly extends to the entertainment business. People want sure things. They want to bank on proven talent. They want to bank on known properties and established IP.

With that being the case, there's an argument that creating some type of concrete property is a better strategy than just writing a spec. A novel is a finished product. A comic book is a finished product. A YouTube series or DIY film can generate revenue without needing a stamp of approval from some studio executive. One way or another, people have the potential to just go out and build something that finds an audience on its own. Once you have that, the same buyers who ignore you might be beating down your door. That's the irony of it. The same idea in a concrete form may go much further than the same idea as a spec.

Imagine Game of Thrones, Watchmen, 300, or Sin City if they'd been spec scripts instead of pre-existing complete works. They probably would've been subjected to the same development Hell as any number of ruined specs. But since they were proven commodities and concrete products, they made it to the screen almost perfectly intact compared with the original stories. Moreover, most of those are creator-owned works where the original authors retain a measure of control. You aren't going to get that with a spec script.

I'm rambling a bit now, but when you look at how risk-averse the business is, how poorly writers are treated in the film business and how little control writers will have over their spec feature even if they manage to sell it, you almost reach the conclusion that it's pointless to write a spec feature unless you plan to shoot it, turn it into a novel, or adapt it into a comic; or unless it's so cheap that it would be easy for someone else to produce.
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Old 03-22-2019, 08:06 AM   #10
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Default Re: Write the Right Script by Chris Lockhart

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
there's an argument that creating some type of concrete property is a better strategy than just writing a spec. A novel is a finished product. A comic book is a finished product. A YouTube series or DIY film can generate revenue without needing a stamp of approval from some studio executive. … build something that finds an audience on its own. Once you have that, the same buyers who ignore you might be beating down your door.
This is sound advice to put out there to the members.

There are some members who’ve made it known in the past that they were taking this route, adapting their screenplay into another medium, such as, novels and comics. I’ve never heard of a member going the stage play route, but that’s another option.

For me, personally, even though I believe the action/adventure screenplay I’m presently writing has such strong, emotional themes that it would resonate with an audience in novel form, I’m not interested in writing a novel.

Same with comics. I have an action comedy character called “Skunkman,” that could work in comic book form, but I’m not interested in writing comics. What I’m interested in is to write original stories in screenplay form. This is what gives me pleasure.

If my scripts don’t sell, I’m okay with that because I know how tough it is to have that right script, for the right buyer at the right time.

What I’m not okay with is if I enter a screenplay in contests, and it doesn’t at least advance in one out three contests. If I'm any good, I should at least advance in one of the screenwriting contests. So far, all of my scripts have advanced in one contest, or another. This is all the satisfaction I need to make me happy.

Who knows, maybe my high budget, action/adventure’s concept, execution and market appeal will be so strong a major studio would be willing to take a chance on an original voice.

Ah, there it is… hope.

For such a simple word its meaning is powerful. When the odds are against us and the rejections strike our hearts, this simple word “hope” keeps us from giving up.
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