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Old 12-16-2010, 12:09 AM   #91
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Originally Posted by Rantanplan View Post
Anyway, according to my research, it would take a miracle for an unknown writer to sell a 150 M original spec in the action adventure fantasy genre.
Most big budget action adventure fantasies aren't spec scripts sales, whether from newcomer or a-list writer. The risk is so high that they want an established audience, which is why they're usually book or comic book adaptations, sequels, remakes, etc, etc...

Can you name a few of those that came from specs? I can't think of any.

Again, I don't think it's a newbie vs established question.
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Old 12-16-2010, 12:10 AM   #92
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Originally Posted by Paul Striver View Post
Actually, that's probably exactly what it means. Sure, there are some amazing scripts that don't sell. But most of the scripts that go wide, whether they sell or not, simply aren't amazing.

I've read pretty much every script that's gone wide in the past two years. Very, very few of them are what I'd call amazing. Perhaps 5% of them qualified as excellent IMO, and I can't think of any of those that didn't sell (though I'm probably forgetting one or two).

The fact is, most of the scripts that go wide, including some that sell, are kind of meh stories and meh writing. I can tell that they're professional -- i.e., they're competently written and reading them doesn't sap my will to live -- but they're not amazing, not buzz-worthy. (What's even more astonishing to me than the rarity of amazing screenplays is how few -- a few hundred a year at most -- even rise to the level of meh, even reach the bar of mere competence.)

Scripts that actually do have "the whole town abuzz" are rare, and they almost always sell. With the caveat that some amazing scripts don't even go wide, because everyone recognizes that they're not likely to sell or be produced, despite how amazing they are -- but those scripts do start and/or turbocharge careers.

Is there any such thing as a truly amazing script that doesn't sell and/or significantly enhance a writer's career? I doubt it. It's well-nigh inconceivable (if that word means what I think it means...)

.
That seems like a whole other discussion.... and personally, I would ask, why aren't there more amazing scripts that blow the whole town away? Forget about the new writer trying to break in, what about all the working pros? Why aren't they writing more amazing scripts? Surely if they are making millions of dollars per script that means they must have talent. But does the current system stifle creativity and encourage formulaic fare? Are writers too restricted by their reps and the studios from writing what they truly want to write? Or are most of the wealthiest and most talented writers too busy writing franchise material to pen great original specs?

I'm not being sarcastic, I'm genuinely curious...
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Old 12-16-2010, 12:11 AM   #93
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Originally Posted by Rantanplan View Post
Anyway, according to my research, it would take a miracle for an unknown writer to sell a 150 M original spec in the action adventure fantasy genre.

As far as I can tell, it's never happened before. If it has, I would certainly love to hear about it.
If you're just determined to have an excuse, go for it. Me... I think it's empowering to realize that the reason you aren't getting attention is because your stuff isn't good enough yet. It puts your future back in your hands and relieves you of the pressure of worrying about what Hollywood does or doesn't want.

And yes, being strategic about what you write probably increases your odds--especially if you write a merely professional script rather than something truly distinctive. But don't gloss over the key point that several pros have made in this thread: people are always looking for a great script in ANY genre. Unfortunately, great doesn't mean that your mother likes it or your writing group likes it or it did well in some contest. Great means that it can compete with the best stuff being written today--and in my experience deceiving yourself about the height of that bar only leads to bitterness and frustration.
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Old 12-16-2010, 12:13 AM   #94
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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That seems like a whole other discussion.... and personally, I would ask, why aren't there more amazing scripts that blow the whole town away?
Because writing is fvcking hard.
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Old 12-16-2010, 12:19 AM   #95
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
Most big budget action adventure fantasies aren't spec scripts sales, whether from newcomer or a-list writer. The risk is so high that they want an established audience, which is why they're usually book or comic book adaptations, sequels, remakes, etc, etc...

Can you name a few of those that came from specs? I can't think of any.

Again, I don't think it's a newbie vs established question.
Out of the list of 150 M + films, not taking into consideration animation, the only ones I could find that come from original material were a few comedies (but comedies are often original, so not unusual), and of course AVATAR and INCEPTION. MATRIX and HANCOCK would also be on the list as original material, and then the Emmerich disaster flicks. Of course most of these are director driven, so hardly the same sandbox as the new writer, but at least it's original material (whether specs or not I'm not sure). There's also one of the MUMMY flicks, not sure if it's original material or not.

But yeah, otherwise it's basically your hobbits, your superheroes, your pirates, boy magicians, your talking lions and what not.

Anyway, I'm sort of in awe of the list. And altogether, it's only a handful of directors if you really think about it. It's the ultimate alpha male club. Damn it must be sweet.

ETA: and you're right, I think even known writers would have a tough time selling that genre with that price tag. But the known writer would probably have easier access than the new writer.
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Old 12-16-2010, 12:40 AM   #96
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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ETA: and you're right, I think even known writers would have a tough time selling that genre with that price tag. But the known writer would probably have easier access than the new writer.
This is really the crux of it. You're absolutely right. If Scott Frank wrote a 150 million dollar script, he would have an easier time getting it read than you.

But isn't that fair? He wrote great scripts, worked his way up the ladder, had stuff produced, his projects made money... He had to prove himself to get to the point he's at. No one handed it to him. He didn't complain that his first spec didn't get read as easily as William Goldman's scripts.

As you've pointed out, there are a bunch of people on DD who've gone wide with scripts recently. They got their writing to a place where an agent was willing to sign them and take them out. They climbed on the same ladder that Frank did - it's still there.

I guess I'm at a loss to understand the inequity of a system that favors people with track records and experience.
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Old 12-16-2010, 10:24 AM   #97
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
This is really the crux of it. You're absolutely right. If Scott Frank wrote a 150 million dollar script, he would have an easier time getting it read than you.

But isn't that fair?
.
Of course it's fair Did I ever say it wasn't? I was stating some of the facts, which I personally find fascinating and which I didn't really know about until recently --and which lead me to believe that scripts that are impossible to sell are less likely to get read, especially if written by unknowns. Clearly others in the thread disagree, but I would still suggest for anybody writing certain big budget genres to do a bit of research before you get started. It's good to know what the track record is on such specs and what you're up against.
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Old 12-16-2010, 11:04 AM   #98
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

Great thread, but I think debating who should be able to write tentpoles, or indies or anything else, is actually a euphemism for our complaints about "access".

We have the right to our opinions about the quality or type of scripts being produced, and who should get to write the tentpoles, but judging whether or not one gets made just isn't our call. If I were running the business, I'm sure I'd pick and choose exactly as the present operators do. It's the safe bet with my own or investors' money.

On the other hand... I'd always be paranoid about missing out on that "next big trend".

Comparing this to my day job (computers) I do find R&D in the movie industry is vastly underfunded and undervalued. The bit about one company's development budget going from a million a year to $50K is a little crazy.

In the computer biz, nobody who wants to survive scrimps on R&D. But in the movies, when development funds run out, meaning there isn't sufficient development on "new material" for the next "season", isn't it obvious they're going to turn to simple, sure-thing remakes and sequels? To disguise the fact they've run out of ideas, they choose the tentpoles, or star-driven vehicles.

I won't even try to suggest any cures for what ails this biz.
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Old 12-16-2010, 11:17 AM   #99
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

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Mine is under 150, around a 100, but I came SO FREAKING CLOSE to selling with two different studios. And one was initially a dead end, until a producer that really loved it went to an exec higher on the food chain. I'm redeveloping with the producer now and they're planning to make attachments and go back out with it. If I can come that close, anyone can with enough hard work and tenacity. And my holiday wish for all you guys is that you find great success in the new year.
That's awesome Gravitas, fingers crossed for you! Keep us posted.
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Old 12-16-2010, 11:53 AM   #100
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Default Re: Big Budget Tentpoles

There's a subtext* I get from a lot of Lowell's posts about this topic (as well as Earbrass's posts, mrjonesprods's posts, and posts by others who've had some measure of success), and I agree with it (even though I don't always heed it; but that's due to my own neuroses). It goes something like this:

"Stop wasting so much time trying to figure this industry out. Doing so expends energy that you'll never get back -- energy you could be using to write. Instead of endlessly debating with yourself and others about what you should be writing or how you should approach breaking in when all of the doors seem to be closed, write a script. And then another. And then another. Test the waters by showing your work to people in the industry. If you're getting positive feedback but nobody is going out of his way to push your stuff through the aforementioned doors, then go back to work. Write another script. And another. Focus on the writing. ALWAYS the writing."

I remember reading a review of a documentary about Jerry Seinfeld. The critic (Ebert, perhaps?) talked about a sequence that showed the contrast between Jerry's approach and that of an unsuccessful comedian friend of his. Jerry was constantly working on his material, constantly brainstorming, constantly testing his jokes on other people, and constantly thinking in terms of what was funny. His friend, on the other hand, was constantly talking about making it big, constantly talking about what he'd do when he did, and constantly brainstorming ways to make himself a product, but in a way that had nothing to do with his material. As such, he'd been "struggling to break in" for years. Though I've never seen the documentary, just hearing about the contrast between the two fascinated me. And it's something Terry Rossio has discussed before.

That said, I know Rantanplan. And I know her major focus is always on the writing. She's got a lot of Seinfeld in her, in more ways than one. And she IS doing all the stuff she needs to be doing.

*ETA: Okay, okay, the advice is usually overt rather than subtextual. Earbrass, Lowell and mrjonesprods don't tend to mince words.
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