Does commercialism determine what you write?



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  • Does commercialism determine what you write?

    I am plotting out ideas for my fourth script, and the idea that I am currently passionate about would be described as a "slice of life" relationship/friendship comedy/drama. I discussed the idea with my manager who cautioned me that the idea I have in mind would not be high concept. He said the script I was pitching would be an independent film, not something a studio would be likely to pick up.

    My first three scripts were all high concept. I've had two options (and am praying one of them turns into a sale). My goal was to similarly have my next script be high concept, because such spec scripts have the greatest chance of success. But I really believe my idea could be a good and interesting story, even if not particularly high concept.

    So how much do you let the commercial potential of an idea dictate what you write? How much should it effect us?

  • #2
    Well, I think as writers we need to keep an audience in mind. Why communicate if there is no one on the other end of the communications model? Know what I mean? You want to reach an audience.

    Having said that, don't be down on your idea because it is not "high concept." There are a lot of "smaller" movies that do get made. Smaller is probably the wrong word. But not every movie has to be Jaws or ET or Star Wars or Indiana Jones. Look at what's currently playing now - is every one of the movies in your area considered high concept?

    Write a good movie. Period. Then see where it goes.

    Unless you are under a time constraint on yet another project that must get done right away, why not allow your creative brain to do what it will?


    • #3
      Write a good movie that is widely castable. If you can write a great story but there are maybe two actors that can play it, then you will have a tough time.


      • #4
        Haven't we "art vs commerced" too many times alrea

        I sometimes write scripts that I know will never sell, but I wanted to write them. They sit on my shelf and collect dust.

        Most of the scripts I write are exactly the same kind of stories I regularly pay to see in theaters - so I am both passionate about the stories and they are also commercial.

        No reason why a high concept script can't also be something that you are passionate about - the last script I wrote was a big thriller about reicarnation... and how you need to accept your past (even embrace it) before you can move on.

        Since we are dealing with a mass audience medium, the stoies we tell are going to need to appeal to a mass audience. A small story is probably going to work better as a play or novel - other mediums we can write in.

        Figure out how to combine the personal and the high concept, that's what I did.

        - Bill


        • #5

          I still believe that but...

          I have written two scripts that are so heavily dependent on main actors being Korean. And my former agent at ICM said this to me when he read it. "This is the only script I read of memory where I wept during the last 30 pages." So I was like "great!" Then he said "I can't even name an actor who can be the lead." And so it went to collect dust.

          Another agent (while I was being courted by a few agencies), a partner at UTA, said to me "I was on a flight and had to go to the bathroom but I couldn't get up until I finished the script." Then added "I don't know a single Asian actor, much less Korean, who can play these parts."

          And everyone before and since who have read the script had the same emotional reaction to the story but added that castability was a problem.

          That's why I say that it should be widely castable. But the first caveat still holds true, imo. Write a great script and everything will take care of itself. Just don't make these scripts reliant on Korean actors.


          • #6
            Hey Hamboogul, it's interesting to see your opinion has changed a bit over time. I think in the past you would answered this question with an authoritative and pointed, "Just worry about writing a great script!" or "Stop second-guessing the market place and write what you're passionate about!" Now you're actually offering up some extra-guidelines. What made you modify your perception a bit?


            • #7

              Ham, do any of your Asian-heavy scripts lend themselves to the possibility of the independent route? A name like Rick Yune and John Cho may not mean much to a studio, but probably means something to a few independent producers. If Justin Lin can shoot a film with an Asian cast, I don't see why others can't either. Have you thought about going through IFP -- they wet themselves over that kind of material? Or work-shopping your script through some sort of lab -- such as Searchlab or Sundance?


              • #8
                Re: Asians


                I have thought of that possibility. In fact, a former Sundance alumnus who frequents DD recommended me to the Sundance June director's lab a few years ago.

                But to be quite honest, I shared the feeling with the agents I considered signing with. Yes, I can probably go the indie route but my first and foremost goal is to be a storyteller writing Hollywood movies. And I think the first script that you sell often becomes a signature of what you do for a few years until you break out of that mold. And I don't wish to be considered an indie writer who writes small, Asian movies.

                I don't know if this is true with other ethnic groups but I feel that it's actually a detriment to be a writer of Asian descent because there's not a strong U.S. market for it. Whereas there are Latino and African-American films that tend to find an audience.


                • #9
                  Re: Asians

                  To answer the original question:

                  No. Not at all.

                  Bill -

                  You always give the advice, "Write the types of movies you pay to see." But then you go on to talk about being passionate about high concept/commercial material.

                  What if the movies an aspiring screenwriter pays to see are Dogville, Elephant, Garden State, Requiem For A Dream, Napoleon Dynamite, Max, May, American Splendor, Children of Heaven, In America, Smoke, You Can Count On Me, etc.?

                  Why not take a chance and write those types of scripts (and, yes, most likely direct them, too)? Why should a writer feel he can't write movies if his tastes aren't "mainstream" or "commercial"? That's one thing I've never understood. I mean, let's take your typical aspiring screenwriter/filmmaker who loves movies. He wants to write movies. He's wanted to write movies all his life. That's his passion, his bliss or whatever you want to call it.

                  But his tastes are indie or arthouse. So he should write novels instead? Why not find out how his favorite movies came to be and follow their lead? Sure, it won't be easy, and nothing may ever come of it, but isn't that the case anyway? I mean, how many aspiring screenwriters who write high concept stuff ever "break in"?

                  A former classmate of mine wrote and directed MAY and he's getting jobs directing feature films now. For studios.

                  Taotropics broke in with a script that wasn't mainstream and all sorts of heavy-hitters want to work with him.

                  So, yeah, I agree with the advice, "Write the types of movies you pay to see," but don't think there should be the qualification, "but only if they're commercial."


                  • #10
                    Re: Asians

                    TR, but they should be castable, no?

                    And why am I doing up at this crazy hour? Um, why are you?


                    • #11
                      Re: Asians

                      I was told long ago:

                      Early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy, wea...

                      Oh, wait.

                      As far as castable is concerned...

                      I always mentally cast my screenplays so, yeah, I guess I never gave that part much thought because I just assume the actors I have in mind are going to play the parts.


                      • #12
                        more thoughts

                        Castability is not the problem. The script centers on a group of early 30's women. Given the subject matter I have in mind, I suspect it's a movie that would appeal to actresses. When I discuss the plot with my friends (I should reiterate here that I'm a woman), they all say they think a movie about this is a great idea.

                        My manager's concern was more that, "studios don't market to 30 year-old women. And this doesn't sound like a movie men or teenagers would want to see." He walked me through the lack of female-driven (non-romantic comedies). And even within that, I admit that my idea isn't super high concept like, "A 13 year-old girl wakes up one day and discovers she is 30 years old." My managers concern is that there isn't that high-concept "hook." It's more issue/relationship driven.

                        "Think Sex and the City! Think Desperate Housewives!" I said. "Yeah, but those are television shows," he replied. My dilemma is that while I want to be able to write what I want to write, I also want to be cognizant of the demands of the industry.

                        Any further thoughts?


                        • #13
                          Re: more thoughts

                          My feeling is... if you have two or more script ideas you're trying to choose between, write the one which you perceive to be more "commercial."

                          The last few scripts I've written are very important to me, and they'll make great films, but they are tough sells. So this time out, I know I need to focus on writing something that is easily sellable, while at the same time, I intend to write another meaningful script.

                          I'm focusing on writing scripts that are half for me, and half for "the audience." I know that the films I love are often not huge moneymakers, so I cannot focus on writing films precisely like those. If I'm going to be successful, I can't just write movies that I'm going to love. I have to write scripts that people who are nothing like me are going to love just as much as I do.

                          I can't sell a script simply based on the fact that I would love the movie. If screenwriting is a job and not just a hobby, then I have to focus on what other people are going to think of the film made from my script. So hopefully I'm creative enough to come up with films that appeal to both my own taste and what I perceive as the tastes of many others.


                          • #14
                            Re: more thoughts

                            Letâ€TMs pretend Neil LaBute, Darren Aronofsky and Todd Solondz don't exist. By some stroke of universal justice you've been blessed with a brain that's a weird combination of their creative minds and you're sitting at your computer, trying to choose between writing a script like In The Company Of Men, one like Pi and one like Happiness. Or, perhaps, those exact scripts. This is, after all, Hypothetical Land.

                            Which do you choose?

                            What if all your ideas are like In The Company..., Pi and/or Happiness?

                            Should you write a novel instead? Should you give up? Should you try to come up with something â€commercial†that turns you on?

                            Or, should you go ahead and write the script, then find a way to get it made/make it yourself?


                            • #15
                              Re: more thoughts

                              Listen to your manager.

                              That's why you're working together, right?

                              You value his opinion & he'll work hard to get your material out to his contacts when he feels it's ready & will keep both of your reputations in good stead.

                              'Nuff said.