Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Your Idea For A Screenplay Worth The Effort?

Here’s a quote I love from Bob Kosberg of moviepitch.com, alias The Pitch King:

The biggest mistake screenwriters make is - they come up with an idea on a Monday and decide that's going to be the script they're going to spend the next three to six months working on, rather than spending an equal amount of time going through lots of ideas and making sure the one they're going to write is tested, critically received by lots of people and then, when they know they really have something strong, they sit down and spend the time writing it. They work and sweat and bleed on screenplays that are wrong-headed to begin with. It may have good writing, but the idea, story, and concept aren't that commercial or strong and thus, will never sell.

Of course there are those who would say that you have to “follow your passion” whether that leads to a commercially viable screenplay or not. I certainly thought that way for a long time, and I’ve ended up with far too many projects either unfinished or unproduced. And not because I can’t write or because I’m unfamiliar with screenwriting conventions.

The point of the matter is, that writing a good screenplay takes a huge amount of effort and perseverance, and it really only makes sense to put in that work if the idea at the heart of the screenplay is genuinely well thought through. That is, at least, if you’re serious about earning a living writing screenplays.

Does that mean that the only screenplays worth writing are clones or imitations of successful Hollywood movies? I don’t think so. I think the main criterion should be: Is there potentially (and realistically) a market for your movie idea? Does the screenplay have at its core a unique enough idea, or an intriguing enough twist on a familiar genre, to pique an audience’s interest?

Which kind of translates to: Is this idea going to be interesting to anyone besides you? I mean, would your neighbour pay to go and see this movie?

I hate dealing with this issue, because it brings up the whole question of whether film is primarily an art form or a business enterprise. And like most screenwriters, I like to think that what I write has some relevance, that it’s more than “mere entertainment.” The misconception being that an entertaining movie is by definition superficial and vacuous.

Increasingly, I’m convinced that time spent testing and selecting ideas for screenplays before committing to writing a screenplay, is time very well spent. And although writing anything is good practice, it’s a pity to spend months or years writing a screenplay that has no real potential of being produced.


Anonymous said...

Dave Herman, good info and very timely. Creativity and ideas come and go and we can't control it. So why not just roll with it. I got this idea about a script as raunchy and crazy as Steven Speilberg's movie "1941". I did not plan it, or write an outline. I just went with the flow. I swear if I ever did any planning I would loose the essence and fun of the script.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Good for you! I guess sometimes the passion in the writing goes a long way to consolidating interest.

However, if the core idea doesn't translate easily into a poster, a trailer and a marketing campaign aimed at a specific target audience, then the script might be tougher to sell.

Which doesn't mean it can't serve as an excellent calling card and a step up to a subsequent writing assignment.


Kim H Peres said...

We definitely need to assess a story before trying to make it into a whole screenplay.

Too many ideas for stories don't have enough of a visual element to demand being on screen and some would make good short films but don't have the oomph to last for 80+ minutes. A little outlining goes a long way.