If you want to get your script noticed in Hollywood—and your talents compensated for—then you cannot be just a ‘good’ screenwriter, you’ve gotta be great!
Before you go and pay for another screenwriting class on character development or plot points, perhaps all you need to do is simply change your perspective on what makes a screenwriter ‘great’ in the eyes of Hollywood’s decision makers.
A Great Screenwriter ‘gets’ what Hollywood needs…
A great screenwriter delivers what the Hollywood system depends upon, not by blindly guessing or chasing trends they’ve heard from friends (or friends of friends), but rather truly knowing that:
- Hollywood functions as an actual movie-making system, by making and distributing films that earn more money than they cost to produce.
- When starting out, focus on the part of Hollywood where your work, ideas and talents are most desperately in need: Independent Hollywood (not the big studios).
Indie Hollywood isn’t on the hunt for more character dramas or indie ‘coming-of-age’ gems. It’s seeking films that have a reliable audience and a high probability of generating revenue.
Genres that are considered ‘reliable’ and ‘stable’ would be the kinds of films you see on TV:
These include, family films (with kid heroes, even better with an animal side-kick), Action films (especially ones that offer the opportunity for an aging male actor to make a comeback role), and Female-driven thrillers (the kind you see on Lifetime).
If you want proof, go check out a Redbox machine.
You’ll notice that aside from major studio titles and video games, it’s usually the above-mentioned genres getting placement (despite having no major A-list celebrity actors).
Comedies are harder to sell since their style and tone are subjective and difficult to play overseas (since the humor doesn’t always translate and dubbing is expensive!)
When writing for independent Hollywood, rather than the big studios, you must be conscious of where the money comes from. Foreign sales are as important as U.S. and Canadian placement so avoid overly heavy ‘Americanisms’ like football or Thanksgiving.
While we are on the subject, avoid dramas (they are too boring), make your lead protagonist female (woman make the ‘movie viewing’ decisions more often than men), and despite what many screenwriting books suggest, do keep your script ‘budget-oriented’.
So you want to write for the big studios and have a laundry list of solid ideas? Great!
Save them until later…
As a serious screenwriter, you first need to sell a few scripts in the indie zone to build a strong reputation before big-studio Hollywood will pay attention. For more examples, get on Netflix or Hulu and look for the movies you’ve never heard of (but happen to be placed next to a big Studio title. Those are the indie films you stand a solid chance of getting hired to write!)
A Great Screenwriter Follows Principles, Not Trends
There will always be a new ‘it’ genre or trend, which it seems all the Studios are following. I’m sure you’ve noticed the zombie films and reboots?
But trends come and go, some much quicker than others. But the principles stay the same.
Writing on Principle means focusing on genres that are consistently and reliably selling. In my book, Writing for the Green Light, I refer to these as ‘Gold-Mine Genre Types.’
Is FOX hell-bent on Vampires this season? Great, let them focus on that and you stick true to your reliable Family title or modestly budgeted Action film.
Is Paramount investing heavily into paranormal-themed content this summer? Again, let them… Don’t veer off course just because the studios make a new decision…
Stick true to your reliable genres (Family, Action, and Female-Driven thrillers), and you stand a much better shot of giving indie Hollywood what it needs to stay in business.
A Great Screenwriter gets passionate about what sells!
There is nothing wrong with being passionate about content that sells!
You are no less a serious screenwriter just because you write Tween-Girl Romance movies or Family Safe Adventures rather than hard hitting dramas.
By entering the entertainment industry with a ‘business’ mindset (focused on seeing your work produced and your efforts compensated for), you will be taken more seriously by the Decision-Makers running Hollywood.
Once you’ve built a name for yourself as a reliable and steady deliverer of quality content, you will have already built that network of contacts who can take your work to the next level.
Scott Kirkpatrick is the Director of Distribution for MarVista Entertainment, a Los Angeles based production and distribution company that produces original Lifetime and SyFy channel films, co-produces TV movies with Disney and Nickelodeon, and has managed international TV deals on major franchises including Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Digimon, and Julius Jr. Scott has also produced and directed TV series and feature films including Eye for an Eye, Muslims in America, and Roadside Massacre. Check out his book, Writing For The Greenlight.