Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What's the Big Idea?


An update on Writers on the Storm and a commentary on the biz in general

It’s been a month since we sent out the Writers on the Storm writing contest’s winning scripts and loglines to our list. What we’ve seen so far has been very interesting.

First of all, the process is turning out to be an ongoing one, as opposed to a “fire and forget.” I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. There are a lot of scripts from our top ten out still there, still getting read. Just in the last week, two companies from our list finally responded and asked to read some of the scripts. Sometimes it takes these guys awhile. No problem.

As for the responses, one of our top ten, and two of our honorable mentions, have gotten meetings so far; several more will be getting some phone meetings, and more will be assuredly coming down the pike. We’re still waiting to hear back from many companies regarding our winner, Rational Panic, and we have a solid if not huge number of our top tens also getting read, which we are staying on top of, too. In short, it’s still too early to tell exactly how much of an impact our very first little contest will have--but we’re feeling pretty good about it so far!

Of course, we’ve gotten some passes, too. No big deal, since passes are a daily fact of life in Hollywood. The important thing is that even if the material is not for a particular company, hopefully the craft and the voice impress them enough to get them in the door… and by being easy-to-work-with and personable, even a pass could turn into opportunity.

One comment made by a producer/manager struck me. He read three of our top ten, and he said to me that while he liked the writing, none of them had “the big idea” he can go sell--by that, he meant something that is so obvious that it shouts to be a movie. Now I have several responses to that. The first is, that is exactly the sort of limited thinking that gives us the same warmed-over lameness we see at the theatres. Surely any of us can name a boatload of movies with a concept that some might not
consider extraordinary which have gone on to be exceptional films. “American Beauty” leaps to mind. But the second thing I think is that, sadly, he’s probably right.

This month was the 5th anniversary of my taking over the Agent’s Hot Sheet column for Creative Screenwriting magazine. And believe me, that five years has been an education and a half! I’ve really come to see just how the representatives think. And it is true, particularly when trying to sell movies to the studios, that concept is all. Producer Dan Ostroff once told me he’d rather have a script with a phenomenal idea and iffy execution than one with a so-so idea and astounding execution. Because,
you see, they can always hire a “closer”--someone like Paul Haggis or whomever, who can come in and rewrite the script. When it comes to actually selling a spec, high concept’s a big, big thing.

And so I could see that producer/manager’s point. While I believe that many of our top ten scripts would make great movies, several of them would require thought and time to market properly and, well, a lot of folks out there are resistant to making that investment in a “baby writer.”

So what’s the big idea? Well, that’s important for sure. But I believe original voices will ultimately build a career, too, and maybe even a better or more sustainable one, than if you just have the next easily pitchable high concept—“it’s 'Porky’s' in Abu Ghraib!” or whatever. So hang tight--more to come!

6 comments:

Spanky said...

"Porky's in Abu Ghraib"... ok, tastless but I'm laughing...

E fitz said...

My script was elimiated from the first round of this contest and also AAA and scriptapalooza. Does this mean I just suck? Should I just giv up? I mean I read my script and I laugh out loud. I've read scenes to my friends and they laugh like crazee so what gives. that's a lot of $ i dropped on contest and didn't get nothing.

Jim Cirile said...

E Fitz, it doesn't necessarily mean you suck at all. It could be lots of things. You could have great ideas but need a bit more work on how to effectively get them on the page. It could be your material is very niche-oriented, something contest readers just haven't responded to. Or it could be that the craft of the writing needs some work. It's hard to tell without seeing the script. I can tell you that I have both won contests and been eliminated in the first round. So don't judge yourself too harshly, since a LOT of people get eliminated. I do recommend you find a writer's group or maybe take a class or consult with a servioce such as Coverage Ink if you want to get some independent feedback on your material and hopefully learn and evolve your writing. Good luck.

TA said...

e fitz:

I've judged for numerous competitions (not wots) and many times the more interesting scripts are the ones that don't make it to the finals. Also, as a professional writer/producer, I find that the majority of contest scripts are a long way from being professional quality and ready to "go out to the town."

I'm sure there are funny scenes in your script. People laugh. But, does it all add up to a movie. It's one thing to have funny scenes; another to have them all work and meld into a great screenplay. Keep at it. I lost a lot of contests early in my journey...but I'm doing well now. And, all it takes is one person to get it, and you're on your way.

Jim Cirile said...

Right on, ta. Good advice!

Gladius said...

Man that's all I have are big ideas, but I always flame out while writying them, like it's the execution and all. I wish I could just write the ideas you know, and have someone else do the script./