The Aug 31 2015 Scoggins Report just streeted, and to no one's surprise, things pretty much suck out there.
So far, 2015 is the worst year for spec sales in the past seven years -- a full 30% lower than average.
Now that's pretty ghastly, but when I say to no one's surprise, what I mean is: as writers, we all need to be aware that the old model just doesn't work as well as it used to. If you think you're going to write a killer spec and sell it for a milllllion dollars, thus launching your career and allowing you to sing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah all the way to the bank, well, mate, may I suggest jolly good luck with that, and dammit, I said extra foam on that mocha frappucino, chop-chop.
Gazing through the Coverage Ink spyglass, with its startlingly non-rose-colored optics, we can see what's going on, what this all really means and how it lays out for us all. And in so doing, I compiled a list of 13 genres you should probably avoid writing -- unless throwing away a year of your life on a quixotic quest seems like a smashing way to spend your time.
But first, let's break down the WHYS.
LESS FLICKS. I'm talking about studio films specifically. There are still plenty of indie and DIY features being made, but the actual number of movies produced by the handful of remaining majors is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. What did Paramount release this year, like TWO movies? Plus we all know what types of movies they're making: things based on source material. If the concept is already out there in the zeitgeist in some way, be it as a song, TV show, graphic novel, successful web series (10 million views or above), work of literature, whatever -- it immediately has more weight than an original spec script. For studios, the built-in audience that comes with a known property is reassuring when they're considering reaching for their checkbooks.
In short: they're just not buying or optioning nearly as many original feature-length scripts nowadays.
The new mindset among agents and managers is: they'll send out a piece of material, of course always hoping for a sale, but knowing full well that it's really just a writing sample. They're hoping to introduce the writer to the town, get a "bottled water tour" (meet n' greet meetings with creative execs,) and then, if the writer and the execs hit it off, maybe get the writer a job either developing one of the producers' ideas, or rewriting an existing project on the prodco's shelf.
This in and of itself is not terrible -- it just means we need to revise our expectations from "selling my script" to "getting in the door." Once in, it's up to your charisma, not what's on the page.
|A prestige TV offering coming from Amazon.|
What's left? Comedy, Thriller, Action, "Elevated" Horror, Sci-fi and... um... yeah, that's pretty much it.
Also driving this phenomenon is that fact that TV has never been better. Why roll the dice on a pricey movie in the theaters when there's always something decent on Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube? So while the hunger for original feature scripts drops like a dirigible mistakenly filled with concrete, the TV renaissance and increase in new TV networks means more openings for writers than ever before. Take five minutes to peruse the list of execs and what they're looking for on Virtual PitchFest. Three years ago, there were only a handful specifying they were looking for pilots. Now, virtually all will read them. This is a massive sea change.
Or as Mitch Solomon from Magnet Management replied, when I asked what he tells his feature writers when they ask him if they should consider writing TV: "Do you like money?"
BATTLE PLAN. Fortunately, none of this means we writers necessarily have to do anything differently. You can still write feature specs; just don't have unrealistic expectations. It will still act as a writing sample, and the best part is: the wall between TV and features has eroded to the point where agents and managers frequently submit feature specs to TV producers and TV pilots to feature producers as well. Good writing is good writing, and the snobbery of days gone by is history. So your feature could well get you a pitch meeting for that new Netflix show, for example.
Do be aware however, that agents and managers are STILL looking for those feature scripts that MIGHT sell. Just because they know they likely won't sell doesn't mean they're going to take a flyer on your epic, non-branded (no known historical characters) period adventure. You will likely not even get a read unless your concept seems like a studio movie.
Here are 13 things you should NOT be writing if you actually want people to read your feature script...
13 GENRES NOT TO WRITE IN 2015
(if trying to interest a Hollywood agent or manager)
1) Anything topical. With the 24-hour "news" cycle incessantly bludgeoning us with stupidity and corporate/Pentagon propaganda, current events become stale very quickly. That topic that's all the rage now will be, in six months, a "nothing-burger" (to paraphrase Kevin O'Leary.) Plus, as far as the studios are concerned, movies are escapism.
2) Terrorist-anything. See above. Unless it is a really unusual form of terrorist. Eskimos or Canadians or Venusians? Sure! But Muslims/Middle East/ etc.? Pass.
3) Traditional romantic comedies. Stale and formulaic. But find a way to change it up or make it fresh (e.g., "Trainwreck") and you may have something.
4) Fantasy movies. BUDGET! Sure, these are huge box office, but they're ALL branded. Unless you have the rights to "Dragonriders of Pern," you are dead in the water. No studio is going to bet the proverbial farm on original material.
5) War or Period/Costume Epics. BUDGET! Sure, these get made, but not by the likes of us. I wish I had a dollar for every great WWII script I've read over the last decade. Sure, if someone powerful like Angelina Jolie attaches, it's a whole different story, but try interesting an agent... Consider restaging the conflict to a space station or another galaxy or inside a human body or something. Seriously.
6) Westerns. The genre is put-a-fork-in-it done theatrically and has migrated to TV.
7) Anything starring a cop or lawyer. Both are the purview of TV. Cop movies still get made of course, but there needs to be something really unique about it. A grizzled alcoholic cop, family falling apart, desperate to track down an elusive murderer? Ho-hum (unless there's true-life source material.) Legal anything: unless adapted from John Grisham, it's probably for TV.
8) Serial killer stories. Played out and also the purview of TV now.
|Who expected this movie to be any good? We certainly didn't.|
10) Stories without Americans, in a country other than the US: America is a ridiculously xenophobic society. It's fine to stage your story in Zimbabwe... provided your hero is American. But US studios will likely not be interested in a movie focused on another culture, with actors who are not Americans -- unless (you guessed it!) there is source material, such as literature or a well-known play (e.g., "Les Miserables".) The exception to this is British, provided it's not about working class types or anything too Britishy-British.
11) Spy/CIA stories. Spy stories are so played out they were already spoofing them in the '60s (Kingsman:The Secret Service was based on a graphic novel.) And the CIA is such an overused element in screenplays as to elicit groans at the mere sight of the acronym. Invent your own agency or do some research -- there are a hundred other lesser-known alphabet soup agencies.
12) Dramas. Again, TV has sucked a lot of the air out of this once erstwhile genre; and while they do sneak through quite a bit, they're seldom rewarded at the box office, even with a Sundance pedigree or critical notice. That means it's tough to interest an agent, manager or CE in reading them, unless there's a noteworthy attachment, or if you've DIY'ed it and won a passel of awards from film festivals. And finally:
13) Superhero movies. This might seem counter-intuitive at first, but if you've been paying attention you'll realize that while superhero movies continue to dominate, they all have one thing in common: NONE of them came from specs. (Except Hancock. But that's a whole nother story.) So unless your last name happens to be Lee or Ditko or Kirby, or you somehow got DC to part with the feature adaptation rights to Matter Eater Lad (that's a real thing, believe it or not), then don't waste one minute of your precious time writing a huge-budget superflick no one will even read.
There you have it. It's a not-especially brave new world, but forewarned is forearmed. Consider carefully how to ford the raging rapids separating you from Hollywood's fortifications. Beware the minefield(s) and proceed with knowledge of the way things are, versus the way we want things to be. There are still ways in -- we just have to be smarter about our time and material. Go get 'em.
And hell, if you are writing Matter Eater Lad, then I want in!
Jim Cirile is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and the founder of leading screenplay analysis/development service Coverage Ink, used by writers, prodcos and management companies to develop and hone their material. Coverage Ink Films is currently producing MALEVOLENT, the world's first US-made animated horror feature, starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.) www.coverageink.com.