October 8, 2009

The Business of Adaptation

If you have been following my monthly e-newsletter Craft & Career*, you will notice that I interviewed two friends (Michael Lent, Laura Harkcom) about their recent comic book projects as well as Michael's non-fiction homerun with Disney/Hyperion. Does this mean that I am secretly trying to brainwash screenwriters to become comic book writers or graphic novel artists? Am I closet Fanboy? Do I have a third rhetorical question to make this flow smoothly? No, no and no.

The reason I have been discussing screenwriting tangents like comic books and even songwriting is that I believe that writers have to adapt. If I were a 22 year old kid right now....or let me put it another way...it really hurts me to think about the pain and frustration for kids trying to break into screenwriting now. Outside of the big 4-5 agencies, there were like a dozenish spec sales in August. The industry is a completely different beast than it was a few years ago. Completely diferent from the Biz literature from a few years ago. If you want to make it now, you have to be on the top of your game (COUGH**week long class with me in December don't hurt**COUGH! Excuse me.) and you have to be smart about understanding the business side and what's selling and how you can find your niche.

Apparently Bill Mechanic, former head of Fox Studios, has the same advice in a slightly different way. I am telling you to adapt. He is saying that it's about survival. Here is his recent keynote speech that has been making its rounds among the boards.

I can't tell you what your niche is or what you should write. But a few excerpts from an article I wrote in my last newsletter might help you start thinking in terms of the current spec market:

I tread carefully when I have to make a subjective call about a project's marketability and/or premise. On their first or second script, I think writers should be left alone with whatever concept they want to write. The process of finishing those scripts is so important to the writers' growth that trying to point them in a different direction (however slight) could be hazardous to the passion and drive needed for them to finish their daunting and, for them, seemingly uncharted task. Also, once in a while, a writer is well aware of a concept's limitations but the story just has to be told.

Buyers are looking for stories with strong "hooks." If you understand the concept of hook and have or are willing to develop the craft of writing within a strong concept, I encourage it. And if you can do it on a reasonable budget so that you open yourself up to more potential buyers, that's a huge plus.

Here are some examples of good movies with clever hooks and reasonable budgets: District 9, (500) Days of Summer, Memento, The Hangover. I haven't read or seen the new Youth in Revolt, but the trailer made me think "Fight Club as a teen comedy," which is a pretty cool idea. Blair Witch Project made a jillion times its budget and the same premise applied to Cloverfield made it much less expensive than the standard take on Godzilla.

I am going to keep it short and sweet today until I actually know people are reading this stuff. If you are and you use the discount code: ALISTBLOG, you can get 25% discount on my DVDs and free shipping.

More soon!

* And why wouldn't you be following it? It's free and it's got intensive articles on WRITING....sort of like the old school Creative Screenwriting. Remember back when it was a little blue journal sort of like Cahiers Du Screenwriting. Sign up for C & C and the next issue will link to all of the back issues.

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