Saturday, September 26, 2009

Writing spec scripts

In the 'No Signal' post 'PK' asked:

"My agent has told me not to bother writing screenplays at the moment. "The current climate, blah, blah. No one has any money to make anything..." How do you reckon things are going in the industry in that respect (and why was that previous sentence so clumsily phrased)?"

Hmm, interesting - I suspect it's because my agent recently had another client get a script made recently (it's been in the UK box office top ten in the last couple of weeks) - so maybe he just has a link to the lucky few who do have the ability/contacts/resources to get stuff made, and wants to strike while the iron is hot.

I'm not sure it's ever a bad time to write a screenplay though. Obviously you have to prioritise your work, but a good story is a good story. If you have a great idea that's film-shaped, you should probably find time to write it, because apart from anything else it's always good to have fresh work to show people. And most producers are looking for scripts around the 115 minute mark, so that's only three half hours, which isn't that much to write.

Quite apart from the creative element, that writers get better by writing more, all the spec writing I've ever done ('writing on spec' meaning to write something without having been specifically commissioned to do so) has paid for itself in the end. Either it's shown that I have my own voice when not writing as part of a team, as I had to prove after Green Wing, or that I can write in a different format or genre - my 'Hero Trip' spec screenplay showing I could write a longer form piece with a more dramatic element than my previous work had shown, although it was still a comedy at heart. And suddenly I was having meetings with producers who were happy to talk about me working on their one-hour drama shows, which hadn't been the case before.

I must admit to not having much sympathy these days for writers who complain about being pigeonholed in certain genres, whether that be soaps, kids' television, or animation. You have to prove you can write outside your comfort zone, and if that means finding an extra hour a day to work on something fresh (and as the parent of a one-year-old daughter don't think I say that casually), then so be it.


PK said...

Thanks for that, James. I agree with you about writers complaining about pigeonholing. Mind you I find a lot of that can happen because of the attitude of certain producers. Fortunately I think that's changing.

I also, saw an interesting comment made recently by a guy who reckoned he had a better chance of having a Hollywood blockbuster made than having a small indie film produced.

james henry said...

I've always assumed that to be the case actually, in that statistically, any script is unlikely to be made, and most little indie features tend to be put together by writer/directors. So I thought 'fuck it', and wrote a road trip movie about a superhero and his arch nemesis having to to drive across America to save the world, which went on to get proper development money and everything. Still wasn't made, obviously, but it paid its way.

But then, if I'd had a little indie-type idea for a script, that's what I would have written - I think the story has to come first. It's possible to like, and wish I'd written 'Juno' every bit as much as I like, and wish I'd written 'Men In Black'.

pk said...

Couldn't agree more. Although for Men in Black I'd substitute any Pixar movie. Funnily enough I see Tom McCarthy who wrote the Station Agent was a writer on Up. I love what people like McCarthy and Michael Arndt can do, and at the other extreme I love Elliott and Rossio. It's all good.

(Except for David Koepp. Don't get me started on Koepp.)