Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Based on someone else's idea.

I must admit I've slightly lost enthusiasm for writing feature spec scripts at the moment. I have four scripts at various barely-started stages, with my current plans for completion being to leave them in a special folder on my laptop and hope special Apple pixies finish them in the night, which apparently will totally happen after the next update.

Part of the reason I'm focusing more on telly at the moment is the sheer unlikelihood of a film based on an original script actually making into the cinema. I had a vague idea in my head that original scripts probably make up about a third of finished films, the rest being based on novels or plays, remakes of foreign language titles or television shows.

As research, and a way of putting off writing actual scripts for a bit longer, I thought I'd try an TOTALLY UNREPRESENTATIVE AND UNSCIENTIFIC experiment. Walking past my local cinema in Falmouth, thought I'd have a quick look at what's on/coming up. Here are the contenders (I haven't seen any of them by the way #youngchildren):

Bel Ami
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Woman in Black
John Carter
We Bought a Zoo
The Raven
This Means War

First thing: I tried to write down as many of the titles as I could when I got back without looking them up, which meant three of the films had to be renamed from 'Del Amitri', 'The Great Big Mandarin Hotel' and 'Spy vs Spy'. Which was close, but I digress.

Let's see which of these films is based on an original script.

'Bel Ami' is based on the second novel by Guy de Maupassant, so that's an adaptation.
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is based on the novel 'These Foolish Things' by Deborah Moggach.
'The Woman in Black' is based on the play based on the novel by Susan Hill, so a double adaptation there (a description I've just made up).
'We Bought a Zoo' is based on a memoir by the same name by Benjamin Mee.
'John Carter' is, as any fule kno, based on the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
'The Raven' is based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe, but not on a biography, being rather a 'fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet and author pursues a serial killer whose murders mirror those in Poe's stories' (thanks wikipedia). Which means it is based on an original screenplay, by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, hurrah!
'This Means War' it turns out was originally called 'Spy vs Spy, so point to me, and does seem to be an original screenplay, although the fact that four writers are credited (and I suspect a few more lurking in the background without credits) makes me suspect this is based on a high concept by director McG, or an exec producer in the food chain, who had an idea about two spies fighting over a chick, and got a procession of writers to fill in the details. Could be wrong though, I'm happy to be corrected.
'Contraband' is is a remake of the 2008 Icelandic film 'Reykjavík-Rotterdam'.

Which means there's only one film out of the eight, 'The Raven' which I'd be confident as describing as being derived from an original screenplay. What does this prove? Well, studios really don't like putting their cash into unknown properties, and after the apparent tanking of 'John Carter', which seems to have gone the same way as 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Solomon Kane', and to can extent 'Clash of the Titans' (although this does seem to be getting a sequel) they may be looking at redefining what exactly constitutes a 'known' property, at least when the lead role is played by an relatively unknown actor.

Which means if you're writing a script based on an original idea that burst out of your headbrain, it probably has a much better chance of being made if it doesn't require an FX budget of eleventy squillion pounds. I know this seems obvious in retrospect, but part of me has been going 'lalala they can do anything with computers lalala' and now I've taken that bit away and shot it.


Piers said...

I assumed when I saw the trailer (back when it was still called Spy vs Spy) that it was based on the old cartoons in Mad magazine.

James Henry said...

I suspect it may well have been, a long way back in the process...

Boz said...

Yes but there's only two on that list I would actually want to see. And I'm even being a bit charitable there, if I'm totally honest.

Adaddinsane said...

"Pre-awareness" that's the buzzword, if it's something that has pre-awareness that's a good thing. And if your industry operates on fear (as Hollywood does) then it's a Very Good Thing (tm) and trumps everything else even if it fails. (John Carter was a good movie.)

I actually have two features with pre-awareness - unfortunately, at this time, I don't own the original rights to either. One probably doesn't matter so much, the original material is a song so I can pretend it's completely original. For the other it's critical - but I know the rights are available, I just need $10K.

"'lalala they can do anything with computers lalala'" ah yes well, I just happen to also producing a webseries (wot I wrote) which will have a completely digital backlot. So yes, that's quite true. People keep saying it's impossible - it isn't.

There was the demo cut of Sky Captain, and then there was Monsters, and there have been various things on the web with good CGI.

You can do (almost) anything with computers.

(I was going to say Spy vs Spy was a cartoon, but Piers got there before me.)

John Cowan said...

Perhaps the answer is to write a best-selling novel instead. Then you can write the first draft of the screenplay and watch as your baby is dissected for fun and profit. You do get paid both ways, however.

James Henry said...

Boz: Yeah, I think The Raven's the only one I want to see there really.

Adadinsane: I think it helped that the writers for Sky Captain and Monsters were also the directors, so they knew intimately how much they could/couldn't do with the CGI.

John: that is has absolutely been put to me by producers as a way to get your film made, with some creative control over the process, although you can often tell when a book has been written with this in mind, as it tends to have 'I want to be a film' all through it. Like that there Robopocalypse thing.

PMG said...

I so want to nick/please may I option your 'Apple-update-pixies-finish-writer's-work' original story idea (before Charlie Kaufman does). Then when it's a HUGE movie, that's another strike for the adaptations...as long as you get an 'original story' credit...and as long as you don't finish it yourself...which maybe you should...

On the downside, I don't think there's a novel in it, nor much change from eleventy squillion dollars. But it'd be a fun read.

SebiMeyer said...

Joe Malozzi, former producer on the various incarnations of Stargate, has a 4-part comic series out. It's titled Dark Matter and is actually quite good. (part 4 is yet to be published)

It's a "ship-based scifi" project he specifically wrote as comic to pitch it as a TV show.

He knows all the right people in all the right places, but even he couldn't get that project of the ground without a comic series as a proof of concept.