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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

For the Love of the Movie Picture Show

The latest issue of Creative Screenwriting rolled out a list of genres that are “dead” in the spec market:

The Mob Movie
The Western
The Female Driven Rom-Com
Scripts Based on the Movie Industry
Ensemble Dramas
Period Pieces

So – what do you do if your spec is in one of these categories? Switch genres? Throw it in the trash? Give up and go home? What about the strike – should you throw in the towel?

For as long as there have been movies, there have been circumstances – economic, political and social - that have affected the lives and creative choices of writers. Um, black list anyone?

So what is an aspiring writer to do? Two words: keep writing.

A few years ago, my best friend and I took a road trip through Tennessee and Kentucky. We went to Graceland, Dollywood, Memphis and Chattanooga. Good times. But dang, the road signs in that part of the countryside are effed up. The Rand McNally instructions said one thing but the road signs said something altogether different – every time. We developed a mantra: ignore it. But Angie, that sign just said turn right on Route 9! Ignore it. And by following our Rand McNally we got where we needed to go. So long as we ignored the bullet hole ridden signs and stayed our previously charted course. Is this a huge oversimplification which also contains an Southern stereotype? Sure. I’m no Dalai Lama – but there’s a grain of truth too.

Stay your course. If you’re writing a western right now – finish writing your script and make it the best damn western ever. Ditto your animated sports fantasy. Be realistic – if the current trends are not favoring certain genres – yes, you should have your ear to the rail and write for the market. But don’t walk away from what you’ve already started and don’t forget that it is entirely possible that a few months from now some female driven romcom could burst onto the scene and turn that conventional wisdom on its head. As they say, if everyone knew what would be a hit movie – every movie would be a hit. The public is mercurial but one fact remains the same: we humans love a good yarn.

Last weekend I saw a movie that probably shouldn’t have been made. It was cerebral, talky, had tons of voice over and a complicated, morally ambiguous main character. Yet you could have heard a pin drop in the theater, so engrossed was the packed audience. MICHAEL CLAYTON is not, on the surface, a movie that should be particularly successful based on the concept alone. But it was written by Tony Gilroy of the Bourne franchise. And starred George Clooney of the George Clooney franchise. And it was a brilliant movie that made eleven million dollars last weekend.

By all accounts, ISHTAR should have been a runaway hit. So nobody knows anything. And you can take that to the bank.

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Christian M. Howell said...

I think about trends the way I think about someone writing a movie similar to mine.
Wait til you read this.

Mike Scherer said...


Two things immediately came to mind:

1. If it is a great script, it will be THE script to revive that dead genre.

2. Dead genre or not, a great script will be your writing sample/calling card.

Write what you know. Write what's in your heart. But always, Keep Writing!


DougJ said...

Those messed up signs in the South are the work of mutant hillbillies intent on trapping tourists and road tripping coeds.

You're lucky to be(and not eaten)alive.

The King Of Music said...

It is a mystery to me why movies some movies never get traction (like Isthar or the Rocketeer) and other, inferior movies like The Mummy or Spiderman become franchises.

Though Ishtar didn't become a box office smash, it at least became something of a cult favorite.

This 20th anniversary year is going to be a great year for Ishtar. There is a documentary film about Ishtar fandom in the works, the manager of the Ishtar fan website
( is putting together a tribute CD featuring cover versions of songs from the movie, and possibly a US release on DVD (something the heathen in Europe have been enjoying for years). So shake off that square world, get with the countdown, and blast off to Ishtar!