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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Writing and Real Estate

by Script Department partner, Dave Sparling

Unquestionably, one of the golden rules of real estate is "location, location, location." That often translates into a strategy followed by many wise home buyers: better to buy the worst house in the best neighborhood than vice-versa. Why? Because the piece of land a house sits on is generally a much bigger determinant of a property's value than the particular arrangement of wood, glass, concrete, tile, paint, drywall, etc. that sits on that piece of land. And you can always renovate, expand, or tear down and rebuild altogether.

When it comes to screenwriting, this principle could roughly be translated as "concept, concept, concept." Which of the following is more likely to sell as a spec script: one where the concept is rock solid but the execution so-so, or one with a weak concept that's executed well? Clearly, it's the former. There's a term for the latter: a writing sample (see the second of my three-part reflection on concept, The Evian Tour, for more on that topic). It may be stating the obvious, but poorly executed scripts based on strong concepts don't usually incite frenzied bidding wars. The goal is strong concept and strong execution, colloquialized as "good story, well told."

Working from the position that, relatively speaking, concept is more important than execution, it's logical to put concept first. In other words, determine the "best neighborhood" in which to build your project, pick out the lot, and then plan to erect the structure itself. This is work that efficient writers realize should be done first, as these things determine how you'll go about executing the script.

Your lot chosen in the neighborhood you wish to build (analogous to identifying the genre, knowing your target audience, and having some sense of high v. low budget), you're ready to start the building process. But would you consider erecting a dwelling without a blueprint? Probably not, right? Unless you're prepared for that process to take twice as long and cost twice as much (or more) to translate into a habitable structure.

So if building a house without a blueprint is so obviously an asinine thing to do, why do so many of us fire up Final Draft and start writing scene description and dialogue (i.e. working in "draft mode") before we're clear on the various facets of our concept--even though doing so is akin to looking at paint swatches and window treatments before the foundation is poured and the framing, plumbing, and electrical are in place? Well, simple: it's more fun to write a crackling dialogue exchange, or a great bit of scene-level action, than it is to ponder what our story's actually about (thematically), and how--specifically--we're approaching the project in a manner that will set it apart from other romantic comedies, or thrillers, or action adventures.

It's looking like the WGA strike won't be resolved anytime soon. It's been mentioned here in the Rouge Wave and plenty of other places that this is the time to be busily pecking away at spec scripts. Use some of that time to assess your current project. How's your blueprint looking? There'll be no shortage of new material being shopped when the spec-script market re-opens for business. If you think of the buyers in that market as a collective of folks exploring various neighborhoods looking to purchase the best properties, you've got a much, much greater chance of selling yours if you've not only focused on maximizing curb appeal, but chose a great location to build in the first place.
ShowHype: hype it up!

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velysai said...

An excellent post, Julie. Great analogy.

Julie Gray said...

So glad you got something out of that, Vely. I can't take credit though; that's my wonderful colleague, Dave Sparling :)