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Friday, December 12, 2008

Writing Seasonal Scripts

Each month I write an article for the StoryLink Ezine (an offshoot of The Writer's Store)in the "ask the expert" section which I of course find humorous but you know, it's all good. So the question this month was:

"Is there a strategy to writing things that are seasonal?"

If by seasonal you mean a script in which the plot is focused and centered around a particular season or holiday, then all you have to do as far as strategy is concerned is write the BEST, most unique script about that season or holiday. But let’s dig deeper.

Imagine spec scripts sales divided into a pie chart of sale probability and potential.

The biggest slice of the pie would go to Hot New Writers* With a Unique Concept, Great Rep and Attachments. I’ll translate to, say, 75%.

The next slice is much smaller: Promising New Writers With a Unique Concept, Good Rep, No Attachments but Fans of the Work. Let’s call this 15%.

Then, much, much smaller slices would be evenly divided among Risky/Provocative Passion Projects With Influential Fans and Freakishly Lucky Diablo Cody Types. Let’s give those 5% each.

How does writing seasonal projects fit into this picture? Well, it doesn’t. To reiterate:

- Hot New Writer*, Unique Concept, Great Rep – attachments
- Promising Writer, Unique Concept, Good Rep – no attachments but fans
- Risky/Provocative with fans
- Freakishly Lucky

You want to fall under one of these categories regardless of whether or not your script is centered around something seasonal. Say you’re in that 75th percentile. You’re HOT, you’ve got great rep and all of that. Does writing something about Christmas or Easter or Halloween instantly put you in a smaller slice of that 75th percentile? Of course it does. Now the marketing and release dates of your script are restricted to a particular time of year. But if your script is fantastically entertaining and unique – so what? That’s a very high-class problem to have.

But let’s assume you’re like most aspiring screenwriters out there slugging it out and trying the spec market once or twice a year. And you’ve written something seasonal. Should you time when you query your Easter script to coincide with Easter? No. In general, the time between someone intially reading and responding to your script and that script premiering in theaters can be upwards of two years. Is it cute or at all helpful to send a Valentine-oriented script into be read on or near Valentine’s Day? Not really.

So goal one is to work hard to become the Hot Writer with Great Concepts – regardless of the topicality of your script. Then you can worry about when to query and how your script/movie would be marketed. If you have an idea for a seasonal script and you just love it and you are certain that it is totally unique and compelling – go for it.

*Definitions of Hot New Writer would include but are not limited to:

You’ve made it onto the Black List. You have influential and powerful fans of your work. You have won the Nicholl Competition. You’re a Disney Fellow. Variety noted that you are among the “top ten writers to watch.” How you arrived at this level of hotness is a confluence of: talent, luck, opportunity, timing and connections. You’re probably young. You probably live in Los Angeles. You have a great backstory. Possibly you were a stripper or sandwich board guy standing on the sidewalk hawking something weird. You have an amiable personality and you are good in a room.

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Dave Shepherd said...

I think we need to stop giving Diablo such a tough time. I don't even think she was freakishly lucky.

Depending on who you believe, the story goes that a manager was looking for porn and found her blogging about being a stripper (or something to that effect).

But if you really look at it, before Juno was produced (or sold):

--She'd published a book
--She had a blog which had a lot of readers
--She has a very distinctive voice
--studied journalism
--written for newspapers
--had a manager

She's done more to promote her writing than most first-time screenwriters EVER do. How many screenwriters struggling to break in can say they've published a novel? Have a well trafficked blog? Been published in newspapers? Studied journalism?


The only lucky part was that her manager was able to recognize talent when he saw it. I wouldn't call that freakishly lucky.

And I didn't even think Juno was that great... but I think saying she was freakishly lucky is a huge disservice to her.

Anonymous said...

I agree with dave.

Désirée said...

Once I entered a short script contest in Sweden with a script called "The Perfect Christmas".

I actually got a call from one of the judges who wanted to tell me that the only thing wrong with my script was the fact that it was about Christmas. They planned the realize of the film in the summer.

I was honored because they expressively said that they was not about to give feedback.

But I've never written anything for a particular holiday since then.

It is difficult as it is.

Julie Gray said...

I actually like Diablo and poo-poo the rumors that she didn't actually write the script. I enjoyed the movie, I like her story and I have nothing against her. However, as a statistic, any writer who sells their very first feature script and gets it produced is freakishly lucky. And what is luck, anyway? The intersection of timing, talent and connections. I am not saying she's not talented - I believe that she is. But again, 99.9% of first time feature script writers will not sell that spec. That is what I am referring to. She is an anomaly.

Creedmore said...

"I actually like Diablo and poo-poo the rumors that she didn't actually write the script."

Actually, you just spread the rumor. But you knew that.

Why not answer the question about why you don't have specs by established writers in your pie?

Julie Gray said...

@Creed - because I am only referring to the true spec market - established writers don't write on spec in the same way. They have rep and relationships which automatically open doors. I am talking about the wide open sargasso sea of spec markets that unestablished writers are swimming in.

Re Cody - boy, you are really convinced I don't like Diablo, aren't you? Wait - ARE YOU DIABLO??
No, seriously, give it a rest, dude.

Karen C. said...

Help me I'm confused! Your article said that 75% of specs are sold to new writers with a great rep and attachments. 15% have a good rep and fans (relationships, right?). But then you say that established writers aren't the same because they have reps and relationships --- something you said that the 90% of new writers who sell scripts have.

What am I missing?

Julie Gray said...

New writers sit down and come up with an idea and write entirely, 100% on spec. that writer gets a rep, the rep pushes the work and the writer makes a sale - if they are VERY fortunate. Writers who have already made a sale in the past, or done open assignment work don't begin at ground zero and write something totally out of the blue and then try to sell it. they are developed and coached by managers and professional relatioships they have. they are at a whole new level, where this "spec" isn't really a spec, per se, it is a script which has been positioned by rep and relationships. Not that established writers don't come up with original material in the same way the rest of us do - but they come up with it under advisement.