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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Set Your Course By the Stars

Hello, Wavers! Gosh, it feels like I've been away for awhile! It's a rare thing when I don't post on TRW for an entire week. Last week I had a milestone birthday, spent three days in Berkeley, taught a class at the Great American Pitch Fest and was on a panel with Laura Shapiro at the Broad Humor Film Festival. A tortoise named Echo also moved into the house for the summer but that's another story.

I realized, after the Top 10 Things Studio Readers Hate class at the Great American Pitch Fest that I said "shoot me in the face" at minimum twice during class, and maybe three times, giving people a violent and disturbing impression of sweet lil' ol' me. I just mean like, when scripts are so tough to read that one wants take a break for a few minutes.

I did receive a good question in The Rouge Wave mailbag while I was away:

First, let me say, I love your blog! I'm making my way through the archives, and it's worth more than many of my screenwriting classes!

Second, I was wondering if you could share (on your blog) what studios/producers are looking for right now. For example, I've heard comedies are currently more popular than dramas because people want to laugh in the current economic climate.

If someone was looking to break in, what type of script would be more commercially viable? Or is the important thing to tell an interesting story well, no matter what it's about?

Thanks for taking the time to read my question, and I look forward to your response (when you have time)!

-Popular in Poughkeepsie

Dear Pop:

Your question is a good one and when you find out the answer, let me know. I kid. Sort of. Everybody would love to have the answer to this question, most notably every single executive, producer and agent in Hollywood and their brother. Yes, I have also heard that during these tough times, audiences do gravitate toward comedy, but I wouldn't use that as a strategy for my writing. Your second sentiment is correct: An interesting story, well told is the brass ring. As Omar Khayyam said: “The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on..." - wait, no, Omar Bradley: "Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship."

That about sums it up, Pop. If anyone in Hollywood knew what would make a hit movie, all movies would be hits. Nobody knows. Write what you love to write. If you love comedy, write that. Write the best, most unique, hilarious comedy you can. But if you really love thriller or sci-fi or action - write that. Writers looking to break in simply need to have VOICE and TALENT evident on the page. Easy, right? Wrong. But that's not the point I'm trying to make. You just cannot chase what you think might be popular as a way to break in. You'll chase your own tail like a cheeky monkey and eventually collapse in exhaustion and disillusionment. Write what YOU love - that is really, truly, madly, deeply the best advice I could give any writer, anywhere, writing anything. Otherwise, what's the point? Write because you love to write. And if you play your cards right, you might just make a career out of it. But stay true to yourself and to your writing first and foremost. You can sell out to the wiley, witchy bitch we call Hollywood later on, when you're established and can afford therapy, a masseuse and expensive Kentucky bourbon in which to drown your existential sorrows.

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Anonymous said...

There is a trend around Sydney at the moment in the theatre, all the plays I have seen seem to be about people down in the dumps in their early 20's turning to drugs or murder, or a combination of the two. I'm getting really bored of it. But it did make me think, why follow a trend? If I were to write a play tonight, then I would try and set the next trend, not aim for the current one.

PS Happy Birthday Julie! (21st?!)

Trina0623 said...

Welcome back Julie and thanks for a great post. Very funny.

I agree with your advice wholeheartedly.

I write comedy, but it just happened because that's the way I think so that's what came out. I didn't decide to write comedy, quite the opposite in fact. I started writing dramas, but it just didn't feel right and comedic lines kept coming out.

Whatever story you write, it needs to be organic to both you as the writer and your characters.

Write what comes naturally to your sensibilities and tastes, that way you'll have the most fun and keep writing. I think forcing yourself to write comedy would be painful and probably not funny in the end. I don't think funny can be taught.

I wonder if horror genre is the same way? I've never tried it because I just don't think that way. Anyone else have an opinion on that?

I just happened to read this great article called "What’s Your Advantage in Hollywood?" The author interviewed 50 producers about what they want, and trends were mentioned but in a negative way.

Laura Reyna said...

RE: what studios/producers are looking for right now

I'm not an insider or anything. I'm just a reg ol' aspiring SWer just like everyone else out there.

Everything I've read tells me industry people are looking for commercial concepts & scripts. Reps are looking for concepts/script they can sell, studios are looking to make movies they can market.

The more commercial your concepts & scripts are, the better chance you'll have of making a sale. (or getting enough attention to land an assignmnt etc...)

So I would recommend you write in one of the popular genres (if you're not doing that already):
rom com
sci fi/fantasy

I don't think it matters which pop genre you pick. Pick one that you like. Trends come & go, but these types of movies are always getting bought & made.

Further, i recommend you make your concepts hooky & commercial so they stand out from the crowd.

Industry people will never know what a great writer you are if they never get passed the logline.

Good luck!

Kaley said...

Another great post, Julie. Thanks!

Eric C said...

It seems silly to me to try and track and follow trends. Write what interests you! What inspires you. Writing a screenplay takes a long time and a lot of effort and to make it good will involve drudgery of re-writing and re-writing. If you don't love your script, you won't finish it.

I am glad to read this question. It gives me hope that there are people out there trying to write screenplays for money or the coolness of it, not because they love it.

Alexander Allrich said...

It's safe for the US to be the good guys again. Other than that, it's anybody's game...

Antonia said...

I so agree with writing what you love and enjoy! Talent will out if it's good and writing what you love is half the battle, I think.

Great post.