We all want to write a screenplay that gets produced. Otherwise we are just writing to kill time. But what makes the difference between a good screenplay and one that makes it into production?
1) Don’t write what CANNOT be produced.
This seems obvious and yet many new writers spend their time on screenplays that are of no value to producers or studios. These include:
- Animated movies
- Huge budget comic book movies.
- Adaptations/sequels/spin-offs to books, comic books and movies to which we don’t own the rights.
These types of movies are made with a completely different process. They will never be made from a spec screenplay by a new writer, so there is no point writing them. These are the types of movies we will get hired to write later in our career once we have broken in.
2) Don’t chase what the industry is already doing.
Don’t write movies that look like current successful movies. Even if they loved your screenplay that was just like Edgar Wright’s last movie, they already have Edgar Wright. And he has a track record for success. They don’t need you. They’ll happily pay him his exorbitant fee, safe in the knowledge that he knows what he’s doing.
Find your own voice. Show that you can create something fresh and original. This is how original screenplays make it into production.
3) Understand the economics
Don’t avoid big budget movies completely, but be realistic. The higher the budget the less likely any studio is to take a shot on a brand-new writer. Whereas low to medium budget movies are a safer gamble. For the success of this model see a raft of recent writer/directors such as Colin Trevorrow, who broke in with Safety Not Guaranteed and then got hired to direct Jurassic World. Or Gareth Edwards who broke in with Monsters and got hired to direct Godzilla. Low budget scripts are a realistic route to production, and the success of those scripts is a direct route to high budget hires.
4) Write something that will attract a big star
This is easier said than done, obviously, but understand that your name is not going to get a movie into production, but a named brand actor will. Big name actors will take roles in low budget movies (and a massive paycut) if they think that movie has a chance at awards success. A-list actors know that their money is in big studio blockbusters, but they want awards and industry recognition. Offer it to them in your lower budget screenplay.
5) Write a horror screenplay.
With low production costs and potentially huge returns, horror is a great genre for new writers and low budget screenplays to break in. As has been proven many times, a great horror concept can even be shot on ultra-low budgets (The Blair Witch Project – $60k, Paranormal Activity – $15k) and still not turn off audiences the way that it does with other genres. We should always write in a genre that we love but horror can be mixed with other genres to create hybrids that can still find their own audience.
When trying to break in we need to be savvy about every choice that we make. Screen credit on a produced movie will launch our career quicker than anything else. We should always write what we believe in but we should also do everything we can to create a screenplay that has the best chance of getting produced.