Tag Archives: gross

The Best-Selling Authors of All Time!

Here’s an interesting collection of facts that might help you decide what kind of writer you want to be.

Today I found a breakdown of the best-selling authors of all time. The results are not what you might expect. Here are the top ten. Figures are estimations.

1. William Shakespeare  2-4 billion copies sold worldwide.

2. Agatha Christie  2-4 billion

3. Barbara Cartland  500 million – 1 billion

4. Danielle Steel (no relation, sadly) 500 million – 800 million

5. Harold Robbins  750 million

6. Georges Simenon 500-700 million

7. Corin Tellado  400 million

8. Sidney Sheldon  370-600 million

9. Dr. Seuss  100-500 million

10. Gilbert Patten 125-500 million

Now, if these figures are to be believed (and you can view the source here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors) you may be surprised at some of the names. Where is J K Rowling, the darling of YA fantasy lovers? And what about Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dan Brown or Tom Clancy? All best-selling authors.

So what connects these writers?

Agatha Christie wrote whodunnits. Cartland, Steel and Tellado are all romance writers. Harold Robbins  wrote steamy pulp novels (one of them being the blueprint for the Elvis Presley movie King Creole). Georges Simenon created the detective Maigret. Dr. Seuss writes for pre-schoolers, and Gilbert Patten wrote Boys’-Own style adventure stories.

They were all also prolific (including Shakespeare, who wrote 38 plays, 142 Sonnets and two long poems). Corin Tellado, for example, wrote over 4000 novels.

And, with the exception of Shakespeare, none of them are renowned for producing “high art”.

The moral of this tale might be to produce as much as possible. “Never mind the quality, feel the width”, as the saying goes. Quantity certainly seems to earn more money than quality in publishing terms.

However, if we look just below these names, the figures tell a different story. Shakespeare was living in the 16th century. The others are all 20th century writers. They have the advantage of a modern publishing industry, media and advertising.

How surprising, then, to find that Leo Tolstoy is the 12th name on the list. The writer of two famously long “heavy” novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, has also sold hundreds of millions of copies. CS Lewis, author of the Narnia stories, has also sold between 1-200 million books. And Russian playwright and poet Alexander Pushkin may have sold up to 357 million copies of his works.

So what does this tell us? Certainly, in a mass-market media, churning out books helps. However, the public also seem to appreciate quality writing. Foreign markets are also a huge source of sales. So before you pick up your pen, decide whether you’d rather write romance or sci-fi, crank out thousands of books or perhaps write only one, as Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning writer Harper Lee did (until recently).

And then forget about ALL of this and just try to write something good.

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Intermission – how to calculate movie budgets

Before we carry on with our discussion of action lines, here is something I learned about movie budgets.

One of the most popular questions asked of screenwriters is “What is the budget of this movie”? Yet there are no websites I can see which offer guidance on this. So, to fill a gap I thought I would share my research with you, gentle reader…

It can be frustrating for a screenwriter trying to estimate his or her potential screenplay’s budget. How much do SFX cost? How much does it cost to shoot in a particular city or range of locations? Will those exotic wild animals bump up the cost?

The only way I’ve found any answers is to look at previous movie budgets. Now, inflation can be a vexing devil, so I’ve only gone back a few years in most cases.

Here’s a list of recent movies from a range of budgets, along with what it cost to make them (All numbers are taken from http://www.boxofficemojo.com):

BIG BUDGET
Man of Steel = $225 million
Iron Man 3 = $200 million
World War Z = $190 million
Fast & Furious 6 = $160 million
Gravity = $100 million

MEDIUM BUDGET
Crazy Stupid Love= $50 million
Zero Dark Thirty = $40 million
The Social Network = $40 million
The Rite = $37 million
Saving Mr Banks = $35 million
Looper = $30 million
Anchorman = $26 million
The Conjuring = $20 million
The Apparition = $17 million
Nebraska = $12 million

LOW BUDGET
Paranormal Activity 2 = $3 million
The Purge = $3 million
Last Exorcism = $1.8 million
Insidious = $1.5 million
The Devil Inside = $1 million

MICROBUDGET

Paranormal Activity = $15,000

What does this mean? Well, let’s break it down.

BIG BUDGET

At the top end, we have big budget tentpole studio movies crammed with SFX and bankable stars. If you can make one of these for under $100 million, good luck. This is a very small market. Studios may only make a handful of these a year. Most of them are adaptations. Competition is fierce, and writing jobs are usually assignments that are  given to writers with a proven track record for generating serious cash. Here you will find your Joss Wheedons, David S Goyers and Zack Snyders.

MEDIUM BUDGET

In the middle range we have movies that are between £10-$100 million. This is a big range, and may movies are made for this amount of money. Factors that can push your script into this bracket include SFX, a few bankable stars, or lots of animals and stunt scenes. So if you’re filming Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, or Steve Carrell, or your script calls for a family of tigers, or a scene where someone jumps onto a moving semi-trailer (that’s a lorry for those of you who are English), or a wise-cracking CGI alien, this is likely to be your budget range. Again, there is tough competition here. Writers like Aaron Sorkin have made this budget range their own. But it may be possible to break into this market if you have a seriously strong concept and story that attracts star caliber talent or high-level investment. Note that many of these are dramas or dramedies. That’s because it’s tough to get a drama made unless you have a star, or an ex-star that wants to come back. Both of whom can push your low-budget piece up into this category.

LOW BUDGET

Next, we have the low budget world. This is the easiest spot to aim at. Most of these movies have either no SFX, a limited cast, are contained (i.e. they have limited locations, ideally less than 4), or are found footage. This is the world of the TV or family movie, However, it is also notably dominated by the horror genre. Horror has been the proving ground for many directors who went on to be A-listers (Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson) and tends to feature actors who can carry a movie without having the ego or bank account of so-called “stars”. A good horror movie can break box-office records, and studios know this. For instance, Insidious (2011) cost only £1.3 million to make, yet grossed over $55 million. Compare that to infamous flop “John Carter” (2012), which cost $250 million yet has recouped only $75 so far.

MAICRO-BOUDGET!!!!

Finally, we have the weird and wonderful world of the microbudget movie. This can be the kind of thing that premieres on the horror channel (if anywhere), or the kind of megahit that makes an entire career. Again, horror tends to dominate. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, and Halloween all became the most profitable independent films ever at one time. However other genres proliferate, such as 1980s sci-fi cult hits like Charles Band’s Trancers. However, it’s pretty safe to say these are flukes.

In reality, the low budget movie seems like a more sensible place to start. However, a word of warning: limiting your ideas to deliver a tiny budget movie may be a mistake. My own movie “Clone Hunter” was written as a big-budget space opera, yet managed to translate into a much lower budget movie. However, I’ve written microbudget movies by shoe-horning my ideas into confined locations without any SFX, and these failed to ignite any interest.

In my opinion, it doesn’t hurt to put your eggs in different baskets. You can always try for a big-budget payoff while honing that indie coming-of-age drama and rattling off that limited location found footage horor movie.

Like everything with writing, it seems there’s no single surefire quick access route to success. Sometimes it’s just a matter of writing what excites you and finding someone who is as passionate about your material as you are. If nobody else shares your vision, move on.

 

 

 

The Death of Cinema?

At Cinemacon recently, studio heads tried to wrap their minds around why theater ticket sales are declining. Various factors were blamed, from DVD sales to online channels and ticket prices. The answer? A new “delivery method”. A way to get movies streamed instantly into peole’s homes, via the Internet.

After all, the Internet will solve everything.

In my opinion, this view fails to understand the fundamental reason why ticket sales are declining. I can only speak for myself and the people I know. But when asked why they don’t go to the movies, they invariably say “because there’s nothing worth watching”.

I would submit that this is the fundamental issue. It’s a simple cost/reward ratio. People don’t want to shell out a hefty £8 or $8 to sit in a  theater and be bored for 2 hours by a mediocre movie.

The real culprit, folks, is “Tentpole fever”. This can be traced back to the 1970s and the rise of the summer blockbuster. Spielberg’s “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and Lucas’s “Star Wars” were both phenomenal successes. Together the pair created another franchise: the Indiana Jones films. And Hollywood has been chasing that golden ticket ever since.

It’s no surprise that Disney studios (Remember when they used to make charming family animation films?) has announced they plan to release a new “Star Wars” movie every year.

“Star Wars” was released in 1977. Yes, it was a global cultural phenomenon. But that was then. Thirty-six years ago. Since then we’ve had two sequels and three pretty poor (and universally panned) prequels. Do we really need more?

Recently some huge tentpole movies have bombed.  “John Carter” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” for instance. Why?

Let’s contrast these movies to the far more successful, “Tron Legacy”.

“Tron Legacy” does a good job of updating the original which was Disney’s way of tapping into the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. The light cyces are cooler, the world bigger, the SFX more polished. The acting is solid in most places. And it has a great atmospheric score by Daft Punk. But it also has something else… soul. At its heart, this is a father/son story about estranged parent/offspring reuniting, bonding, and letting go.

However while “John Carter” may be a love story, there is no real sense of the romance between the two leads, and any sense of reality is blown away by the ever-escalating and frankly ridiculous plot devices (wait, it’s aliens, Martians, more aliens, different Martians AND magic?) which destroy our sense of disbelief early on.

The point to all this ?

These are STORY issues.

Yes, Hollwyood is still capable of making great movies. 2012’s “Avengers Assemble” and “The Hobbit” to name a few.

But by focusing on STORY and less on SFX, Hollywood could reach more people, deliver more satsfying stories, spend less cash per picture, and make more money.

Nowadays, studios make only about a dozen films a year tops themselves. Each one is stuffed with SFX. It’s an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket strategy. And if a film flops, the results can be disastrous. Disney lost $160 million on “John Carter” alone. But in the golden age of Hollywood, studios churned out hundreds of movies.

You do the math.

My take? The Internet will not solve the problem of why fewer people are watching films. I would argue that the demand is still there. People will always want an evening of magic, living vicariously through 40 foot high technicolor  images on a silver screen. The real question is one of supply.