Tag Archives: screenplays

To trend or not to trend… writing in the “hot” genre

What is “hot” in Hollywood? What kind of screenplay does Hollywood want?

Surely, the cynical starving writer thinks, if I find out what genre is hot and I write in that genre, Hollywood will want my screenplays? The simply law of supply and demand will do my marketing job for me. If “found footage” scripts are hot, simply write one and riches will await.

But hang on, says the artist (who doesn’t mind if he or she starves or not), isn’t that betraying your art? Isn’t it selling… out?

Well, I have no problem with someone writing for a living. Even Leonardo da Vinci had to eat. And although I could do without yet another “disaster mash-up” movie (SyFy channel, I’m looking at you), I remember one of my earliest instincts was to find out what Hollywood wants in a screenplay. After all, they are the buyers and I am the seller.

But there are several problems with trying to write in the “hot genre”. First of all, Hollywood is a long way away. Not just in space, but in time. Studios frequently undertake test screenings to gauge the popularity of a film before it is finished. People in Hollywood know what the outcome of these screening are. Hence in your newsletter you might get an inexplicable slew of requests for stories about “dogs verses aliens” from producers anxious to copy the newest surefire hit.

And therein lies the problem. Because by the time you write said screenplay, the trend will be over, and “Buster Saves the World” will be yesterday’s movie news. Writing for the latest hot trend is like trying to hit a constantly moving target. By the time you’ve nocked your arrow and written your screenplay, the movie world has moved on to the next “hot” project.

Having said that…

Certain types of script always stand more of a chance of getting made. They are generally as follows…

– Female driven

– Limited location

– Low budget

– Horror/thriller

– No SFX

These are the calls for screenplays you will encounter most frequently in newsletters and advertisements.

BUT.. and this is a big BUT!

I personally have found that I have less success trying to write in low budget genres. For some reason I naturally (and unfortunately) gravitate toward big action set pieces, usually sci-fi or horror. And yet I have more success selling these type of stories than when I write my one-location character-driven drama.

So if anything can be drawn from my limited experience, it’s this… write in the style and genre you love AND which you are best at. Whatever the budget. Whatever the genre. And THEN worry about rewriting it so it can get made. Maybe you can reduce the budget without losing that great scene with the giant ape climbing the Empire State Building.

This is a strange business. As Dan Ackroyd once said: “I write ’em big, and they keep making ’em.”

Here’s hoping you can write big too!

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Do you need to pay for classes?

The short answer? No.

There are plenty of free resources out there which will tell you as much, if not more, than paying hundreds of £££ to sit in an audience and watch Robert McKee or his contemporaries.

Now I’ll qualify that. I have never paid hundreds of ££££ to watch these people. But when so much stuff is available for nothing, why would I?

One thing I would be wary of is any class that promises to get you a sale. There are many, many, many reasons (to quote Police Academy) why films get made. Many great directors, writers and producers have failed to get surefire successes off the ground for no reason other than poor luck. As for the bad movies that do get made, well… consider “Battleship” and “Glitter”.

"I wish we'd spent more money on script development"

“We should have spent more money on script development”

So without further ado, here are just a few ways to imporve your writing for free:

i) Free online classes

There are many of these. Check out www.screenwritingU.com for some examples. Check first, but for many you pay nothing except your landline fees. If you are in the UK and you have a budget package on your phone line it may cost you even less, as most calls in LA are schedule around noon PCT, which translates to after 8pm GMT.

ii) Books

Yes, actual books. Those paper things people used to read before computers. Take a look at the star ratings on amazon.com to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

iii) Screenplays

Incredible as it may seem, reading professional screenplays can help you writing your own amateur screenplays. You can buy them from online retailers like Amazon or eBay. Or you could read some for free from various websites, provided you do this legally of course.

iv) Interviews with sceenwriters

Why listen or read to people who never had a screenplay published about how to write and sell screenplays? Wouldn’t you be better actually hearing from folks who made a living doing what you want to do? I recommend  “Tales from the Script” and the fantastic, irreverent “Devil’s Guide to Screenwriting” by the incomparable Joe Eszterhas if you want to laugh at the madness of Hollywood.

v) Writing

One of the best ways to improve your writing? Actually writing. Studying the careers of many A-list screenwriters and authors has taught me that they write. A hell of a lot. More than you would believe.

Now this is difficult if you already have a job. Believe me, I know about this. However if you set aside some time for witing EVERY DAY, you will reap the rewards.

vi) Feedback (added)

As has been pointed out to me below, this is another invaluable way of improving your writing. Feedback can be gleaned from many sources. So many, that I will make it the subject of another post. But some examples may be: online communities such as American Zoetrope, Triggerstreet and Talentville; other writers, by joining a writer’s group (check the ‘net for one in your area); personal contacts (but not your grandma — unless she also happens to  write screenplays). These sources are not always reliable nor appropriate for your screenplay, however. Somebody who loves historical romances may not appreciate your zombie/sci-fi mashup script, so use with caution.

So there you have it. My top tips for improving your writing for free.

Hope this helps!