a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Quest of Intelligent Conversation

Being that the last comment section has de-evolved into sniping, I figured I'd start another post, and try to spark some intelligent conversation.


I find myself at the point of my writing where I want to sell something. But if I feel my current project isn't amazing and commercial, should I abandon it in favor of something else? Is it about writing something that you want to write, or looking for something that might have more commercial potential?



At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm having this exact discussion between my manager and myself.

My manager loves a script that he can sell "immediately", whatever that means in Hollywood time. But I love this other script which is slightly less marketable, but in the write, ha punny, genre.

I've gotten advice from all over the place. There were only 2 things that were consistent.

1. If you don't write something you love, it will show in your work.

2. If you have to write something you don't love, try to put in a couple of things that will make you like it more.

I suppose if you're in that situation, you're better off going with a "sure thing" over an artistic project. Unfortunately, there ARE no sure things.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, my love for you grows daily. You're a modern day, Dr. Phil -- or do you see yourself more as a Larry King type of guy...

A good writer can MAKE a project good. The good is transferable...
Also a good writer COMPLETES what he or she sets out to write. Jumping from project-to-project without compling them sets a bad precident.

Write what you think you can pull off. Worring about the market is for pussies. 'Cuz if you write something good your chances of selling go up. You have to write something you're passionate about. A passion that you can sustain over time. A passion that you can pitch to someone else.

Isn't a lot of "commercial potential" determined by studio heads? Don't they hire writers to write projects from IN HOUSE project ideas? THUS doesn't the studio have a built in bias as to what they see as "commercial?"

The rub is what's seen as "commercial" is different dependent on where the idea comes from, and initial investment. The spec market has ALWAYS had this disadvantage.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Chemical Dali said...

Good to read you are feeling better Scott.

"A good writer can MAKE a project good. The good is transferable..."

So can a good reader, director, actor and producer and so on :)

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I would say this, if you want to sell something, find a way to merge your less commercial idea with a commercial plot.

At their core, the best commercial films have a heart, and a strong storyline.

Look at Lethal Weapon. I think one of the things that made that film so successful was the pretty realistic portrait of a cop on the edge, suicidal, didn't care if he lived or died.

You could make a pretty serious 2 hour drama about that same character, or you can wrap him up in a commercial action film.

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Adaddinsane said...

Write the one that holds your passion, as EC said, if your heart's not in it it shows.

I know this from horrible experience.

You can do a good enough job on the rest but the one with passion makes a better impression.

At 3:43 AM, Anonymous Christine F said...

I think it should be both. You have more than one thing you love, so for your first sell, you should go with the most commercial. This doesn't mean writing something you don't like; it means writing one you love that IS commercial.

We all have ideas that aren't commercial and we should write them, because we love the story. But getting the first script sold is, I think, the ticket. After that, you have cred, and are more likely to be able to sell a non-commercial story. You've proven yourself.

Put the non-commercial on the back burner. It'll still be there. As writers, we develop many stories. Lead your passion with your brain, don't just follow it blindly. Putting the two together is, I think, what makes a successful screenwriter.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger M said...

Ar you sure there's absolutely no way your actual project can be tweaked bit by bit into something exceptional?


At 6:26 AM, Blogger M said...

e.c.: Are instead of Ar.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Half the stuff I write is not-so commercial. And when I go for a "commercial script" it doesn't quite come out all that well. Once in a while I can straddle both (that's what she said) but it's hard (also what she said).

It does show sometimes if you're writing something without your heart, but like Matt said, if you can get that idea your heart is into up to something more commercial, then go for that.

Then again, while it's fun to write, it's nice to get paid for doing it, make a living doing it, so if you can bear down and work on the commercial script and shape it into something solid, then go for it.

Sorry my advice is all over the place. I know nothing.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Jim E. said...

E.C. is absolutely right.

"Gran Torino" and "Juno" were not amazing and commercial ideas. But they had heart.

Write the story your heart is in.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Überpossum said...


My opinion for what it’s worth.

Ask yourself, is screenwriting your hobby or profession?

In any job there’s some duties that you like and others you detest. Do you think that your doctor enjoys telling you to “turn your head and cough”?

I can’t imagine that John August was thrilled about doing Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle but it paid some bills.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the job. That’s why they call it work. It’s good that you’re asking the question. That puts you miles ahead of most people.

Maybe with luck you can do the old “one for them and one for me” but you have to do their’s first.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

I'm lucky. I like to write things that tend to be commercial so this is never really a problem.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, how we doin' in quest of intelligent conversation?

Well, if nothing else, you've got a lot of new friends coming out of the woodwork.
See, I'm not the only one who likes you.

- E.C. Henry

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Grant said...

You need to decide what your goals are before you start the project. Are you trying to pick out your most commercial idea? Are you trying to get a story off of your chest and stretch yourself as a writer? Or something in between?

Before one project, the deciding factor between two ideas was that one had a title, and one that I thought was good. The other didn't. I wanted to send out letters with a good title. Not a bad one or THE UNTITLED GRANT PROJECT. So I chose the first for that reason alone.

Before another project, I chose the weird one. Tried to make it as normal and like a real movie as possible, I wasn't trying to write GERRY, but knew I wasn't going to get many bites on the logline alone. But I figured I had just written a 'commercial' one, and would do so on the one after that. So it didn't really hurt me.

I figure if you can manage to write three scripts a year (only a page a day), you can afford to make that third one your Christmas present to yourself. Make that the weird one. Probably not as easy if you're writing something every two years.

So finish up the current project, and make an intentional effort to do something cool and high concept for the next one. On purpose. Not just hoping that your scribbles and notes and index cards will accidentally morph into something that's high concept.

At 6:46 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

Scott, what have you been doing that has worked and what, in your opinion, have you not been doing that may perhaps change your game?

I mean, haven't you already been writing commercial films with specific hooks in specific genres?

My advice would be to change it up and write something that only you want to read / see ... and not worry about its commercial potential until it's done.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I find that my specific current problem is this: I've been wrestling with a fantasy-comedy, have brought several chunks into my group, I'm still trying to find the best way to tell the story --

But overall I'm finding that it isn't really all that pitchable. The story is just a little too hard to explain to really make it a good hook.

It's one of those things that if I nail the execution it could be a funny funny script, but I'm worried that the lack of a snappy hook is ultimately going to doom it.

Bottom line is that maybe I need to write more, and ponder overall commerciality less. Though at the same time, that hasn't really been working so far.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...


The Dr. in! I got an answer to your problem from a book!

"Theme is the arena in which our peronal passions get expressed. The most compelling stories come out of a writer's personal exploration of human experience...

"A good tool to use in working with theme is an axiom -- a possible truth that's going to be argued or explored in the working of your story...

"... Working with unversally resonant material elevates the movie's signfificance..."

This advice comes from exerpts from Billy Mernit's "Writing the Romantic Comedy" on pages 104 - 105 in the Developing Theme chapter.

Hope this helps. Other than that, and what you're already doing maybe it would help if you asked other close friends who you respect how they personally relate to your story. And maybe reverese engineer "13 Going on 30" which is a comedy/fantasy which did quite well.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always finish what you start, Scott. Always. And as for selling, the horizon on spec material looks very bleak especially since TF2 came out and lured all us sheep in for the slaughter, and made a killing did it ever! And the bad news is I hear they want 3 more? Lord help us.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

Well, I think that there are some projects that don't pitch well, at least in the beginning, but if it's a great story and executed well, then you can figure out the pitch later.

Some things I write, I get the hook right in the beginning, others, I figure it out after I finish it ... it really depends, but there are some stories that I absolutely have to get out of my head.

Mostly I think you need to find your way to the end of what you're currently working on, if it is a story YOU like to read ... write something you truly want to see / read, and worry about the pitch / sale after it's done.

that's my advice.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger sharon said...

Read the Wordplay archive column by Terry on "Facing the Blank Page."

Basically, don't start writing until you've got a killer idea.

If you do have a killer idea and feel that way strongly, chances are you'll feel enthusiastic about writing it.


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