A Screenwriter asked me a question the other day that I hear frequently:
HOW in the world do so many BAD movies get made? How come I can’t get MY movie made when it’s so much better?
I am going to answer the question right away, then I’m going to address a couple other related issues which get to the heart of you marketing your screenplay.
First, let’s look at why a script starts out looking good then it goes down the tubes.
Three ways a screenplay goes off the rails and becomes a crappy movie:
- Too many cooks in the kitchen. The nature of filmmaking is collaborative. All the major players get their say. The more that player has riding on the line, the more they want to say how it goes. Whether it’s a star actor doing the film and wanting to rewrite parts of their character or it’s a studio exec worried about making money for the company (and thus his/her job), the major players have vested interests. Therefore by the time the film is completed, the whole thing is often watered down and has lost some of the original essence.
- People have different tastes. When “Pulp Fiction” first came out, everyone was talking about how great it was. The buzz was so great I couldn’t wait to see it. I went to the Director’s Guild for a screening, and within five minutes into the film, I literally thought I had come to see the wrong movie. This couldn’t possibly be what everyone was raving about. Since that time, I have come to have an appreciation of Quentin Tarantion’s work and style — even if it’s not my favorite. But the point is simply that people have different tastes and love, like, and hate different things.
- Someone successfully championed a story that wasn’t that great to begin with. This could fall under the second reason above — people have different tastes — but it’s a strong enough reason that I want to separate it out. Sometimes, you can take a mediocre story and get a real champion behind the film, someone who thinks it’s just great. If that person truly has so much confidence, they can potentially pitch it long enough and convincingly enough that others get on board thinking they must be missing something. Then the film gets the money to be made and then you add in the other two things above and you end up with a crappy move.
So there you have it.
That’s a quick overview of why so many movies become crappy movies when they may have started out perfectly good.
To get to the heart of the matter, let’s go backwards and look at why these movies-that-end-up-crappy get made in the first place.
The two fundamental reasons movies get made:
When films get made, there are big processes they go through to finally get approved. However, the greenlighting for them to be produced comes down to two reasons as to why the final go ahead is given by the executive who has greenlight approval.
- It’s very important to the person who can greenlight it to make it for one reason or other — could be the topic and story itself or it could be that someone involved with the film is someone they want or need to do business with.
- The person who greenlights it thinks they can make a lot of money from it for their company.
These are the only two reasons a movie gets made. Most of the time, the people who make them think they are good enough to make some money or they wouldn’t make it. The more weight one of the above two reasons brings to the table, the less they worry about the other reason.
If they greenlight the seventh sequel in a franchise, it only has to be good enough to keep making more money. It doesn’t have to be Oscar-caliber material, and it was never intended for all movies to be award-winning films.
When Spielberg decided to do the film “Schindler’s List,” he did so because the topic was so important to him. It had a $22M budget, much less than most of his movies at the time, but it was very important to him. Spielberg could have spent that time making a film that would be far more likely to make a lot more money, but this was important to him. As it turns out, it grossed $221M worldwide, so he still made a ton of money, but the point is, it was made because it was important to him. And of course, it turned out to be a great movie — but it is an example of a movie being made on a topic that was important to someone who could greenlight it.
That brings us back to the question of why they turn out to be bad movies.
That brings up a whole different aspect of filmmaking. If we know that the two reasons above are why films get greenlit, then it’s safe to say that the filmmakers and execs will try to make a film as good as it can be in the realm of what appeals to their market.
If the project is important to them, one can assume they will try to make it be as good as they can within their budget. If they have a topic they are trying to inform or educate people about or offer a viewpoint, why wouldn’t they want to make it be as good as possible. Same with making money.
Let’s say then, that when the film begins pre-production and as they develop it, their focus is on writing a strong story. Oftentimes, when a movie turns out to be crappy, it started out strong, and then went down the tubes through the process of pre-production and production as described above.
With that said, relevant to you and your aspirations to get your screenplay made into a move, the more important question is, “What can I do to have my movie meet at least one of the two reasons for being made?”
Three types of scripts you can write to increase your greenlighting appeal:
- Write a deep and meaningful story… then try to find a greenlighting executive it’s also meaningful to. It you have a deep, meaningful story that has some original aspect, then that’s a great start. I will caution you that I’ve seen many biographical stories that someone has discovered a forgotten great person, someone who was truly an exceptional human being. That is not enough, however. You have to make that story really come to life and be super compelling. Just finding a cool, forgotten or interesting story is only one part of it having the potential to be a meaningful story.
- Write a great story with a unique twist. It should be similar to other successful scripts but have a slight twist, a hook that gets the executive’s imagination going. This kind of film can make a lot of money but is extremely competitive and has limited slots available. This is what most screenwriters angle for in their screenwriting.
- Write a commodity script for a hungry genre like horror. When you have such a great demand for a genre film, it doesn’t have to be superbly unique, it just needs to fit squarely in the genre. The horror film genre as a whole makes a lot of money, but any given individual film is not going to make you rich. As a new writer, your chances are best if you start here because a LOT of content is needed and the filmmaker who buys your script does not have to risk an enormous amount of money.
And there you have it. You now know:
- The only two reasons movies get made.
- Three ways it goes off the rails and becomes a crappy movie
- Three types of scripts you can write to take advantage of the two fundamental reasons movies get made.
I hope this has at least given you some food for thought and given you a bit more insight on why a film gets greenlit and how having this knowledge can help you in your writing.
To find out where your script stands in terms of being a strong fit in one of the three types of scripts you can write to improve your appeal for it getting made, check out the script analyses I do — see the box below.