Write What Hollywood Is Buying!
Increasing Your Odds For A Sale

Hollywood agents and managers call newbie writers ďbaby writers.Ē New screenwriters hate the term, but take heart — it's not because you haven't sold a script, but because you lack essential education on the realities of the marketplace. Before you spend your precious time and talent going down a blind alley, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the numbers. 

Running a screenplay analysis service and two international screenwriting contests each year gives us a unique perspective on what's being written — particularly by new screenwriters who have yet to make a sale or gain representation. To do either, you must write something with a chance in the marketplace.

To an agent or a manager who makes a percentage of your sale, effective writers are those that can consistently write screenplays that will sell. Bring your latest science fiction, World War I drama, experimental drama, or musical to your agent and youíll spoil his or her lunch. Worse still, let your representative know that your latest project is a western/comedy hybrid, a miniseries about migrating slugs, or a sequel to a book you donít own the rights to! You might find that phone getting very cold indeed — because you're offering something they canít sell.

Are we exaggerating? Well, we haven't yet seen a slug miniseries (actually, we'd kinda like to!). But we've seen a lot of imaginative projects which have a very, very small chance of selling. In many cases, these scripts are compelling and very well written, but the realities of the marketplace are that these projects ain't gonna get bought.

Quentin Tarantino, and Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg can get a World War II project sold. Odds are you won't. James Cameron can sell a script based on a fictional world on another planet. Odd are, again, you won't.

More screenplay genres and types you canít sell: just about any period piece, any sequel or re-imagining of an already produced movie, and anything not written as a traditional three-act structure feature film. Right now youíd also have a tough time selling a horror film...the marketplace is flooded with unproduced screenplays. That gold rush is over. And writing the next big animation film is an even tougher sell ó they're very costly, and are usually bought, or generated internally off of ideas from trusted, proven screenwriters.

Are there exceptions? Of course! The occasional screenplay written in a dormant genre has a fresh new take on a previously tried and true formula. Other times the writing is SO good that it just canít be ignored. In most cases, the best you can hope for if you're writing these types of projects is to wind up with a good writing sample, or possibly a contest-winning script (in a contest where the best writing wins regardless of saleability).

So how can you increase your odds of a spec screenplay sale? Write what Hollywood buys! Letís look at the spec screenplay sales from 2009:

     436 spec scripts came out in 2009, of which 72 sold (17%).

     373 specs went out wide in 2009, of which 19 sold (5%). Of those 19, only 3 sold after April 30th,
     out of 178 attempts during the period (1.7%).

     By genre, comedies led with 32% of sales, thrillers 29%, action adventures 21%, while dramas and
     sci-fi/fantasies tied with 10%.

Numbers like these clearly indicate that you have the best chance of selling a screenplay if you can write contemporary comedies and thrillers. Action adventure stories are a close third.

Canít or donít want to write these types of stories? Then for now, you should go ahead and write whatever you can write the hell out of. You should always write what you most enjoy even if that genre isnít currently in favor. Writing is both a hobby and a business.

But answer this: do you want to write for funÖor for profit? Only you can decide. If your goal is a spec screenplay sale, then treat it like a business. Play the odds for your best chance at a sale. If you want to indulge yourself by writing a sequel to Ishtar or Dude, Where's My Car? — have at it! Just don't be surprised when it doesn't sell!

The volume of scripts registered each year with the Writerís Guild is staggering - about 40,000 per year. So if 400 "studio" movies are made each year and 40,000 scripts are registered each year, thatís a 1 in 400 "chance."  Of those 400, the vast majority are book/comic book adaptations, sequels to other films, and developed in-house.

Numbers like these may make you feel selling a script is about as likely as winning the lottery! But all you do there is buy a ticket and hope for the best - with screenwriting, you're in complete control of your product. The quality and commerciality of your screenplay are the primary factors in your success as a screenwriter. Connections and networking come next. You can work at getting those. You can also work at becoming a better writer. Donít shoot yourself in the foot by writing stories that have a disadvantage before you even type: FADE IN.

Your odds of "winning" and making a sale get better and better as your writing improves, your eye for subject matter improves, and your relationships in the business improve. But give yourself a sporting chance, and choose your subjects wisely.

Joe Carnahan, director of The A-Team, had his own projects he was pursuing. But he got tapped to do this remake of an old TV show. Not bitter, Carnahan notes: "You have to take the temperature of the industry you're in."

This is a recipe for success in any field — match what you're selling to what they're buying.

If you want to succeed...take Hollywood's temperature! Write what Hollywood is buying!

Info in this article comes from <http://www.lifeonthebubble.com/life-on-the-bubble/2009/12/spec-market-scorecard-2009-year-to-date.html>, which also includes full breakdowns on the buyers and the representative sellers.

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