Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Screenwriting: Should you turn your story into a screenplay?

Writers oftentimes simply don’t understand how the industry works and script sales are a function of demographic and box office rather than simply having a good script.  Although having an outstanding (not just good) script will get you noticed.  Understand that being a good writer and a good person are only two factors in being successful.  Knowing your market and comparable films help separate the writing hobbyists from the professionals.

Film & Television Scriptwriter J Gideon Sarantinos (
Should you turn your story into a screenplay?

If you are thinking of becoming a screenwriter, chances are you already have a story in mind.  Perhaps you can picture the action in your mind or you just think the project should be a movie.

It would be quicker and easier to simply write a novel since you probably already have those particular skills, but if you decide to go for the screenplay it will open up a whole new world.  The first thing you must decide is whether or not your project is commercial.  Will anybody be interested in producing your work once you get it written? 

Think about the movies that have come out in the past year.  Does your storyline fit into the genre that is popular today?  Does it have a cast of thousands?  Are there dozens of location changes?  Does the story take place in a historical setting? 

Each of these factors, and more, are considered by producers when reading your script.  With the ever escalating cost of making movies, producers stick with known formulas for success.  Making movies that appeal to the largest movie-gong demographic (16-24 year old males) and producing sequels and remakes of successful films are two ways they can ensure box office dollars. 
Be aware of how much films cost to make and what you are asking of investors.  The typical ballpark production figure for a studio picture is $120 million plus another 30-40 percent for prints and advertising – a colossal investment that needs to be recouped.
Low end studio films, referred to being produced “at a price” cost under $10 million.  The mid-range class of films is being squeezed out of the studio system.
It’s also noteworthy that around 60-70% of studio box office income is derived from the foreign box office, so it’s important that the themes explored in your scripts travel universally.
Know where your film might fit in budget wise. Studios talk about cost to box office ratios to generate a profit. It pays to understand that your small horror movie can’t generally have a production budget of $100 million in light of tracking figures which project expected box office.  Studios basically require movies to earn around three times their production budgets at the box office to become profitable.
This doesn’t suggest that writers must be accountants, but rather understand how studio executives think. - J Gideon Sarantinos
Will it sell popcorn?
Demographics play a vital role when a producer takes a look at your script.  Who will the story appeal to?  Will the previews entice teenage boys, young adults or senior citizens to plop down the money in the movie theater?  Since producers are looking for the biggest bang for their buck, they look for movies that appeal to the largest movie-going audience.
When talking about commerciality of scripts, they refer to the genres that sell the most tickets. Since all forms of entertainment are essentially an emotional purchase, genres are useful tools to cater to audience expectations.
Keep your themes global, current and relevant. Films are a communication medium and must evoke an emotional reaction in their audiences. They seek escapism, reassurance and expression. Executives are looking for familiar stories with a fresh, modern twist. - J Gideon Sarantinos 
The following information on genres is an abbreviated list from an article written by J Gideon Sarantinos, found on  

ACTION films are the most produced genre because they appeal to the profitable 18-24 year old male demographic.  These movies are given the highest production budgets and are often referred to as studio tent pole pictures which “prop up” the box office. 

COMEDY are the second most often produced.  They are cheaper to make, but are sometimes culturally specific, resulting in fewer viewers.  Romantic comedies are highly profitable because of the 16-24 female demographic.  They are also good date movies and cater to groups of single women.

THRILLER is the third most profitable genre.  The category includes horror, mystery and supernatural films and caters to a slightly older demographic, the 24-36 year age group, as well as the 16-24 year old male demographic.  Political thrillers are generally unpopular and are usually made if spearheaded by a star. 

DRAMA is the least profitable of all film genres.  Studios avoid producing them unless they are part of their specialty divisions (genres they are known for producing) and have A-list talent attached.  These are the cheapest movies to produce and generally cater to the 36-54 year old demographic. 

Independent films offer hope
Independent films offer an avenue for screenwriters to see their work in production without trying to break into a major studio.  These companies are often geared toward specific genres and are more approachable than the major studios.  Do your homework and find out which companies produce the type of screenplay you are interested in writing.  View some of their films to get an idea of what they are looking for.  
A true independent film is any film that is produced outside of a major Hollywood studio.  Technological advancements are making it possible for independent filmmakers to produce films with the same quality as Hollywood studios for a significantly lower price. Everything in the industry is switching over to digital, including projectors.  
Self-distribution is bringing the power and control of the films back to the producers by giving them other options to distribute their films other than the conventional method.  The popularity for independent films is rising due to a mature audience. The market is flooded and the competition is fierce so it is ever more important to produce the highest quality passionate stories.
Producer/Director/Shooter Bryan Ross Bieber, (
This blog is the second in a series geared to help writers interested in learning how to write screenplays.  Through these articles I will share the fundamentals of screenwriting using information gathered from the works and words of professionals in the field.

1 comment:

elizabethbrinton said...

I still want to try my hand at writing a screenplay. Thank you for the informative tips.