Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Writing for the market?

I'm struggling lately with what script I'll write next. I've written about a dozen or so feature film scripts (only a few of which, perhaps four or five, I now consider good enough to circulate or still own outright). And in most of those cases, I simply came up with an idea and went with it. Commercial considerations really didn't enter into it for me. I wrote where my heart told me to go (or my brain, but I am using heart to indicate artistic interest).

But after years of relative obscurity and some degree of futility on the 'market,' and armed with someone acting as a de facto manager, I am trying to think more strategically. I am trying to write for the market.

In screenwriting, it is generally acknowledged that, if you want to write artsy fare, you have to make your bones, so to speak, by producing something that will sell and, in the best case, that will be a hit. You are then relatively free to write unusual things. The reputation you attain at writing something successful (i.e., financially rewarding) means people don't automatically reject the unusual work you do in the future. American Beauty was Alan Ball's first produced feature, you say? Yes, but he slaved away on the Cybill show on network TV for several years. What about Charlie Kauffman, whose first produced film was Being John Malkovich? Well, Mr. Kauffman was a sitcom writer, too. He worked on Fox's Ned & Stacy, among other things.

My point is that these writers proved they could do traditional 'good' work. While they were working on their weird and wonderful spec scripts, they were doing good, solid work.

Which brings me back, uh, me. I'm trying to think strategically, to write something that's good and solid and that will sell.

But writing a new spec is a big commitment of time. So I don't want to write something that's not satisfying or moving me towards my personal goals as a writer.

I have several good ideas I could be working on, but none of them is particularly commercial. One of them has commercial possibilities, but there was a pitch sold by a major comedy writer in Hollywood a few months ago, and while the two ideas aren't really that similar, the presence of one key 'location' (the segment of the world in which this particular story takes place) in both that pitch and my idea means that I probably shouldn't bother writing it.

So I've spent days just trying to think of a great commercial idea that is also something I WANT to write.

This is a lot harder than you'd expect.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous chuck said...

I knew that about Kaufman and Ball, and I've been reading Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture," where he discusses the big blockbusters (all have teenage protagonists; none feature so-called adult content; etc). That often feels terribly formulaic, which is a little daunting.

You may not be aiming at that kind of market (?), of course, but writing with those aims in mind is harder than it sounds....

At 8:02 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

yeah, i don't do 'formula' well. honestly, as i was telling some of my grad student screenwriters today, if i HAD to write blockbuster stuff, i probably would quit writing. it's just not me. i don't really consider that to be writing (or at least not the kind i'd ever want to do).


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