What Should I Write About?


The first question of screenwriting

What should I not write about? Stuff you have no interest in or don’t want to watch. Stuff you think film studios will buy but you don’t like. Don’t try to second guess the film market because you’ll never win. Most development execs can’t, so why would you?

Where does that leave the screenwriter?

Decide on the hybrid of COMMERCIALITY, VIABILITY and PERSONAL TASTE. It may seem obvious, but many screenwriters sway to the extremes. Is it a studio film with a budget of $200 million, an indie movie with a budget of under $10 million, or a micro budget film costing less than $100k? Whatever your choice, understand the parameters of filmmaking.

Write down your top ten favourite films. What patterns emerge? Are they arthouse? Obscure? Commercial? Studio? Oscar winners? Does your film have franchise potential?

A highly commercial studio film could be on the screen within 1-2 years, whereas an Oscar winner could take 7 years. Do you have the stamina? Yes you do.

Write down five movies you can’t stand. For me it’s costume drama. I won’t even go there. Even if Judi Dench is starring. What patterns emerge for you?

WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES/CONCERNS/ INTERESTS?

What sort of people do you like to write about? Underdogs? Heroes? Everymen/ women? Strong female characters?

Know that the most marketable genres are comedy (most number of scripts bought by studios last month), action, thriller and horror. Dramas are always a  hard sell because they are difficult to pitch. Are your themes topical (eg The Queen) or universal (eg Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs)?

Horror movies have an inbuilt male teen audience while romantic comedies skew towards the female audience. Although these are generalizations, they are consistent trends.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN LIFE CONCERNS OF EACH AGE GROUP?

KIDS (under 12) tend to respond to stories of self worth and identity as their personalities are still being shaped. Consider films like ET, Toy Story and Up.

TEENS/ TWEENS (13-19) respond more to peer group pressure and the need to conform and belong to a specific group. Herein lie issues of rebelliousness and conformity. Consider films such as Freaky Friday.

TWENTIES (20-29) are more established and are focused on relationships, relationships, commitment, career, and isolation. They have generally passed the conformist stage experienced in their teens. Consider films like Sex In The City.

THIRTIES (30-39) is an extension of life in the twenties. Audiences are more focused on children, career, marriage, families, achievement and success. Consider films like The Proposal and The Hangover.

FORTIES AND FIFTIES (40-59) usually mid life and tends to be an assessment stage. Audience is more established in their lives. What have I achieved? I am successful? I am a good person? Am I happy or full of despair? What have I contributed to the world? Consider films like Die Hard, The Full Monty and The Verdict.

SIXTIES PLUS a period of reflection as audience ponders its twilight years. These are films of reconciliation, loss and regrets. What do I want to achieve before I die? What loose ends do I want to tie up? What is my legacy?

Enough procrastinating already. Get writing.

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