Breaking Into The Film Industry With Niche Screenwriting


We’re all aware that the screenwriting world is still in the doledrums. However, there are still opportunities out there for novice and seasoned screenwriters alike. The spec script market is cautiously creaking back to life. People are still watching movies. However, film studio fare is still dominated by a number of factors:

  • It is increasingly risk averse, so more “Avatar” and less “Hurt Locker”.
  • The majority of studio films are based on pre-existing literary works (mainly comics), so new ideas have an even lower chance of being picked up.
  • Studios are producing fewer films this year.

All doom and gloom, you say? Not necessarily. Screenwriters now have alternative avenues to market their scripts. And they’re proliferating. Find your niche in the film world. Become the “go to” screenwriter for them. Are you an expert on gay issues, extreme sports, socially and environmentally conscious causes or hip hop?

Do you know what “URBAN FILMS” are? Depending on who you speak to, they generally refer to youth-oriented ghetto culture. This could be African-American ghetto fabulous, sultry Hispanic, or Trailer Park chic? Whatever you decide, they refer to under represented audiences whose cinematic needs are not being met by mainstream film studios. That’s where you come in. Explore these undiscovered markets that you can sell your script to.

You probably won’t get a serious theatrical release, but it ain’t all bad. There’s the film festival circuit, VOD, straight to DVD, screenings in clubs or events, and of course, the ever expanding cable tv market, hungry to snap up new product.

The studio market is currently saturated and can only grow organically or through aggressive acquisitions. The alternative specialty urban market (different to independent films) is still at a seminal stage and has the most potential for growth. Having said this, Paramount has just introduced it’s microbudget division and will naturally be searching for product.

Urban music is gaining popularity and increasing in commercial viability. This suggests that record companies may branch into film production, buy your script and license your soundtrack at very reasonable rates.

There are about ten film distributors with “urban film” divisions, formal or otherwise. Together, they release about 150 titles non-theatrically, which would otherwise never see the light of day. Theatrical distributors release about double that figure.

In terms of budget, the lower the better. Some claim $50000-100000 are preferred target budgets. With your $3000 camera and Final Cut, you can make an urban film of reasonable technical quality.

Depending on who you speak to, $500000 is the upper budget range, although there have been rare cases of urban film budgets stretching to as high as $1million. Avoid this range, if you can. Lower production costs mean less financial pressure on distributors and a greater chance of release. The beauty of these films means you only worry about your core audience rather than a four quadrant Hollywood film.

Low-budget films occupy a slightly different cinematic space. They are produced on begged, borrowed and stolen equipment by crews paid in passion. We’re talking $10000-20000 production budgets. The main commercial distributors acquire these films cheaply, but their P&A budgets are comparable (although much lower) budgets to blockbuster films. More commonly, they vanish without a whimper.

There is also market for faith-based films. These could be religious, spiritual and uplifting. Some companies (eg Fox Faith) have their own divisions for this sort of material. “The Last Temptation of Christ” grossed over $600 million at the global box office.

So the same writing principles apply. Write what you love, but think about your audiences.

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