Writing for the Market, and Loving It

Beating the lions

Why bother?

If you have $200 million laying around, you can throw money at an extravaganza, put in all kinds of gimmicks that hide the lack of a story, spend a matching amount on advertising, and fool enough people to maybe get back $20 to 250 million before buzz kills it. Hollywood does it repeatedly, and a sophisticated audience is catching on and evaporating more quickly. It's getting more difficult to take risks in today's economic climate, and with the market squeeze, studio support of independents is also evaporating, making it very difficult for an independent to get funding and distribution through traditional channels.

Why bother? Movie production is one of the most highly competitive businesses in the world, with only a few movies (~500 out of thousands of screenplays and productions) able to make it to the US theater screen, where their second competition is for limited availability. Very few movies have much success online. You will be lucky if NETFLIX® offers you $25,000.00. Success goes to those who are informed and skillful. But that's not the entire story.

Do you want to know what sells a movie? Do you really want to know, because this is tough? Here is the fork in the road. If you take the road commonly taken by independents, you have a lot of fun making movies, throw them on any Web site that will take them or throw them on YouTube, sell them for $1.00 or give them away for free. This isn't meant to be demeaning, or stop people. You might even sing the "Steal This Movie" underground song and believe that intellectual property should not be sold, but rather collect donations.

Well, on the YouTube general collection, rarely does anyone find a producer's movies, and you rarely get "discovered." Social media successes - viral marketing - are few. The movie has to be good, just like in real life, or it gets no buzz and it languishes in obscurity. Not all is lost. You have fun, and over a period of years you may actually develop the talent to make a good movie. To do this route, you are probably either independently wealthy and this is a good hobby, or a starving artist that finds help, and maybe you like this life. That's fine - we're not knocking it.

For more on using the lower profile route to filmmaking, and rising to the top in social media, read Kevin Shah's article on thescriptlab.com, Nano Budget Filmmaking: The New Sustainable Cinema. Or indieWire Guest Post by Ross Howden: “How Do You Sell A Film That’s Being Given Away?”

The other road is, you look to the people who have already made it, you learn, and you work very hard to produce high quality movies. But can you achieve Hollywood quality? Here is the "but" from three paragraphs preceding about the highly competitive environment and the lack of screen availability. There is a great hunger in the online market for quality (premium) movies. People won't watch crap productions, but they will pay for excellent productions. The question is, can you achieve premium quality and distribute through Internet distributors?

Here's a lesson from basketball. The slam dunk isn't just a show-off move. It gets you respect, and it's useful to help you shoot above someone trying to block you, or when you tip to others during a jump ball. You can practice jumping for the rim, and one day you will touch the rim, and maybe a little higher. But if you reach for the top of the backboard, one day you might touch the top. Then you can definitely outjump, and maybe outshoot, everyone. You reach in life what you set your sights on. If you set your sights on excellence, you can reach excellence. If you don't, you likely never will. If it takes a 5 to qualify, set your sights for a 6 and it's a slam dunk.

Next page: Three things required to sell a movie.

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Three things required to sell a movie

So if you are still reading, here it is. It takes at minimum these three things to sell a movie:

  1. A great plot (go ahead, just try to find a good screenplay - they're rare)
  2. Delivery on the story, and a satisfying resolution (The audience actually gets what was promised in the trailer, then they tell others good buzz - or, gulp, bad)
  3. Promotion (You can't just throw it in a theater or on the Internet - nobody will ever notice)
  4. Distribution (Sorry, that's four things. Try getting Hollywood distribution without a reputation and a good product.)

The reason you need to know this is, if the audience isn't interested in your movie, the movie won't sell, and you end up having a great time driving yourself into debt and a bad reputation. You may have a million ideas that you believe are golden, but if the audience isn't interested it spells market failure after failure. You have to be market driven.

You have to be market driven without prostituting yourself as a hack and pandering to every fad that comes along (as some movie studio writers feel they are, or some TV writers who mindlessly pump out script after script, never writing what they really want to write). To be a successful independent, you have to be true to yourself and your audience. That's what this article and the next are about: Creating success, screenplay development, and architecting a screenplay.

The single most important thing that attracts an audience is the plot. To get to an attractive plot, you begin with an idea and a compelling three line concept that describes the characters, their situation, and the resolution. You allow the characters (character driven) to spin that into a series of actions, that spells out a captivating plot. It can't be predictable. It must interest other people.

The second most important thing that attracts an audience is the story quality. You need sparkling characters, a well developed plot, great acting, and a very good production. You don't necessarily need special effects, gimmicks, or more than a ~$350,000.00 production budget (depending on a lot of variables at your discretion). You really just need to tell the story well in a visual medium. People relate to stories, the characters in them, their situations, their attempts to resolve those situations, and anything unique. They also like to be amazed, but you can do this with characters, plot, and uniqueness, not expensive Hollywood gimmicks.

Whatever the story is that you create, it has to be unique. Most of the story is going to be similar to every other story. Repetitive storylines make the audience go "Ho, hum" and they flock to the TV instead of your movie. There has to be unique elements in your story that intrigues the audience.

Movie Stream Productions will help members in every way possible to help you achieve success. For example, Page 2 of this article includes a lot of assistance gleaned from over 20 years of analyzing and critiquing movies and screenplays, and writing about it.

Related Variety.com article: LAFF: Mark Gill on Indie Film Crisis. (Opens in a new window.)

Related article: joke and biago.com: 3 Things We Look for in Aspiring Filmmakers.

Next Page: Working over the screenplay.

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Working over the screenplay

It all starts with the screenplay. It is so self-evident and repetitive, duh, that it hurts your brain to hear it again, but an inadequate screenplay is the black hole that keeps an unrelenting grasp on most movies. You can't make a sports car out of a child's wagon with missing wheels. You can sit in it and imagine you are in a sports car, but the audience won't share your enthusiasm. The best actors can't make bad lines good. The best production crew and a great trailer are not going to fix an inadequate screenplay. The biggest, biggest, biggest problem with movies and screenplays is the lack of quality writing.

The least understood part of screenplay writing is that it is a process. The first draft isn't ready for prime time. Stories require development. If you find a screenplay that has a hint of a story that you like, develop it. Make it amazing. As an example, watch screenplays develop on Amazon Studios - look at the reviews, and the next draft, and see the scores go up.

The development process takes time, and it is very difficult to get quality ideas. It helps to have a development process to drive the writing process.

The development process

First, whether you are starting a screenplay, or working with one you like, boil the screenplay down to a three line concept. Is the concept something that's going to capture people's interest? If not, change the concept. Then make sure that every word in the screenplay has something to do with the concept. If it doesn't, it is not related and probably should be chucked.

Visual Writer articles:

Second, are the characters sparkling? Do their personalities jump off the page? Are their actions consistent with who they are, or are they just moved by a master puppeteer? Do they drive the action themselves, or are they just moved along by the action? Does the main character rise to the occasion and create a solution, or is a solution just handed to him? Fix the characters. A good character will write the script as he tries to resolve the conflict. Make the story consistent with the character's motivation and personality - character driven.

Visual Writer articles:

Third, people hate weak plots. They don't show off the characters, and they are uninteresting. As the character pushes to resolve the conflict, he should get increasing resistance (obstacles), raising the dramatic tension, until he finally finds the means to conquer the situation. Your role as a writer, is to work imaginatively with your characters, to throw unique situations at them, and plot twists. When your character confronts a situation, you select from a range of actions that your character might take. Each situation and action raise the dramatic tension. Opposing characters and their situation result in action, reaction, reaction, reaction....

Visual Writer articles:

Fourth, it has to have unique elements in it. People don't flock to see the same story told over and over.

Visual Writer articles:

Fifth, collect criticism. Everyone hates a critic. "You're criticizing my baby!" You can't make it better until you know what isn't working, or what could work better. Constructive criticism is the proverbial yellow brick road to success. Once you are done with a rewrite, have others critique it, and then rewrite it again, until you have a tremendous story. On a scale of 1 to 5, it should be a 5 or 6 to go to the market. You should try to make it head and shoulders above other stories competing for screen space.

Visual Writer articles:

Dorian has been evaluating and developing screenplays, going to focus screenings, and rating movies since the mid-1980s. He has several screenplays nearing production. The negative things he sees (and the audiences see) are 1) lifeless characters, 2) Plots that appear artificial, lame, and manipulated, 3) Characterization that is two dimensional and is simply the direct result of the situation the character confronts (such as they suddenly become karate experts), or they are born superhumans so they confront no real obstacles, 4) Settings that magically sprout whatever the character needs, and 5) Dialogue that tells the story, is lifeless, long and not concise, and is not action/reaction. The result is something that is totally contrived and manipulated, and doesn't tell a story.

There are many finer points to creating a professional and polished story that you can find in the Advanced section of Visual Writer.com, such as using symbols and motifs, plus research on visual writing and story telling.

Have you produced a good independent movie or short? Get more attention for your shorts on FlixStreamer.com. Rent your movie on FlixStreamer.com for more profit.

- Dorian

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Effort is never wasted. You learn. You may get picked up. Examples of series that got their start on the Web, at Gigaom.com: How Do You Define Web Series Success?

LAFF: Mark Gill on Indie Film Crisis.

joke and biago.com: 3 Things We Look for in Aspiring Filmmakers.

Kevin Shah's article on thescriptlab.com, Nano Budget Filmmaking: The New Sustainable Cinema.

NETFLIX® is a Registered Trademark of NETFLIX®, INC.
Any trademark not listed out of oversight is a Trademark or Registered Trademark of it's respective owner.

Mention of any business or movie in this article is not intended to endorse, disparage, or favor any business.

Movie names that are mentioned are not given reference citations. This is because numerous studios are involved in production, and they then assign distribution rights to multiple distributors, and these rights can be sold to other distributors. For production and distribution information on any movie mentioned, consult the Internet Movie Database, or other authoritative listing.

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