Monday, February 01, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 109 - Should you Follow the Trend?

Should writers follow the current Hollywood trends? Do they make the trends? Should they even worry about them? These are questions that I never really thought about recently, at least not so far as they dictated my writing. Recently though, I can't help but seriously consider what's being released and what has recently sold when trying to determine which idea I should work on next. 

While it's worth noting that all aspiring writers ought to have multiple ideas in the queue - this isn't so much to gauge your seriousness as a writer, as it is your future success as more than a one-trick pony – this post assumes you have a few ideas. (It’s fine if you don’t yet – focus on finishing your first script before getting too far ahead of yourself.) So now let’s say you’re trying to decide which script to write next. Let’s also assume that all your ideas are of equal urgency to you. Whether you’re repped up or not, you might wonder how much Hollywood’s current trends should affect you decision.

Of course, my voice is just one out of many (and one that is not too well known in the industry – yet). Still, I can tell you that both my current and previous manager have been very hesitant about giving me the green light to work on specs that are similar to something(s) that has just sold. Any studio that doesn’t yet have a vampire movie (hypothetical – I’m sure they all have 6) will most likely not want to risk their neck-biter flick on an unknown writer. That means, they’re going with the big guns, and you and I do not fit the bill. So, I doubt I’d write a vampire script right now if I had other ideas rattling around there. (I know this sounds like a bit of hypocrisy. After all, I’m trying to sell a post-Apocalyptic spec on the heels of not only The Road, but also Book of Eli and 2012, to name but a few.)

Granted, there’s the flip side to trends. Now might be the PERFECT time for you to write a rom-com about a woman who goes to Europe and meets the perfect man. When in Rome and Leap Year both look terrible, and studios might just be looking for “the movie those should have been.” Likewise with my post-apocalyptic spec, Eli and The Road both got middling reviews, so I know that part of the train of thought is that people still want to see a more successful version of that world. On the other hand, a couple flops can kill a genre.

We seem to be back at square one – should you follow the trend? Maybe. I can tell you now that I’ve met with incredible resistance to trying to establish a franchise. If you’re hoping to write your own superhero movie, because superheroes are all the rage, you should know that hardly anyone will want to risk $150 million on your self-created superheroes (believe me, I’ve tried). And unless you have something incredibly unique to say about zombies, now might not be the best time. We’ve seen every form of zombie there is recently – except ballerina zombies, which I just copyrighted – so studios are likely to edge away from that soon.

Maybe a better question is: should you determine the trend? If you can’t quite determine it, can you at least get ahead of it? Maybe you remember watching some sasquatch movie when you were a kid, and a generation later, there’s been no sasquatch movie. Well, it might be perfect time to unleash your sasquatch thriller on movie-goers.

Ultimately, what the answer comes down to is money. Studios don’t want to spend money, but they have to in order to make it. And they love making it. That means that right now, they’re looking for the “sure” things. Unfortunately, that means sequels and franchises. It does also mean trends, but only to a certain extent. Slasher films are usually a low risk venture because of the unknown talent and low budgets that can carry them. A new writer attempting a low risk venture like that can really distinguish him or herself by writing a knockout script. A new writer attempting a $100 million futuristic caper is facing much more of an uphill battle. If you can write a smart, relatively inexpensive, yet unique script that fits into the current trend, then go with it. Know that by the time your script is ready for production, the trend might be over, and your project could stagnate. For the most part, though, I think that what you and I have to do is write what we feel we can write most effectively right now, avoid the trends that just died, and just make sure that we’re breathing new air into whichever genre we tackle.

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