Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Screenwriting Mistake #16: Following trends

An almost certain way to waste several months of your life is to try to write a screenplay about a topic or style that is currently hot in Hollywood. Another is to try to train your cat to pee in the toilet, but let’s focus on the first one for now. There’s a simple reason why following trends is a bad idea – it takes a minimum of two years from the time a script is completed until that movie comes out in theaters. And that’s only if everything goes perfectly. I’ve read estimates of the average time that it takes from completed script to movie premiere ranging from four to seven years. Even if everything does go perfectly, by the time your screenplay is released as a movie, that trend will have run its course. It would actually be a liability at that point to release a movie that is based on a trend that is now passé.
Can you imagine what the reaction would be if you were to sit down at a table full of studio execs tomorrow morning and tell them that you have a great new script about a vampire and a werewolf fighting over a high school girl? First of all, does statutory rape not apply to vampires? Seriously, Edward, date someone your own age, or at least someone who could be older than your great-granddaughter. But even though the “Twilight” movies have made a ton of money, no studio would try to re-create that story right now, except as a ridiculous satire like “Vampires Suck.”
This doesn’t mean that studios don’t want to capitalize on current trends, because they absolutely do when there’s money to be made. After “Pulp Fiction” and “Memento,” all of Hollywood wanted to find another great script that ran in non-chronological order. But once studios start looking for a certain kind of script, it’s already too late for you to write it, so there’s no need for you to try and hop on that kind of bandwagon.
If you really do want to try to jump on the next big trend, there are three ways that you can do this:
  1. Predict the next craze. Popular fads, movies and TV shows tend to come back around after a generation, which is why there have been so many attempts to re-create TV shows and movies from the 80s recently. This means that the 90s can’t be far behind, especially since the time between fads is only getting shorter. Write a script about grunge rockers or negotiate the rights to the Tamagochi story. How about researching the kinds of movies that were popular after the last big recession and then writing one of those now so that you will be ready when this one ends? There’s no guarantee that anyone will want your script when the next big trend begins but at least you’ll be prepared.
  2. Create the next craze. Have you ever heard of anything stupider than “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Seriously, how hard can this be? Okay, it actually is pretty hard, but studios are always looking for the next big thing, so it might as well be written by you.
  3. Write a ton of scripts. The more entertaining, well constructed screenplays you have ready to send out at a moment’s notice, the likelier you will be to have one that is perfect for the next big trend.

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