I was recently asked to participate in a Google Hangout with my friend Gary Goldstein. His weekly one hour sessions of Breaking into Hollywood, provide a terrific opportunity for writers to “hang out” with Gary who, among other things, produced the film, Pretty Woman. When you take part in the hangout you get to hear his insights on the film business. He invited me as a guest on the show, and we had a lot of fun and we all learned a lot as well.
The most useful discussion was in response to a question from a viewer who asked, “At what point in the writing process do you have to consider the budgetary, marketing and business aspects of the script?” This question caused me to offer my single favorite piece of advice: use common sense.
It is a great question. On the one hand, the creative process needs to flow freely unencumbered by practicality, and on the other, the audience must always be considered, as well as the writer’s resources and intended participation level. Some screenwriters also want to produce, direct, shoot and/or act as well.
If you are writing a script with the intention of selling it, much has been written on that topic, and the process of querying agents and producers is well-documented. What is not pushed strongly enough is the research process where you must identify who can actually get your script made. Of course, there is also the paradox that you need good aim, but also must cast your net wide. This is the part you can control by applying common sense. There are also the crucial elements of luck and timing that cannot be controlled. Remember: The Movie Business is called “business” for reason, and business is about making money. Learn to understand how money can be made by turning your script into a movie.
Since I am based in New York, I often work with filmmakers who are writer/directors and also producers who are creating their own financing. As a script consultant, I am often brought in to help slim down the script so that it can be made more easily. The basic formula is that the less you spend, the better your chances of recouping the investment so that your backers will support you when you make your next film. That being said, the story still has to be compelling, relevant and original. The film, Clerks, is the extreme example of a film of this type. The success of that film is the result of creativity and practicality elegantly combined.
The process of creation is always somewhat mysterious. Did the idea to shoot a film in a store and use the problem with the door gates not working happen before or after Kevin Smith came up with the story?
In case you haven’t watched the film recently, the story is centered on Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) who is forced to work at the Quick Stop market on his day off. During his shift, he tries to perform his minimum-wage duties with minimal but hilarious success while juggling his current girlfriend, Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), and attempting to win back his ex-girlfriend, Caitlyn Bree (Lisa Spoonhauer).
The film is wildly original and the events are both laugh out-loud funny and tragic. The film works because Dante is forced to see himself clearly and make new choices. Smith made the clever choice to shoot the film in locations he already had access to and was able to bring the film in for under $30,000. Clearly, he had to work “budget first” because of his intention to direct his own story.
I don’t mean to imply that this is a model for everyone, but it is a prompt for you as the screenwriter to apply basic common sense before you dive into a project.
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
copyright(c) 2014 by Marilyn Horowitz