2011 Spec Script Sales Analysis: Genres

January 30th, 2012 by

By my count, Hwood studios and prod cos acquired 110 spec scripts in 2011. During this week, I’ll be breaking down those numbers.

Today we look at sales by genre. Some scripts are categorized as cross genres or sub-genres, so those are noted where relevant under their primary genre category.

Note: Genre designations are not scientific, so you have to understand these numbers are general.

2011 SPEC SCRIPT SALES BY GENRE

ACTION 29
Action Thriller 12
Action Comedy 5
Action Adventure 3
Action Drama 2
Action Disaster 1
Action Supernatural 1

THRILLER 20
Thriller Spy 1

COMEDY 19
Comedy Adventure 1
Comedy Teen

DRAMA 14
Drama Comedy 3
Drama Crime 3
Drama Biopic 2
Drama Thriller 2
Drama Detective 1
Drama Horror 1

SCIENCE FICTION 13
Science Fiction Thriller 3
Science Fiction Drama 2
Science Fiction Action 1
Science Fiction Adventure

HORROR 8
Horror Thriller 2
Horror Family 1
Horror Science Fiction 1

FAMILY 2
Comedy 1
Fantasy 1

FAIRY TALE 1

HEIST 1

SUPERNATURAL 1

WESTERN 1

N/A 1

First let’s compare to 2008, 2009, and 2010.

2008 (88 sales)

COMEDY 41
ACTION 13
DRAMA 12
THRILLER 10
FANTASY 3
SCIENCE FICTION 3
ADVENTURE 2
DISASTER 2
FAMILY 1
HORROR 1

2009 (68 sales)

COMEDY 26
THRILLER 12
ACTION 11
DRAMA 7
SCIENCE FICTION 4
ROMANTIC COMEDY 3
FAMILY 1
FANTASY 1
HEIST 1
HORROR 1
MURDER MYSTERY 1

2010 (55 sales)

COMEDY 16
ACTION 14
THRILLER 10
SCIENCE FICTION 7
DRAMA 4
FAMILY 2
FANTASY 1
MYSTERY 1

2011 (110 sales)

ACTION 29
THRILLER 20
COMEDY 19
DRAMA 14
SCIENCE FICTION 13
HORROR 8
FAMILY 2
FAIRY TALE 1
HEIST 1
SUPERNATURAL 1
WESTERN 1

* The most obvious thing to note: The dramatic increase in sales in 2011 representing a 100% increase from 2010. And look at the jump in individual genres year-to-year: Action 29 / 14, Thriller 20 / 10, Comedy 19 / 16, Drama 14 / 4, Science Fiction 13 / 7. Three genres just about doubling their numbers [Action, Thriller, Science Fiction] and Drama more than tripling its total. Even Comedy, which had been on a downward trajectory since 2008 [41 / 26 / 16] had a slight increase last year compared to 2010. In other words, it was an awesome sales year with strength across the board.

* The next item that jumps out at me: After over a decade of holding down the top spot in terms of spec sales, Comedy lost the crown in 2011, dropping all the way to 3rd place. There are likely multiple reasons why this occurred. Here are two thoughts: (1) As I have noted for the last few years, the growth in international box office as a percentage of total theatrical revenues for Hollywood studios is definitely having an impact on project acquisition. The conventional wisdom is that comedy doesn’t travel as well in foreign markets as other genres that are less culturally specific in terms of humor and more visual, less dialogue-driven in terms of screen time such as Action, Horror, Science Fiction, or Thriller. (2) However there is another conventional wisdom that seems to be under the gun and that is in times of economic hardship or uncertainty, moviegoers want to laugh. Apparently either that is not the case currently or Hollywood has decided the core dynamic has changed because the main driver of the spec market in 2011 was kills [Action], thrills [Thriller], frills [Science Fiction, and chills [Horror]. Big visual and visceral entertainment with less emphasis on laughs.

* While Action technically is the #1 genre for spec sales in 2011, a closer look at the numbers reveals a deeper truth: Thriller is predominant. Along with its 20 projects, check out the cross genre sales:

Action Thriller 12

Science Fiction Thriller 3

Drama Thriller 2

That’s another 17 spec scripts with a thriller dynamic bringing that genre’s total to 37.

This can mean a couple of things. First Hollywood has taken the pulse of consumers and decided they want movies that take them to the edge emotionally and psychologically, stories with fast pace, high stakes, and personal jeopardy. Second we can’t discount the fact that some of the best spec scripts screenwriters are penning at present are those that have a thriller component. Indeed in a recent roundtable conversation I had with seven top young screenwriters who have cumulatively sold 12 spec scripts in the last 2 years, all of them are fans of and have ongoing projects in the thriller genre.

* Buried amidst the numbers is the surprising results in the Drama genre. Tracking the numbers from 2008 [12 / 7 / 4], the jump to 14 in 2011, like comedy, reversed a downward trend line. What’s unusual here is not only the increase, it’s also the fact that the major content source in this genre tends to books, either novels or non-fiction. This might support the resurrection of the adult drama, perceived as nearly dead as recently as 2009, then brought back to life with the stunning successes in 2010 of movies like The King’s Speech, The Social Network, The Fighter and True Grit. 2011 continued to show strength in this area with big numbers for The Help ($169M), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ($98M), and Moneyball ($75M), numbers that will go up after their runs are complete following this year’s Academy Awards.

The big question, of course, is what will transpire in 2012? Is it possible the spec market could sustain the types of sales numbers seen in 2011? Could it even expand? As I have noted, there have been 8 spec script sales in January this year compared to just 1 at this time in 2011, representing a 700% increase. As a counterbalance to that, we haven’t had a spec script sale since January 21 this year and there were some monster months in 2011 including 18 sales in October, so it’s hard to imagine this year keeping pace.

But don’t listen to me! At the beginning of last year, I was correct in predicting an increase in spec script sales for 2011, but my guess was a feeble 64. For the record, this year my prediction is 87. [To see the official list of guesses by the GITS community in our new annual contest, go here].

Finally a note about spec scripts. Tracking them is not an exact science. That’s why when a script sells, I always frame my post with the words, “By my count.”

Most spec script sales happen the traditional way: Either they are circulated widely or selectively, then sell pretty quickly. However some scripts takes weeks, months, even years to get set up. Some script deals are reported as sales when they are only options. Occasionally a production company or producer will announce the ‘sale’ of a spec script when in fact the project was developed in-house and there is no actual money involved in the ‘deal.’

Which is to say a spec script sale is a moving target.

I managed to verify 110 spec script sales in 2011. Meanwhile Jason Scoggins at the fine resource It’s On The Grid reported 132 sales. Chances are there were more sales than my total, but I have been using pretty much the same sources to confirm spec script sales for several years, so rather than change my approach which would then taint my previous numbers, I’ll stick to what I’m doing the way I do it. Besides I would rather err on the side of precaution. But as I say, Jason may be right: There could have 22 more spec script sales in 2011 than I posted. A wise writer interested in such matters would consult both IOTG and GITS.

Tomorrow I continue my annual spec script sales market review by breaking down sales per studios and production companies.

As usual I invite your observations and analysis in comments.

7 thoughts on “2011 Spec Script Sales Analysis: Genres

  1. Wes Holland says:

    I enjoy learning about the jump in the adult drama category and agree with you that the metric of international box office may be carrying more weight in green lighting a potential project. Both ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ had built in appeal in Europe (and Australia). It would be interesting to know how the international box office is distributed between the European and the even larger Asian (including Australia and New Zeeland) markets.

    As a writer working to get my foot in the door – I have already been cautioned about one of my stories being too American centric and advised to look to staging the settings and characters outside the U.S. The big dramas do tend to follow that formula – ‘Moneyball’ and ‘The Help’ being the exceptions that prove the rule.

    Most of the big dramas coming out after the 2011Holidays are set outside of North America: ‘Iron Lady’, ‘War Horse’, and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ just as examples.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Scott says:

      Wes, if you do a Google search of my blog with the words “international marketplace,” you will see plenty of posts about how the expanding foreign B.O. is altering the way Hollywood approaches project acquisition and development. Bottom line: It is smart to think of an international audience. This does not necessarily mean you have to set a story outside the United States. In fact, the world generally has a pretty strong fascination with what we do here, our culture and what-not, but for example Inception, if you look at that cast, you see characters from East Asia, the Middle East, the U.K., France and the U.S. I doubt that was happenstance.

  2. Debbie Moon says:

    Great thing about thrillers is they allow you to combine intelligence with popularity. Source Code, Inception, I should be able to think of more examples but I can’t… Big ideas that you can make a splash with as a new writer, but still show that you have a commercial mindset.

  3. Jon Mac says:

    Awesome breakdown and analysis. My understanding is that the conventional wisdom is to just write what you are best at for spec scripts, since the odds are so low of a sale. Rather, the spec script becomes more like a sample, and based on the reception of that sample, you can then get future contracted work. Considered in those terms, genre wouldn’t seem as important for a spec. Or is that incorrect thinking?

  4. Lauris says:

    Horror Family – what would that be? Something ala Gremlins?

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  6. […] can we learn? I have already done the breakdown for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 and if you compare 2008 to 2012, we learn that Action and Thriller were #1 and #2 […]

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