Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Kinds Of Stories That Sell [Part 3]

September 23rd, 2012 by

If you are a screenwriter, you should know about Anita Loos. Loos was one of the most influential writers in the early stages of American cinema, associated with 136 film projects per IMDB.

Married to writer John Emerson, the pair wrote one of the first books on screenwriting in 1920: “How to Write Photoplays”. I have been running a weekly series based on the book. You can access those posts here. Today: The Kinds Of Stories That Sell [P. 73]:

The exhibitor wants the sort of story that can be exploited from the box office point of view, for a photoplay that does not lend itself to advertising and publicity in all forms will not draw the crowd.

This is the exact same issue movie studios face today. The challenge is even greater than 1920. Back then the competition was other movies. Today? Every form of entertainment: social media, video games, Internet, TV, and so on. When a studio considers buying your script, they immediately consider the story’s financial upside, and that involves this question: Will this play in theaters?

That’s why you have to ask yourself of your story: Can I honestly see this opening in 3,000+ movie screens? Can I see the one-sheet? Can I see the trailer? Does this story have a legitimate shot to connect with a big audience?

Those questions are important because they are precisely what studio executives ask… and have for 90+ years.

Next week, more screenwriting advice from 90 years ago.

If you live in the U.S., you can read “How to Write Photoplays” via Google books online here.

One thought on “Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Kinds Of Stories That Sell [Part 3]

  1. Bryan Colley says:

    Seems like today the first question they ask is “will it sell toys?”

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