The Business of Screenwriting: Bidding War

February 7th, 2013 by

If you traffic in the realm of spec scripts, this pairing of words is your wet dream: Bidding. War. Technically it’s when two or more buyers make offers on your script. When that happens, for those brief, hectic hours, your story becomes the story in Hollywood’s movie development universe.

I can’t swear to this, but since the era of so-called ‘stupid money’ in the mid-90s when studios were flinging money at hot spec scripts, I think it’s safe to say that there are fewer bidding wars now than in the past. However they do still happen. Here are three from last year:

Black Box [September 13, 2012], written by David Guggenheim. Price: High-six. From THR:

The script went in Wednesday to all the studios and quickly drew bids from every major studio except Disney. The all-day bidding war came down to DreamWorks, Warner Bros. (with Bradley Cooper attached to star and produce via his 22nd & Indiana banner) and Universal (which produced Guggenheim’s Safe House).

Glimmer [June 6, 2012], written by Carter Blanchard. Price: Mid-six / High-six. From THR:

The bidding came down to DreamWorks and Paramount, with DreamWorks closing a deal a progress to production term.

White House Down [March 29, 2012], written by James Vanderbilt. Price: $3M. From Variety:

In what amounts to the biggest spec deal of the year, Sony Pictures has closed a $3 million deal to acquire “White House Down,” an action spec from “Amazing Spider-Man” scribe James Vanderbilt that had studios buzzing this week.

Heated bidding came down to Sony and Paramount.

How do bidding wars happen, especially considering that at times it seems virtually impossible to get just one of them remotely interested in acquiring anything, let alone multiple studios vying over a single project?

As far as I can tell, it’s an harmonic convergence of timing, luck and most of all the script, most often, one with a really strong high concept and in the wheelhouse of the major studios’ favorite genres: Action, Comedy, Science Fiction, Thriller.

But to get to those magic two words — Bidding. War. — you’ve got to create something with another two words: Killer. Script.

You stumble on a decent idea for a spec script? Okay. Now come up with a good one. Better yet, find a great one.

Next create a cast of lead characters whose narrative destinies are expansive and compelling enough to sustain a major studio movie.

You know the rest: Write your ass off, make that script the absolute best story you can.

The timing and luck of a bidding war, you have no control over those. For that, you rely on your reps and the spec script gods. But you do have control over what you write.

Bidding. War.

Killer. Script.

Now go write one.

FYI: Look for exclusive interviews with Carter Blanchard and David Guggenheim here on the blog in the weeks to come.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

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