Writers, a friendly reminder: Movies are a BUSINESS!

February 22nd, 2013 by

We sit in our offices or studies. Coffee shops or diners. Tapping away on our keyboards. Trying our best to wrangle magic. It’s what we do. Writers. Making something out of nothing.

But here’s the deal. Hollywood doesn’t just buy something

Hollywood buys great things. Commercial things. Profitable things.


Because movies are a business.

Need a reminder? Check out this year-end review of the major studios reported profits from 2012 courtesy of THR:

Big international box office, Netflix licensing deals and growing TV production arms helped the filmed entertainment divisions of the six big Hollywood conglomerates post more than $3.5 billion in operating profits in 2012. But that was no match for the year before.

Theatrical performance was mixed — as always. And while home entertainment stopped declining, it didn’t provide a big boost. Overall, the studio units of all sector biggies except for Comcast’s NBCUniversal recorded profit declines for 2012.

That is the economic environment in which your spec scripts will be assessed in 2013. Profits were down last year. Therefore the bar has been raised. For a script to sell this year, it has to be that much better, that much more commercially viable, that much more obvious to buyers.

So if you’re considering a possible story concept and you say, “That’s decent”…

Not good enough.

If you’re looking at an action scene you wrote and you say, “That’s pretty good”…

Not good enough.

If you’re judging the effectiveness of a character and you say, “She’s okay”…

Not good enough.

You have to bring your A-game to every story concept, every scene, every line of your screenplay. Because as much as you’d like to believe Hollywood is assaying your story from an aesthetic standpoint, while there is some truth to that, the more important reality is this:

Movies are a BUSINESS!

What you present in terms of a spec script, everything from story concept to characters, structure to execution has to ring their bells and make the buyers believe they can make money on your project.


They won’t buy it.

It’s as simple as that.

This has been a public service announcement from Movies Are A Commodity And Don’t You Forget It.

Or as has been attributed to Charlton Heston: “The problem with movies as art is they are commerce.”

2 thoughts on “Writers, a friendly reminder: Movies are a BUSINESS!

  1. “Some pictures play wonderfully to a room of eight people. I don’t go for that. I go for the masses. I go for the end effect.” –Billy Wilder, per: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm0000697/quotes

    1. Scott says:

      Traci, great quote. At one end of the spectrum are what they call “popcorn movies,” big films with a wide audience, the kind of crowd that shows up for an event movie and overpriced popcorn. But even if you’re writing a smaller movie — and that goes for indie fare as well — you have to be mindful of these questions:

      * Who is your target audience?
      * Is your story a movie they will WANT to see?
      * Will this story compel a consumer to drag their ass off the Barcolounger and drive down to the local multiplex to see it?

      In other words: “Is this a movie?” By that, I don’t mean something you can go out and shoot. I’m talking about a MOVIE, a commodity a buyer will buy, produce, distribute and market that ends up generating revenue?

      I don’t know of any professional screenwriter who can’t look at the scripts they write through that lens.

      It’s one of the first tests I go through when assessing a potential story concept: its commercial viability. Because believe me, that IS the first test buyers put it through.

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