Note: To understand this post, you need to go back and read last week’s entry here.
After we sell the spec script K-9, we are ushered around town for meetings. This is what happens when you are the ‘flavor-of-the-week’ as producers and studio execs want to meet new writers. My sense of that dynamic is that while most are honestly interested to see if there is any creative synergy between themselves and tyro scribes which could translate into a possible project, the bottom line is it’s important for appearance sake to keep up with everyone else in the acquisition and development side of things sniffing out the fresh meat. Oh, yeah, those guys? Met them last week.
So we take countless meetings and there are a few common themes to each one. First, while some get-togethers are in their offices, most are lunches. This, as it turns out, is because our agents have said, “The guys like to eat.” Perhaps I have ‘starving artist’ written all over my up until then starving artist face. Second, they all ask this question: What are you working on next? This underscores the importance of generating several good story concepts to have in reserve for possible pitches once you do sell a spec script (more on that subject down the road).
“Look, Nick, I’m not gonna bull shit you.
I don’t know you. I don’t know your work.
But I think you’re a very, very talented young man.”
The Big Picture (1989)
The third theme is an odd one and takes place almost immediately upon our introductions. “So,” they say with a hint of a smile, “I hear you guys are real Americans.” This is another bit of information our agents have passed along about us. We’re not your typical film school grads. We’re not sons and daughters of established movie people. We didn’t grow up in the 405-10-110-101 bubble. We are outsiders and presumably representative of how people in the flyover states think.
As a result the “they don’t think like you” meme gets turned on its head: Instead of us [writers] thinking it [“they don’t think like you”] about them [studio execs, producers, agents, talent], it’s them thinking it about us. There are plenty of things Hollywood insiders can pull off, many of them remarkable, but unless they have strayed from the boundaries of west L.A., they can only approximate what it’s like to grow up in North Dakota, Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana, Virginia, and the San Joaquin Valley in California, which as it turns out, I did.
Hollywood can make movies to please audiences they understand really well like Los Angeles and New York, but they can’t sustain a business with such a limited marketplace. They need to make movies that will play with ‘real’ Americans. Generally the studios and TV networks do a pretty good job imagining what type of entertainment will appeal to the masses, but they also get blindsided often enough by the success of movies like The Blind Side, written and directed by Texas native John Lee Hancock, to know there are cultural dynamics going on ‘out there’ a writer born and raised in 90210-land will likely never be able to conjure up, let alone nail.
So for all of you who live outside the Hollywood bubble, there is hope. The film and TV business needs writers who have different backgrounds, especially if they can translate them into unique stories and a distinctive voice, to create movies and TV series that connect with the masses of people who do not live in L.A. and work in the entertainment business.
By the way, this is increasingly true about filmmakers who come from international markets because over 70% of a Hollywood movie’s revenues derive from outside the U.S. and Canada.
Takeaway: While it is important for outsiders to understand and track Hollywood business trends, don’t become a generic product. Take what you have and who you are, the sum of your life experiences, and bring that to bear in your writing. Hollywood is looking for writers who don’t think like them.
The Business of Screenwriting is a 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.