The State of the Indie Film Business

September 9th, 2016 by

While the trades and newspapers trot out their respective Summer 2016 obituaries:

Measuring the fallout from a summer full of box-office flops
By The Numbers: Was 2016 The Worst Summer For Movies
Only One Studio Escaped the Summer of Box Office Flops
Summer Box-Office Wrap: Why Hollywood’s on Red Alert Despite Near-Record Revenue
The summer of our discontent: When franchise overload killed movie originality
Hollywood’s Summertime Bombs Got a Lot More Disastrous This Year
Why Hollywood’s summer sequel slump won’t lead to change
The Summer Sequel Slump Is Nothing New – and It Won’t Change a Damn Thing

What about the indie film market? Earlier this week, Variety featured a Q&A with CAA agents Micah Green and Roeg Sutherland on the state of the specialty film world.

You say there has never been a better time for independent films. How is that possible?

Green: The business for filmmakers is more complex than it’s ever been. There are far more outlets for distribution than there have been, but the outlets are all different. It makes the process of figuring out how to get movies released more challenging than it used to be. That doesn’t mean fewer films are being released; in fact, far more movies are being released. Similarly, with financing, there used to be a handful of places to go to finance legitimate theatrical films. The consequence of the work we’re doing is that far more movies are getting made, far more movies are getting released, and a lot of people are making money.

Sutherland: A lot of it has to be with new platforms. I’m thinking of one we sold at Cannes [Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” to Amazon Studios]. Four or five years ago, that was the kind of movie we would push through production, and hopefully sell it off footage or the completed film. Now the market is robust enough that movies like that can be pre-sold at the script stage, which allows financiers to feel more confident taking a bigger risk.

Is it really just Netflix and Amazon that have upended the business?

Green: Certainly, Netflix and Amazon are interesting outlets for movies. Alongside them have come a number of well-capitalized conventional distributors, from A24 to Bleecker Street, as well as the studios themselves having renewed interest in high-end dramatic films. You see everyone from New Regency to Sony to Paramount fiercely competing.

American Honey (A24)

How do you reconcile the picture you’re painting with weak box office numbers for some festival darlings?

Green: We don’t buy for a second this argument that adult dramas don’t work. What works today across culture is that quality matters. Things that are not of high quality have a very hard time. The public is much more connected, thanks to social media. If you are trying to sell something that isn’t legitimately strong, people will find out quickly and lose interest. So oftentimes you hear people bemoaning how weak the market is. But what’s really happening is that they’re suffering. They’re having a hard time having success with a movie that isn’t being embraced.

Sutherland: You can’t buy a weekend anymore. By Friday night, if a movie isn’t good, the public knows it.

So you think in terms of box office, independent film is still strong?

Green: Actually, I would say what’s happening right now in terms of box office … it’s one of the best times it’s ever been for independently created film. Does that mean a rising tide lifts all boats? I don’t think the movie business has ever worked that way. Last year, movies like “Sicario” and “Brooklyn” were the ones that popped.

Yes, Green and Sutherland are agents, thus, in the selling business, however it is impossible to discount the presence and impact of Netflix, Amazon, A24, Open Road, Annapurna Pictures, Bleecker Street and other production entities who are investing in indie movies. Netflix and Amazon alone have reconfigured business in this space due to their deep pockets and voracious appetite for content.

So while the competition is still fierce, we are far away from when I first started this blog 8 years ago, a dark period with industry insiders lamenting the end of adult drama specifically and indie films in general due to the collapse of foreign pre-sales and the DVD market. If as Sutherland says of the movie “You Were Never Really Here” which pre-sold at the script stage, things are definitely looking up.

For the rest of the article, go here.

Hollywood’s Business Mantra: “Similar but different”

August 18th, 2016 by

Sequels. Prequels. Remakes. Reboots. Why do Hollywood studios choose to go this route with such familiar material? Why not fill their development slates with bold projects full of fresh ideas and innovative stories?

That would run entirely counter to the working ethos which informs the studio system decision-making process, a business mantra that can best be summed up in this manner: What they are inclined to buy, develop, and produce are projects, including screenplays, that are similar but different.

Again the question: Why? There are many reasons. Here are the biggest two.

The increasing importance of marketing: The simple fact is after the acquisition of a project, years of rewrites, talent falling in and out, battles over budget, months of pre-production, production, post-production, none of it matters one whit unless the studios can sell the movie. And in an increasingly noisy world with consumers bombarded by advertisers on all sides, a studio’s task of getting the message out about a movie has become harder and harder.

If the movie’s concept or storyline has a familiar ring to it, so the marketing theory goes, it’s more likely to connect with consumers. And if a consumer remembers some aspect of a movie’s ad campaign, the odds increase exponentially they will be motivated to get off their fanny, drive to the local Cineplex, and actually buy a movie ticket.

Think of the sport of stock car racing. A competitor can position themselves after the leader and benefit from reduced air resistance by taking advantage of the slipstream. Likewise if a studio can position a movie similar to a preexisting property – (e.g., movie, TV series, book, graphic novel), the movie can reduce the amount of ‘drag’ in the marketplace because consumers will already have some awareness of the title.

Hence the value of similar. The different component should be obvious: the story can’t be exactly the same as the preexisting title, it has to be spun enough to make the consumer think they’ll be viewing something… well… different.

So from a purely marketing standpoint, similar but different is supposed to make selling the movie easier and more effective. That’s the first reason. The other reason lies at the heart of the studios’ decision-making process regarding movie deals:

Fear of making a mistake: Studio executives are afraid to commit to projects because if a movie they’re associated with bombs, it doesn’t bode well for their careers. This is especially true with the current climate where the major Hollywood studios are all part of major corporate conglomerates which means pretty much everything boils down to profits.

Flops make bad things happen.

The 1981 historical epic Heaven’s Gate, subject to massive cost overruns, essentially killed United Artists. The 1987 comedy Ishtar was perceived as being such a bomb, it led to Coca Cola selling Columbia Pictures to Sony.

And a studio exec’s fear is not only based on the prospect of giving a green light to a project that flops; they also have to be worried about passing on a project that turns out to be a big hit elsewhere such as the case of the Twilight movie series to which Paramount once had the rights, but let slip away to Summit Entertainment. That’s over $500 million in box office receipts Paramount could have included in their revenues, but did not because their execs decided to pass on it.

Big budgets. Pressure if they say yes and a movie tanks. Pressure if they say no and a project does well elsewhere. All of that translates into a subtext of fear. And that translates into yet another reason why similar but different rules the roost in Hollywood today. If a studio green lights a body-switch project that is similar but different to a movie that was successful, they have a built-in excuse: “Hey, their body-switch movie was a hit.”

This should put a personal spin on why Hollywood puts out so many sequels, remakes, and film adaptations of TV shows. Even if they fail (Cats & Dogs II, The A-Team), studio execs can defend themselves because there are equally, if not more, hits based on similar but different content (Iron Man 2, The Karate Kid, Star Trek).

The thing is similar but different doesn’t just pertain to movies based on preexisting content. It also comes into play in the spec script and pitch market. And this is where this state of things can turn in a screenwriter’s favor.

First of all, no one in Hollywood is expecting a writer to come up with a completely new, wholly fresh story concept. One reason we’ve hit on already: Hollywood doesn’t actually want that type of thing because it’s too risky, not similar enough to existing movie titles. The other reason is this: There are no new ideas. Writers know this:

“Every writer has certain subjects that they write about again and again. Most people’s books are just variations on certain themes.” – Christopher Isherwood

“I think one writes and rewrites the same book.I lead a character from book to book, I continue along with the same ideas. Only the angle of vision, the method, the lighting change.” – Truman Capote

“Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves – that’s the truth.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

So the burden of generating a heretofore unseen, unknown and untouched story is removed from our shoulders.

Second, because everyone in Hollywood knows there is nothing new under the sun combined with the fact that the suits embrace the very concept of similar but different, that translates into this:

We can recycle ideas.

I have run a series of blog posts called Movie Story Types, which is archived here, featuring story arenas like The [Blank] From Hell, Contained Thriller, Mistaken Identity, Road Picture and dozens more. Looking for a story concept? There is no reason you can’t dig into one of the story types, research a bunch of existing titles, then spin them in a unique way. Gender bend. Genre bend. Geo bend. Mix and match.

If you think this is cheating, think again: Hollywood has been recycling stories since before there was a Hollywood!

Moreover here is where I get the chance to trot out one of my favorite anecdotes on the subject. The great American songsmith Woody Guthrie is said to have written over 4,000 songs. He was asked how he was able to come up with so many tunes. His answer [paraphrased]: “Well, I take a melody I like, give it a twist here, a twist there, and I make it my own.”

I make it my own.

That is what you can do when recycling story ideas: Spin it a different way, dig into the characters to surface what is unique about them, and make the story our own.

Gravity is Apollo 13… but different.

Prisoners is Se7en… but different.

Last Vegas is The Hangover… but different.

So see what I did there? I started off exploring what is seemingly the depressing reality which is similar but different, examined why that business ethos is as locked in as it is, uncovered some positives for writers, then charted a path through it enabling us to work within its confines while still exploring our own creativity and unique voice.

Or something like that.

Anyhow similar but different is here and won’t change anytime soon. It’s a fact of Hollywood life. As writers we can fight it, condone it, or embrace it.

The choice is yours.

[Originally posted November 14, 2013]

Video: “10 Biggest Problems With EVERY Blockbuster Movie”

June 20th, 2016 by

This Screen Rant video hit last week and lays out 10 critiques of blockbuster movies:

Here is the list of problems cited in the video:

1. Fake-Out Deaths
2. Trailers Spoiling Movies
3. Final Installments Broken Up
4. Money Grabbing Sequels
5. Overreliance on CGI
6. Generic Villains
7. Lack of Diversity
8. Women as Eye Candy
9. Dark, Realistic Blockbusters
10. Subplots That Set Up Sequels

I recently led a one-hour discussion on storytelling in the digital age and in talking with members of the audience afterward, specifically about big franchise movies, several of these items came up in conversation.

There is one influence tying together all ten of these dynamics: The push for profits. 2,3,4,5, and 10 are absolutely studio directives to feed franchise requirements, and one could argue 9 is tied to the same mentality because after The Dark Knight, studios came to believe that superhero movies by default had to be dark, that’s what audiences wanted.

1 is simply an attempt to throw a curveball at the audience. It may have worked in Star Trek, but we’ve seen this so many times now, it’s worn out its welcome.

6,7, and 8 reflect lazy thinking, but as noted in the video, there are signs the studios are slowly coming around on all fronts.

But as far as I’m concerned, here is the biggest issue confronting these movies: Stakes. How many times can the Earth’s fate be at stake? After seeing so many movies where this is what lies at the heart of the plot, aren’t the studios risking audiences eventually giving a collective shrug?

That’s why in the past, I’ve argued they go smaller in terms of stakes. Make us care about the characters in this town or this family. What they know or who they represent can be of some more expansive stakes, but if the story creates a connection between me, the moviegoer, and this specific set of people and their distinct, relatable lives, I am much more likely to be emotionally invested in the narrative than yet another “Oh, my God, the world is in danger of being destroyed” plot.

What do you think? Which of the 10 problems with blockbusters bother you the most?

For more Screen Rant videos, go here.

“Does Hollywood Have a Sequel Problem?”

June 6th, 2016 by

From Variety yesterday:

“Sequelitis,” the entertainment industry equivalent of the Zika virus, has gripped major studios. Its symptoms include sluggish box office, feverish critical take downs and disdainful social media reactions.

At least, that’s what analysts and executives are telling themselves after “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadowsbecame the latest sequel to disappoint. It follows a long line of follow-ups and spinoffs that flopped or failed to live up to their predecessors — a group of underachievers that includes “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass”  and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.”

Why would a downturn in the sequel business be a problem?

Franchises are the straw that stirs a studio’s drink. As the domestic theatrical business slows, the one area of growth is the foreign box office. To that end, sequels tend to travel, playing particularly well in markets such as China that have become a critical source of revenue.

Franchise films also lead to greater merchandising opportunities. Characters from sequels are more likely to pop up in ads for cars or fast food. They’re the inspiration for toy lines, t-shirts and theme park rides. Studios are small parts of sprawling media conglomerates. Their value isn’t measured in box office. They exist to create intellectual property that can pollinate the consumer products, television and other divisions of the Comcasts and Time Warners of the world.

To put things in historical perspective, if a studio were to consider greenlighting a sequel in the decade of the 80s, they would have done so with the expectation that the movie would generate at least 60% of the original. Over the last decade, that number has changed in a big way in that studios now look to sequels to make more — sometimes significantly so — than the original. As I noted in this post — Hollywood’s New Four Quadrant Movie Model — the Fast and Furious franchise went from the original movie grossing $207M in worldwide box office revenues to Furious 7, the 6th sequel, generating $1.5B — that’s billion — dollars.

Clearly if audiences were to spurn sequels, which feed Hollywood’s addiction to franchises, that would create a messy withdrawal experience for the industry. But is there any evidence of a downturn? From the Variety article:

Sequels that have outperformed previous film(s), since January 2015:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jurassic World
Captain America: Civil War
Furious 7
Pitch Perfect 2
Hotel Transylvania 2
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Mad Max: Fury Road

Sequels that fell short:

X-Men: Apocalypse
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Kung Fu Panda 3
The Divergent films
The Hunger Games films
London Has Fallen
Magic Mike XXL
Zoolander 2
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
God’s Not Dead 2
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Barbershop: The Next Cut
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Ride Along 2
Ted 2
The Woman in Black 2
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Insidious: Chapter 3
Sinister 2
Taken 3
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

There’s nothing determinative here and there have been breathless trade headlines in the recent past whenever a sequel opens poorly just as the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle offering has done this weekend. However you can be sure whenever a sequel underperforms, sphincters tighten just a bit in executive office chairs from Burbank to Culver City.

For the Variety article, go here.

For more on this subject, here is a Hollywood Reporter article from yesterday: Hollywood’s New Problem: Sequels Moviegoers Don’t Want.

Gender as Represented in Spec Script Deals: 1991-2015

April 13th, 2016 by

In 2013, I posted some analysis of spec script deals from 1991-2012:

Recently we have seen quite a few studies and analysis pointing out gender inequity in the entertainment business including independent films, television, even the theater. Now we can add spec scripts to the mix.

The post included an infographic of spec script deals by gender from 1991-2012, based on the database of deals aggregated and archived on this site here.

The numbers showed that during the last two decades, only 1 out of 8 spec scripts that sold were written by a woman. We have updated the numbers to include 2014 and 2015 results and here is a revised infographic:

2015 Gender and Specs

In 2014 of the 78 writers who were involved with reported spec script deals, 12 of them were women (15%).

In 2015 of the 69 writers, 10 of them were women (14%).

Thus the questions persist: What is the deal here? Does this mean there are fewer women interested in screenwriting? For example, only 28.6% of applicants for the 2013 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting (my most recent information) were women, but female writers involved in only one out of eight spec script sales translates to 13%.

Given the consistency of that percentage over the years (13-14%), clearly we are looking at a systemic issue.

The Black List is trying to do something about this inequity. For example in October, I participated as a mentor in a Black List Screenwriting Mini-Lab in New York City in association with the Athena Film Festival. There I and three other mentors worked with four women writers on their feature script projects. In addition, a Women In Film/The Black List Episodic Lab was recently announced, an eight week program beginning in August 2016 with eight women writers to be selected.

There’s much to be done. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Note: It is impossible to track every single spec spec transaction. The numbers here are based on the best information available.

For a PDF of the infographic, click here.

The New Hollywood Movie Thing: “Requels”

March 31st, 2016 by

It’s 1989. My writing partner and I are meeting with director Joel Schumacher about a sequel to the movie The Lost Boys, a surprise hit which he directed. As I sit listening to his ideas, I am thinking, “This isn’t a sequel. It’s a remake.” With one difference: There are girl vampires.

Assured that Warner Bros. has signed off on Schumacher’s take, we go off and write the script. It’s an awfully lot like the original — but with GIRL VAMPIRES! — yet the message we keep getting from Herr Director: It’s okay.

These are vampires… but they are GUYS!

When we turn in the script, it’s not okay. The big note? “This feels more like a remake than a sequel.”

Guess who throws the writers under the bus? “I don’t know what they were doing. Those ideas never came from me.”

And so another casualty of Development Hell.

But here’s the thing: Turns out we were about 25 years too early. Because what we were writing was a requel.

What the hell is a requel? Thanks to an article in yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, we now know:

Hollywood’s done the remakes, reboots, prequels and three­quels. The latest obsession: the “requel,” a movie that’s both a reboot and a sequel, blending old with new in an effort to extend the life of a franchise and, in the best cases, reinvent it for a “universe” of follow-up movies.

That’s precisely what our version of The Lost Boys 2 was: A reboot and a sequel, blending old with new — WITH GIRL VAMPIRES!

God knows, we would have been heroes with that script in today’s world!

More from THR:

When it works, it’s a potent combo. During the March 25-27 weekend, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — a reboot of the Batman franchise in the post-Dark Knight era that’s also a sequel to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel Superman movie — debuted to a March record $166.1 million in North America and $422.6 million globally, making it the No. 1 superhero launch to date.


Unlike BvS, most “requels” revive franchises that have been dormant for years, if not decades. Steven Spielberg struggled for years to bring Jurassic Park back from extinction but couldn’t find a way in. Finally, Spielberg, producer Frank Marshall and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow embraced the 1993 original and returned the action to the fictional Isla Nublar with new dinosaurs and stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Jurassic World roared to $1.67 billion globally.

Six months later, an even bigger requel arrived in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams’ love letter to 1977’s Star Wars that shrewdly paired new actors with original stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The Disney/Lucasfilm movie has earned a mammoth $2.06 billion globally and, more importantly, set the course for a series of follow-ups and spinoff movies. “With Star Wars or any project that revisits a world or characters that are known and beloved, it’s essential to remember and honor what made the original resonate with people in the first place — otherwise you wouldn’t be going back — but it’s equally important that you bring something fresh and relevant,” says Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. “There has to be a way in for today’s audience.”

The emergence of the requel is nostalgia — one part of the New Four-Quadrant Movie Model — meets the fear of greenlighting movies to the max. It is ‘similar but different’ with the axis tilted far toward similar. Similar as in ‘Safe’.

And audiences seem to be eating it up.

Which means this is your immediate future, movie fans: Requels. Who knows? Maybe you have The Lost Boys 2 — WITH GIRL VAMPIRES! — to blame.

For more of the Hollywood Reporter article, go here.

Hollywood’s New Four-Quadrant Movie Model

March 22nd, 2016 by

This per Wikipedia:

In the movie industry, a four-quadrant movie is one which appeals to all four major demographic “quadrants” of the moviegoing audience: both male and female, and both over- and under-25s. Films are generally aimed at at least two such quadrants, and most tent-pole films are four-quadrant movies.

Male. Female. Adult. Children. Been around for quite a while. However it seems to me that’s the old four-quadrant approach, one that’s being replaced at the major Hollywood studio level by a new model comprised of these elements:

Spectacle. International. Franchise. Nostalgia.

Let’s consider the emergence of each.

Spectacle: Hollywood has always had a fascination with big, bold, brash movies. Consider the 1923 silent movie The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille, story by Jeanie Macpherson:

Walls of fire! The parting of the Red Sea! DeMille was the king of spectacle movies and for decades the major studios of Hollywood have relied on this type of entertainment to make a big splash in movie theaters.

Two things. First, it used to be the studios would only make a few spectacle movies per year. Why? Because they are expensive to produced. The rest of their slate typically would be comprised of a range of other movie genres and budgets to feed into their distribution system. That’s all changed. Consider Walt Disney Pictures. As reported in a recent Forbes article:

They have three animated films (ZootopiaFinding Dory, and Moana), two Marvel movies (Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange), three “animated classic made into live-action fantasy” offerings (The Jungle BookAlice Through the Looking Glass, and Pete’s Dragon), a Steven Spielberg-directed Raul Dahl fantasy (The B.F.G.) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Most of the 13 movies in Disney’s 2016 release slate rely heavily on mammoth stunning visuals which raises the second point: With the development of digital technologies and computer generated imagery, the spectacle of today is more spectacular than ever. Consider the trailer for the upcoming Paramount / MGM remake of the classic movie Ben-Hur:

Compared to the trailer of the 1925 original, it’s easy to see just how far the capability to create amazing visuals in production and post-production has led to a flood of big budget Hollywood movies awash in spectacle.

Of course, the major studios wouldn’t be making spectacle movies unless they had an audience. And boy, do they in large part due to the second corner of the New Four-Quadrant Movie Model.

International: When I first broke into the business in the 80s, people used to refer to box office revenues outside North America as the “foreign market”. A rather dismissive term, but perhaps explicable seeing as domestic revenues comprised 70% compared to 30% from overseas theaters and ancillary streams.

Now it’s completely the opposite: What we now call the international market is responsible for 70% of box office revenues, a number which figures to continue going higher with China’s rapid expansion as a movie-going nation along with growth in other countries.

What this means is no major Hollywood movie gets greenlit without due consideration of how it’s going to play in countries outside of the U.S. and Canada. That means story, setting, a reliance of visual storytelling, even casting.

Let’s consider one movie as an example:

The cast features 3 characters from the U.S., 1 from the U.K., 1 from Japan, and 1 from the Middle East, and a plot that takes the story all around the world, each of which widens the movie’s appeal for international audiences.

Speaking of China, everything points to it becoming a touchstone for major Hollywood movies as it was in The Martian which featured a significant subplot in which the Chinese National Space Administration emerge as part of the heroic rescue effort. To date the movie has grossed $628M in total box office revenues, $400M of which has come from the international market and fully $95M – nearly a quarter of the money generated outside North America – from China.

The conventional wisdom nowadays is that big spectacle movies translate well in international markets in part because they are less reliant on dialogue and more on visual storytelling, the more eye-popping and mouth-gaping, the better. Moreover these type of movies are what Hollywood – and Hollywood alone – has the resources and expertise to develop, produce, market, and distribute. “Big Hollywood movie” seems to translate into any language around the world.

Franchise: One thing about big spectacle movies aimed at huge markets, both domestic and international, is they cost a lot to make. What used to be an unthinkable amount of money for a movie, say, $100M production budget, is now at the low end of major Hollywood studio releases. We are talking movies with budgets of $200-250M even before marketing costs.

With those type of costs come significant risks and there have already been some big budget box office misfires released in the first quarter of 2016, Gods of Egypt a notable example. This risk has led to Hollywood’s third corner of the New Four-Quadrant Movie Model: Franchise.

Hearkening back once again to the 80s when I first entered the movie business, the financial model was a studio would only consider greenlighting a sequel if it could be projected to make back 50% or more of the original. In other words, it was assumed sequels would generate less revenue than the original.

Cut to 2001 with the movie The Fast and the Furious. Total worldwide B.O.: $207M.

In 2003, the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious: Total B.O.: $236M.

In 2006, the next sequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift didn’t do nearly as well: $158M. But look at what’s happened since:

Fast and Furious (2009): $363M.

Fast Five (2011): $626M.

Fast and Furious 6 (2013): $789M.

Furious 7 (2015): $1.5B.

By the way, the international chunk of the Furious 7 haul in theatrical revenues was $1.16B, three times the amount of domestic box office.

Is it any wonder Universal has sequels 8, 9, and 10 already on their release slate? Every 2 years, they can point to a FF sequel and feel pretty damned confident they are going to make a killing. Hence the value for a studio to have several franchises on their development slate.

So the other day when it was announced that Netflix had ponied up $90M for Bright, a package that included David Ayer (director), Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (actors), and a Max Landis spec script for which they paid $3M, there was this note in Deadline:

Though it will be R-rated, Bright is much closer to Men in Black‘s commercial qualities and VFX than anything Netflix has done before, and it is meant to launch a franchise [emphasis added].

All of those remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels we see every summer and Christmas holiday season? That represents Hollywood addiction to franchises – and that is going away no time soon.

Nostalgia: The top two movies in domestic box office in 2015 were Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Both movies are awash in nostalgia.

In SW:TFA, we thrilled to see our old friends — R2D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and [spoiler alert] You Know Who at the very end.

In JW, there was a kind of meta-nostalgia at work since the characters were revisiting the old haunts, the audience got to experience what they experienced, but also revisit what we had felt when we saw the original Jurassic Park. This is driven home no more clearly than by comparing these two scenes:

In Jurassic Park, the famous ‘Spielberg stare’ features the characters gawking in amazement at their initial glimpse of the dinosaursIn Jurassic World, we see the same stare only it’s people astonished at seeing the park for the first time. In a way the characters are like us as we revisit our first trip to the movie Jurassic Park. And that tips off one nostalgic bit of business after another… after another… after another in JW.

Thus we have articles like this:

‘Creed,’ ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and the Rise of the Nostalgia Sequel.

‘Star Wars’ Premieres in Hollywood to Wild Cheers of Nostalgia, Delight.

Reboots Have Come To Television: Welcome To Nostalgic Revivalist TV.

I should note that if the nostalgia craze is driven by audiences wishing to relive moments from their past, it also can work with the old four-quadrant model: Adults who get to see movies like Star Wars and Creed, recalling films from their youth, along with children and teenagers.

One final point: Since nostalgia movies are based on preexisting material, this also plays into Hollywood’s obsession with pre-branded content, another piece of conventional wisdom about maximizing profit and avoiding risks.

So there you have it, the New Four Quadrant Movie Model: Spectacle. International. Franchise. Nostalgia. Frankly, I think it’s transcended the old model, at least insofar as the major Hollywood studios are concerned.

But all things must change and with the success of Deadpool, perhaps Hollywood is on the verge of a new New Four Quadrant Movie Model featuring this element: R-Rated Superhero Movies.

Takeaway: As writers, if you want to work in the mainstream commercial tentpole space, you have to be cognizant of these four narrative elements because that’s what they are: Dynamics you will want to exploit in your story. If, you prefer dramas, comedies, horror, thrillers, and indie films, fortunately there are production companies and financiers eager to procure and make these type of movies to fill in multiple niches the major Hollywood studios overlook in their rush to big profits via big budget movies.

That said, no matter what type of stories we choose to write, we can use these four quadrants as reminders:

Spectacle: Movies are primarily a visual medium.

International: Expand your consciousness as to who your audience can be.

Franchise: If your story opens itself up to sequels, great.

Nostalgia: Don’t forget that audiences want to feel something when they watch a movie.

I welcome your thoughts in comments.

Help send two female directors to Sundance 2016

September 29th, 2015 by

Cassian Elwes. Lynette Howell. Christine Vachon. Three producers who have a pronounced effect on the independent movie culture. Their producing credits include All Is Lost, Big Eyes, Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Dallas Buyers Club among many other notable titles.

For the second year in a row, they are promoting the Horizon Award:

What is the HORIZON AWARD? 

This award is part of the solution to a not just a growing problem in filmmaking today, but rather a systemic breakdown in who is being afforded the opportunity to get behind the camera. This year 2nd Annual Horizon Award will be given to  2 female directors who will receive an all expenses paid trip to the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where they will meet with producers, filmmakers, festival programmers and others in the film industry to help put them at the head of the line as for too long they have been forced to stand in the back. In addition to the trip and introductions, the winners will also each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Why two women directors?

Gender Disparity in Filmmaking The simple fact is that there are not enough female directors in the film industry. A 2012 report published by Women In Film and the Sundance institute showed that of the the top 250 domestic grossing movies worldwide in 2012, women comprised only 9% of directors.

More recently, a  2015 Study was published and showed that of the top 100 domestic grossing movies in 2014, only 1.9% had a female director. The purpose of the horizon award is to confront this discrepancy by giving a female college student or recent graduate the opportunity to have their work seen by some of Hollywood’s most influential directors and producers and raise the profile of female filmmakers.

What We Need By donating, you are contributing to an important effort to provide opportunities for highly talented young female directors looking to succeed in the film industry. To make this possible, we need to raise $20,000 to provide travel, accommodation and other expenses for the winner. Cassian Elwes will personally match the last $5,000 donated towards the award. Any money above $20,000 that the campaign makes will a) help fund future horizon awards to make it an annual opportunity, and b) establish partnerships to create more opportunities for female film making.

One thing I have been about at Go Into The Story since Day One is to support more and different movies created by more and different filmmakers. We cannot control the major Hollywood studios and their obsession with remakes, reboots, and sequels. What we can do is support efforts to engender greater diversity among writers and directors in the hopes they will create distinctive stories which both entertain and speak to the human condition.

To support the Horizon Award 2016 like I have, you may visit their Indiegogo site here.

Story is the foundation of everything

September 4th, 2015 by

As we ‘celebrate’ Force Friday, where consumers are in a frenzy snapping up new Star Wars toys, it’s good to remember that it all starts with story. It’s no surprise that Disney – which owns Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilms – understands this. Check out Walt Disney’s organizational chart back from the days Walt himself headed up the company:

Notably missing from the chart is a big fat circle named MERCHANDISE. Nobody knows merchandise better than Disney and in one way of thinking, Star Wars is not so much a movie franchise, as a toy franchise.

Takeaway: Stories are intellectual properties which can literally reap billions of dollars of revenues for corporations like Disney. And if story is the foundation for everything, as evidenced by its pole position in Walt’s chart, that means storytellers are a critical piece of the puzzle. So when you see this:

Remember… that piece of merchandise was created by a writer and their words.

HT to Deborah Kawaguchi for sending this tweet my way.

Case Study: Female Driven Comedy

August 26th, 2015 by

Over at the Black List, among the titles the super bright Terry Huang has is Director of Data, and his latest post features some interesting… well… data.

I’ve been recently providing data to a screenwriter to help her pitch her new female-driven comedy and thought it would make an interesting case study. Basically, she’s going out to financiers to ask for money to direct and wanted help to make a financial case to back the film.

Here are two interesting charts of data Terry uncovered:

We were looking specifically at female driven comedies, so I wanted to look at what someone could expect to get for financing such a film.

This chart shows male versus female comedy budgets year over year.

Female = blue, Male = red

Female led comedies get far less money for production. The median budget for female led comedy is around $20 million. For reference, the median male comedies are given about $7 million more each year.

So I sort of knew how much a female comedy was historically financed at, but how did it the return compare to male driven comedies? Did male driven comedies warrant the higher production budgets based on their theatrical grosses?

The answer was not really.

If you look at the gross for male versus female, you find that even given substantially lower budgets, female performs in line with male comedy and sometimes outperforms.

Female = blue, Male = red

When you look at the median film for female comedies, it more often than not returns higher than the median male driven comedy (7 out of 11 years shown), even though if you look at the chart above the median male comedy gets again about $7 million more in production budget (as stated previously).

Terry’s conclusions:

So I went into it trying to figure out a way to make a case for the female driven comedy and it wasn’t that hard. It turned out that female driven comedy more often returns its budget.

It seems then that studios are probably overspending on male content and underspending on female content given the grosses. They should probably be more selective about the dollars they give out to male led movies and a little more generous to female led content.

Charlton Heston once said, “The problem with movies as art is they are commerce.” At the end of the day, someone has to pony up the cash to get a movie made. Hopefully armed with information like that which Terry has surfaced, writers and directors who are promoting a worthy female driven comedy will find more receptive financiers.

For the rest of Terry’s post, go here.