We all have great ideas we think will make great films or TV shows. And maybe they will. But the greatest impediment a project needs to overcome is not only great stories well told, but projects that inspire action from people involved at each stage of the process.
Key to success is knowing that at each stage, people will value different aspects of your project. Sometimes quite radically. And sometimes in ways you may find challenging.
Screenwriting is no different to the development of any other project that requires huge resources to bring to market. Though the ease with which anyone can type words into a word processor does make the whole enterprise appear (at first glance at least) to be a simpler one than say drawing up the blueprint to a house and then building it and selling it.
Consider that your script needs to jump through seven specific hoops in order to get to the screen.
- Hoop 1: Me
We have to love our projects passionately so that we can start with enthusiasm, and end with the same level of passion. Having said that, consider that no matter how enthused you may be, you must be confident it can pass through all the other hoops as well in order that you find success.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: Because all that exists is blind passion for an idea and no consideration of the following hoops. Passion alone is not enough. Strategy and tactics must also be at play.
- Hoop 2: My immediate community
Writing is a long journey and we will need support from family, friends and peers. They should be engaged in your project idea so that when you need emotional support, it is given without judgement, so that when you need tough feedback, it is given with the interests of the project’s success at heart. Often we write alone but we need other people to survive.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: Because we often cannot sell the idea of what we are writing to our community. If you can’t get them excited, it’s likely you will falter, if not now, then later. It may also be worth considering that your peer group may not be the best people to surround yourself with (post on your peers and how they can hold you back here).
- Hoop 3: Producer / Filmmaker
At some point either you commit to making the film yourself, or you start to work with producers, directors and possibly co-writers. I could list a thousand ways your script will never get produced here… It’s too long, you as a writer are not collaborative, the project does not know what genre it is, the script itself is poorly written… Try to think about it from the filmmakers side and not just the writers side. Why will they commit? Can they see it passing through the remaining hoops? Remember, as well as you, they will need to take a huge risk in committing to your project. They will be looking down the barrel of many years of commitment and huge financial risk. Opinions and egos can run amok and this is a stage many writers can bow out or get kicked out. The reason is simple. They get in the way of the filmmakers vision of HOW the project can pass through the remaining hoops.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: Not getting commitment from filmmakers is usually caused by a disconnect between what is on the page (what the writer loves) and what the reader (producer / director) sees in their mind when reading. It may be great writing but is it a movie poster and trailer?
- Hoop 4: Money
Now it gets real. Tough questions about the three remaining hoops will be asked. If you can’t prove that you have a game plan for passing through the remaining hoops, real money will become elusive. With a determined team and producer it’s still possible to get financed even in the absence of a strong game plan, usually fuelled by personality and passion.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: Casting, genre, ego, delusion and a script and team that fail to convince the ‘money’ that it can make MORE money in the long run.
- Hoop 5: Talent
Hoops 4 and 5 often take place around the same time. Talent gets attracted by a great script and money, and money gets attracted by a great script and talent. The talent, be it cast (names) or crew, is often less critical of the script as a business and more happy to take a creative punt, especially if the money is in place. Get the great cast and director attached and the money is more likely to attach.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: It’s tough to attach anyone when there is no money yet. While many actors respond to great characters and great writing, EVERYONE is more enthusiastic once money is attached. Get the money and you are very likely to get the great cast and director. This is a catch-22 that is best overcome by being able to enthusiastically demonstrate that the project can pass through all seven hoops.
- Hoop 6: Distribution
If you thought the money was tough and cynical, wait till you meet the distribution. The key here is to get some distribution elements involved at the money stage so they have skin in the game. Casting and talent, genre and killer filmmaking now rule the roost – of course all of that stuff comes from having the script that can demonstrate at each stage it has what it takes to pass through all of the seven hoops.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: The final film falls between stools, or it simply fails to push through the noise of the marketplace. This is where the killer hook of the story, that thing that made it so easy to pitch at every other hoop, will become worth its weight in gold.
Hoop 7: Consumers
Even if the project can pass through each hoop it can still stall at this final and all important stage. Success or failure, many people will elude to some kind of magical alignment of stars or alchemy that caused the success or failure, and in some cases that might be true. But in most cases I would argue that if a film is outstanding, innovative, marketed well, marketed clearly and with the right cast, then I think it has a strong chance of success. Of course there are notable exceptions.
Why some scripts fail at this stage: Often it can be as simple as the title being ‘off’, the casting feeling inappropriate to viewers, or it feeling dated or tired in concept. And then it might just not be very good. Then again it could be the alchemy or the stars in alignment (post on one major film that should have succeeded on paper but failed).
And finally… Hoop 8 is the next project. How can you build on everything you have learned? On the relationships you have created? And that’s as true for a project that passes through all seven hoops as it is one that stalls at any of the other hoops and fails. In this way, there is no failure, only experience and new contacts.
So next time you start a project, consider how easily it will pass through all seven hoops.
If writing is your passion, consider coming to the London Screenwriters’ Festival next October. We have an early bird pass which runs out at the end of this month. More information here… http://www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com
Onwards and upwards!