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Topic: Write Like the Wind, Lead the Thundering Herd

Author: Ron Brassfield Posted: 02/15/08 11:13 AM

I was just watching another Screenwriting Expo DVD, "Finding the Right Buyer for Your Screenplay," and in her presentation, Victoria Wisdom gives an illuminating example.

In 2004, no one expected "The Passion of the Christ" to make so much money, but when it cleaned up, the hunt was suddenly on, far and wide, for "biblical epics." Well, one was found because of this. No one would accuse it of being a copy-cat film production, either...

A pair of unproduced writers, Bobby Florsheim and Josh Stolberg, according to Wisdom, in three weeks whipped out a script called "The Passion of the Ark," which sold to Universal for $1.5 million against $2.5 million "+ 2% of profits." This was the highest price paid for a spec script by unproduced writers, according to "Variety".

It was made and promoted as "Evan Almighty," with a "script" and "story" credited to other writers.

Moral of the story: Know the movies with "legs." If one hangs around in the top five three weeks or more, immediately promote your completed script in the same genre so the scouts employed by the moguls can find it. Enjoy the new house, car, and swimming pool.

(And in certain cases, gee, try not to notice the reviews.)

Author: d. santiago Posted: 02/16/08 06:28 PM

Do you know if they had an agent already or maybe knew someone/won a contest?

Besides the timing, just wondering how they received so much money for being unproduced.

Don

Author: Sue Miller Posted: 02/16/08 08:50 PM

d., didn't Evan Almighty sorta "tank." But, yes, I believe what Wisdom said is true. I just don't think I could write this way--- mimicing other hit movies.

Imho, POTC is one of those rare billion-dollar movies that will never be forgotten. Even to this day, when I take communion in church and I'm holding my cup (very teensy) of wine (I think it's grape juice)---I can still see the blood on the ground after Jesus was beaten---where Mary came and tried to soak it up with a white cloth. It's a scene that I'll never get out my mind.

The thing is -- Hollywood, the old Hollywood, used to make awesome religious movies. Now, it seems that they only want to do the comedy-with-religion films.

But, back to the original topic -- what are the hits today? Can you write a feature that's similar, yet in a different field? I wish you luck.

Author: Ron Brassfield Posted: 02/16/08 10:09 PM

Okay, a little research shows us that Josh Stolberg has his own website where he lays out his work history, including "Passion of the Ark," which was the object of a seven-studio BIDDING WAR due to interest in "biblican epics" sparked by the success of "Passion of the Christ." He had previously worked fairly extensively as a writer in TV and also sold a Comedy Central script in '04.

http://web.mac.com/joshstolberg/Joshs_Website/About_Josh.html

You can also find on various sites that Bobby Florsheim, his partner on that, has also sold another pitch as co-writer and has some other projects in development, such as "Man-Witch," starring Jack Black and due next year. So, it's safe to say that at least Josh had an agent at the time, and Bobby must have one by now.

"Evan Almighty," the former "Passion of the Ark," accd. to IMDB, cost $175 Mil. and grossed domestic $100 Mil. box office. Think about that original title. Wow. I'd have been embarrassed to use that. Therefore, because it wouldn't have even slightly bothered the buyers (from among the SEVEN STUDIOS who went ape-shit to get their hands on it) I'd have undoubtedly lost out if I had that script, because the way I titled it probably wouldn't have caught their attention.

Is our children learning?

Victoria Wisdom's message is that if we want to SELL and not write our hearts out for twenty years, we can "easily" do it by having what studio execs want right now. She suggests that writers don't try to work out of their own needs, brilliance, and interests. Rather, she encourages us to look at recent successes and find ways to evolve a new spin on them, get it done quick, get it on the radar, and then, she says, "they'll find you." She asserts that if they're looking for "it" and you have "it," they will buy it.

It's not about you, me, or all our creativity at all, though God knows we have to have that heart and soul to invest in the job. It's all about servicing a fast-paced, highly competitive market place for big business, where an average $98 million investor bucks is at risk each time at bat.

How to succeed at this? You've heard it before, they've tried to tell us so many times: "It's 'Transformers' Meets 'Kindergarten Cop!'" or whatever. It needs to be "like" a proven, recent hit, but "different" in that it provides a fresh element -- which has also been seen to be a proven success!

She uses loglines to provide a clue. For instance, "Bourne Identity" is "James Bond with amnesia." "True Lies" is "James and Jane Bond." Someone else picks up on that successful notion, now that the ground's been plowed with the mass audience, who are presumably, in the executives' desperate, insecure minds, hungry for more comedy/spy/family genre, and evolves it into the successful pitch, "James and Jane Bond's 'Spy Kids.'"

The pitch gets the deal. But, as writers with no track records of commercial success, we have to have, not just the pitch, but the script to show we can deliver on that pitch.

Ms Wisdom (ironic name, isn't it?) says to read lots of recent scripts and see movies in the genre to use as our templates for success. Figure out what makes them work and adapt them. She points out the parallels between "The Godfather" and "Elizabeth," and asks, rhetorically, "Do you think the writer of "Elizabeth" didn't study "The Godfather?"

Vicki King's book, "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" may be just the one to try to practice with for cranking out some fast screenplays. Ignoring the "Wisom" of Victoria might mean eventually writing your own life story as "How to Write Lots of Movies for 21 Years -- and Never Sell One."

Author: Terri Dickey Posted: 02/22/08 03:56 AM

Glad you did your research, Ron.

Please also remember that THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was released in early 2004. BRUCE ALMIGHTY was released May 23, 2003--and BRUCE ALMIGHTY 2 was already in the works/talks.

MANY OF YOU HAVE PROBABLY ALREADY SEEN THE FOLLOWING--

BEGIN:

The film's screenplay was originally titled The Passion of the Ark, and was written by Bobby Florsheim and Josh Stolberg. It became the subject of a seven-studio bidding war in April 2004. The script was sold to Sony Pictures in a deal worth $2,500,000 plus a percentage of the profits, a record for a spec script from previously unproduced writers. Universal Pictures immediately made a deal to co-produce the script with Sony and have Steve Oedekerk, who was an executive producer and co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe (who both wrote the story) for the first movie, rewrite it into the sequel to Bruce Almighty. The studio later discarded the original The Passion of the Ark script completely, and Oedekerk fashioned a new script from scratch (only he received final credit on the finished film as screenwriter). Jim Carrey was asked to reprise his role as Bruce in the sequel, and when he declined, director Tom Shadyac convinced Steve Carell to accept the leading role in the sequel. Shadyac, reflecting on the first film, stated "He [Carell] delivered some of the funniest stuff in the movie. We thought, 'Why not take that character and spin him off into a different film?'"

END!

Stolberg is not exactly "unproduced." And the two have worked in the Biz for quite some time!

Remember, Shadyac has an Overall Deal with Universal.

Please remember that many, MANY times, scripts have been bought to keep them OFF THE MARKET!

I remember a great pitch an old friend years back gave to me THAT WAS FANTASTIC! THEN I read in the trades of a similar story that was going to be produced by two TOP DAWGS in the Biz and one of those "DAWGS" was to star in it. (A few years later, I did some work on this film.)

When I saw my friend at a luncheon the next day--I gave him the bad news. HE THOUGHT IT WAS GREAT NEWS!

Granted, he went out and WROTE IT FAST! But the script was NOTHING LIKE HIS PITCH!

I must add that this guy always has great ideas that he pitches--but his scripts NEVER turn out to be what he pitched!

He pitched the script to the same company doing this other movie. They wanted to read it. He was excited. They passed.

Within a week or two after that, I was at another luncheon where I was sitting at the same table as one of the Development Execs. The person next to her asked her how the script was, etc.

SHE SAID: "There was no reason for us to worry about it. No need for us to take it off the market. Nothing like what he pitched to us--and it's terrible. No one will ever buy it."

So don't ALWAYS THINK you know the whole story (no pun intended)!

Author: Heather Hughes Posted: 02/22/08 12:23 PM

Great post.

Sue, I don't think they in any way mimiced The Passion of the Christ. They just used the title as a clever play-on-words. You couldn't get farther away from the graphic violence of The Passion of the Christ than a slapstick comedy like Evan Almighty.

I agree that Hollywood used to make amazing biblical epics. I also love all the old "nun" movies too. Song of Bernadette, Nun's Story, etc. And I'm not even Catholic!

Author: Walter Winton Posted: 02/22/08 03:56 PM

It's very wise to know what's hot and what's not in this industry. But I would caution against chasing hot streaks.

The problem with scripts that are very timely is that they become "untimely" rather quickly.

If you're an established writer, you're already ahead of the herd. You can afford to barf out a garbage first draft with a killer logline and submit it to your agent. The sale will be based on your previous body of work and the logline.

If you're a new writer, you don't have that luxury. You're in the herd no matter what. And the time it takes to move up the ranks of readers and get a script into the hands of a deal maker, the industry might have already moved on. With no resume to your name, your script had better be pretty awesome too.

The result very well may be that you're always writing obsolete scripts.

My advice, for new writers, is to follow broader trends and hit up evergreens. Romantic comedies are always hot. Write something with a great logline and a small budget.

For an example, let's say you were monitoring the success of Knocked Up and Superbad. The R-rated Apatow gross-out comedy is big! You go to work writing and promoting your script.

Then Walk Hard comes out (produced by Apatow). Huge bomb. And suddenly buyers are more cautious about R-rated gross-out comedy. If the next movie in that genre also bombs, you've just written yourself into a corner. The failures of Hostel 2 and Captivity slammed the door on the torture genre. Actually, horror was struggling before that. A few years ago, the industry had a glut of horror movies, all of which did poorly.

Why? Because everyone is thinking "Write like the wind, lead the thundering herd." So instead of running ahead of the pack, many new writers managed to position themselves in the center of a highly competitive pack.

Author: Randy Roberts Posted: 02/22/08 06:52 PM

"WW" also stands for "words of wisdom".

Well said, Walter. Well said.

Rsqrd

Author: STEVEN CALDERWOOD Posted: 02/22/08 09:07 PM

Chasing a hit...I remember a few years back, it came out about a big purchase for a Groundhog day/Valentines Day romance script.

Within a month, I believe there was 4 or five movies all signed hedging on the same premise...

The funny thing is that I had a Short based on the same thing and it was getting tons of reads at the time.

I've checked this out and now three years later...not one of them has been filmed.

Now what I like is that my Short looks like it is about to be acquired by a British Film Company and they want to shoot a Short to use it as a pitch for the Feature.

So hey, maybe the wind died down long enough for me to be the thundering herd, Lord knows I'm big enough to be mistaken for a buffalo.

"It is better to cause the wind then to be blown over by it"

Steve

Author: Sue Miller Posted: 02/23/08 02:13 PM

Everyone has their own writing philosophies, but I say it's better to be in the front of the herd leading the way rather than following the herd.

Author: Terri Dickey Posted: 02/23/08 03:25 PM

OMG!

SIR WALTOR WINTON--YOU ARE THE WISE ONE! You hit the nail on the head!

FANTASTIC POST! Could NOT have said it better myself.

Yes, it may be a great idea--IF YOU'RE AN ESTABLISHED, PRODUCED WRITER (well, maybe not "produced," many top Writers wrote/sold a hundred scripts before one got made). But for one who hasn't sold anything or isn't "established" as a Writer, you could be trying to sell that script for 20 years.

I think it's best to come up with your own GREAT IDEA and work and work and work on it to make it the best story/screenplay it can be!

Trends come and go. Yes, Kevin Williamson struck gold when he brought back the "Slasher" movie. And that's what he's known for, unfortunately. Yes, I THINK he still has a Prodco, but I'm sure it's struggling since it hasn't had any major hits I'm aware of (VENOM certainly wasn't a "major").

If you can come up with something as clever and classy as HIGH TENSION (and who the hell came up with that name since, in my opinion, really doesn't seem fit for the movie--at least it's difficult to remember)--then you probably have a better chance at selling your script than something that is a "no-brainer and stupid" like "Friday the 13th VIII." The first "Friday the 13th" was the best! Unfortunately, the others (sequels and copycats) didn't even come close.

Author: d. santiago Posted: 02/23/08 06:04 PM

Thanks Ron. Now that makes sense.

The one thing to remember about POTC was that it was so different from other biblical films. There was a sense of reality(and not just a story/biblical fable)using the violence. What also surpised me was that Mel Gibson used sub- titles with a language(Aramic) that is largely unknown now.

I don't even believe the finanicals are well represented either. Many Christian organizations held "free"(some it was a only a small donation)screenings for the film.

Don