Updated for 2017
Cliches + Stereotypes = BORING
When I started script reading, everyone was writing very “worthy”, very personal psychological dramas where generally everybody died or was at least miserable as Hell and in the grip of addiction, terrible family situations and/or contemplating suicide.
Some were well written; some were not … But look into any spec pile and that’s what you’d see rising to the top. And many years on now, you’ll still find a good number of them – it’s one of those things that never goes away, it seems.
You see, great drama is not ‘depressing’, but DEVASTATING – that’s how it pushes boundaries and expectations, as I mention in my Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays book. There’s a key difference between what you find in the spec pile, versus what you see produced.
Whilst I love produced dramas like Sweet Sixteen and Harsh Times, it’s rare that I see a spec drama that measures up. Instead, spec drama will be highly clichéd and familiar, bringing forth images that don’t feel relevant anymore. They *feel* like “movies of movies”, not authentic, truthful, “real life”.
LOTS of writers are under the mistaken belief that a low budget drama is a good bet in terms of getting something produced. It’s not.
So whilst drama might seem like a good bet because it’s low budget, chances are, even the best written drama spec will not get a look-in, never mind one that is familiar.It’s just as hard to get noticed writing spec depressing drama NOW as it was back then – if anything, it’s more difficult, since distributors are interested in genre film these days.
So my advice would be: Make the drama feature yourself, by all means. Do the festival circuit, win all the awards. Be my guest!!! But to do that, make sure you have a really, really REALLY authentic concept, with a script that is full of emotional truth and resonance, that will appeal to the best actors available. (In other words, NOT something cheesy, stale or familiar!).
Otherwise, think very carefully before investing your time in writing a drama as a sample screenplay, because there’s every chance readers will have overload.
And whilst we’re on the subject of overload, here’s the current genres that make me groan as soon as I soon as I get them: Science Fiction & Fantasy. Not because I don’t like them, but because I simply see it, over and over and over and over again, usually like this:
- 60 minute TV Pilots, plus series bible
- Sci Fi or Fantasy for an adult audience (post watershed, 9PM, weeknight on a “main” channel)
- Rehashed Story I’ve seen a gazillion times before (supernatural detectives like X Files or Afterlife; Evolved superbeings like X Men; Dr Who-style Time Travellers; or an underground team tasked with sorting out phenomena and/or invasions etc like Torchwood)
Switch it up
I hear SF fans frequently complaining it’s hard to get taken seriously: *if* it is, it’s not because they’re writing Science Fiction … Because EVERYONE seems to be writing Science Fiction!
And they’re all writing it in the same way (TV pilots); FOR the same audience (post-watershed, 9PM weeknights); about the SAME THINGS (rehashed stories).
What’s wrong with feature scripts?
Or a different audience, say children or young adults, on a different channel?
AND WHY THE HELL ARE READERS READING THE SAME STORIES ABOUT THE SAME CHARACTERS DOING THE SAME THINGS??? ‘Cos we are.
Get noticed like this …
Writers complain to me all the time they feel they’re getting nowhere. They work hard, they say; why shouldn’t they see the fruits of their labours? And they’re absolutely right. If you were doing any other job for this many hours and seeing no results, you’d be nuts to not take a look at why. So here is why:
You need to stand out.
There’s no reason a a truly brilliant, devastating drama feature or derivative Sci Fi or Fantasy TV script *can’t* work (and I’m always ready to be proved wrong), but the odds are against it.
There’s too many of them out there. That’s just the way of it. You can fight an uphill struggle and get depressed about it – or you can step sideways and improve your chances by about a million per cent of getting a deal, an agent or a DIY film collaboration from the ground up by writing something else, like:
- A feature script, 80-100 minutes
- A Genre piece with a marketable hook – Comedy, Thriller or Horror preferably
- With great characters (read, not the “usual”)
- Low Budget & easy to achieve (ie. interiors, one set redressed, 1-2 locations, etc)
- Audiences – family audience for comedies U – PG, 12A at a push (risque language only and for comedic effect); 15 to 18 for Thrillers and Horrors (some thrilling/scary shit, but not torture porn territory)
That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
No big secret: just don’t do what everyone else is doing and CONGRATULATIONS – you’ve improved your chances *just like that*.
So what are you waiting for?
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