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 ten years on, you’ll still find a good number of them – it’s one of those things that never goes away, it seems.
Sorry, but I can’t get excited about stories like that. Whilst I love produced depressing dramas like Sweet Sixteen and Harsh Times, it’s rare that I see a spec depressing drama on the same kind of turf – pushing boundaries & expectations, even if they do have a tendency to preach to the converted. Instead spec depressing drama will be highly cliched and familiar, bringing forth images that don’t feel relevant anymore: they *feel* like “movies of movies”, not movies about “real life”.
And 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 whilst depressing drama might seem like a good bet because it’s low budget, chances are, even the best written depressing drama spec will not get a look-in, never mind one that is familiar. So my advice would be: unless you want to do the festival circuit (and have a really, really REALLY good script that will appeal to the best actors available), think very carefully before investing your time in writing a depressing drama, even as a sample, 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 – my fave film is Alien and my favourite author is Clive Barker – 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)
- Zeitgeist Story (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)
Take a good look at the above. 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 (Zeitgeist 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.
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 well-written depressing drama feature or Zeitgeisty Sci Fi or Fantasy TV script *can’t* work (and I’m always ready to be proved wrong), but the odds are against it. Why? 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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