Sometimes, a conversation with my manager turns into an interview. I got a call from the amazing Andy Cohen yesterday and we started discussing the business, and then it turned into a 20-minute soothsaying of where we are and where it’s going.
Andy learned at the hem of David Permut’s garment (producer supreme) for many years, and I used to see Andy on the Disney lot occasionally back in the day. A few years ago, he became my manager and a good friend.
So having all that time in the biz between us, we have a shared understanding of it.
“What are they looking for?” is the question I ask Andy the most, it seems. Nowadays I am not only asking for myself and my projects, but for you. When someone asks me that question when I am out on the road in Austin, TX, or Vancouver, BC, I want to be prepared. Feel free to ask me specifically about your projects and I won’t waste time here with the particulars of what everyone wants — only to say that it remains exactly what I have been telling you, and what I wrote in Save the Cat!
As to trends, Andy and I both agreed that 300 took everyone by surprise, and is, like The Matrix, one of those movies that is a visual breakthrough, but doesn’t seem to indicate the studios are now going to be making a whole lot more of them. It is what nervous executives like to call an “anomaly” meaning, they wish to God they green lit that movie — but there was no way to know you’d be right by doing so. That and the other news of the day, the amazing career of Judd Apatow, whose Knocked Up is coming out this summer, and why, Blake, are you not churning out more high concept comedies…. but I digress.
Bottom line of our talk, however, were two very clear points: 1. Everyone is “looking for something they can sell,” meaning they want to know how they can get you to see what they choose to make. And 2. Studios don’t develop. What this means is much more pertinent to our daily lives.
“Studios don’t develop” hit me as a particularly chilling phrase, as it signalled the deep shift in the movie business we are going through now. It’s not that studios no longer give notes on scripts, or don’t have story departments that ring out the material that passes through its gates; it means that if they buy a script, esp. one on spec, it has to be “ready to shoot.” This is the biggest change from the “old days” (meaning 1994, gad!) when a half decently executed concept would get you a check, and further re-writes. Not so anymore.
And when you think about it, this just makes economic sense. In a way, we are the victims of our own success. There are so many scripts out there, the ones that get chosen now have to be not only special but require no more effort to start the process of making them. It’s even better if you have so-called attachments: stars, directors, sponsors — even part of the financing. Why? Because it’s a brave new world.
If I am a studio, my whole purpose now is sure bets — and the least amount of work. The remake, the based-on an old tv series, the based-on a comic book or graphic novel, yes! And if it’s not one of those, it had better be a high concept mid-range comedy, or a really hooky thriller or action piece that is ready… and I mean every “i” dotted and “t” crossed.
And it better have a trailer they can sell on the Apple trailer site.
It’s a You Tube World. Getting your attention is the trick — and the key. But it’s not the only task we screenwriters must address. It speaks to the second half of the equation that I stress in Cat!: structure and story. They must be complete. Satisfying. And dare I say: perfect.
The good news is: We’re clever folks, you and I! We freekin’ love this challenge. You say No, Sorry, Not Today, and that just fires up my desire to come back tomorrow and win you over.
I thought this was important info to get out to you; look for more of this kind of thing in the blogs to come. We are going to be finally restructuring our site soon to include more of the Cat! community, and the focus will be on interviews with writers, producers, and agents for the best information on the state of the market and your place in it.
So, have patience while we change. The whole world is, and we are too.