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in Filmmaking
on Mar 1, 2009

Citing the uptick in theatrical box-office receipts led by hits like Gran Torino, Taken and Coraline, there have been a number of articles recently on the movies and the recession. Like this one in the New York Times. The upshot: in depressing times, people flock to escapist, cost-effective fun at their local cineplex.

One can of course pick apart this thesis — in fact, David Poland just has — but most people in the movie biz prefer to cling to the reductive takeaway that our business is recession proof.

However, as this post on screenwriter and director John August’s blog observes, the movie business is not just a single business. It’s comprised of many different sectors, each of which intersect which each other differently at different times. The post (which is based on notes by August’s assistant Matt) is specifically directed at studio screenwriters (and those who want to become studio screenwriters), and it has some relevant observations about the ways in which trends in its various sectors are affecting greenlight decisions.

From the piece:

Yes, but movies are doing well, right? Box office receipts are on the up and up.

True, but the motherships (Time Warner/GE etc.) suck out that revenue and use it to prop up other flagging sectors. So that money doesn’t go back into development or the pockets of writers. Also, Navid McIlhargey notes that while theatrical has made a comeback, DVD sales have dropped by roughly 30%.

The post, which is a recap of a WGA-sponsored “Script to Greenlight” panel, offers a lot of very practical advice about the Hollywood writer-for-hire biz. It discusses the role of marketing departments in development decisions, the rise of “pre-branded material,” whether or not a writer should make a YouTube short, and the thorny subject of whether writers should do unpaid rewrites. (The advice given on this one will surprise you.)

A section:

What does this all mean to the writer with hopes of getting a studio movie made?

Concept is king. Write Big Ideas, well executed.

The executives were eager to argue that Hollywood’s not entirely a dehumanized assembly line, regurgitating and repackaging ideas.

Beaubaire believes that just because you’re reworking ideas from the past doesn’t mean it can’t be fresh, good and entertaining. In order for a movie to go forward, “I have to love the script,” Beaubaire says, adding that it must contain a “universally relatable idea” with better-than-stock characters.

Derek Dauchy requires a connection with the material before he tries to make a movie of it. He needs to feel there’s a good reason to make that movie, to put it out into the world.

McIlhargey cautions that with so many other options, there has to be a sense of immediacy behind making that movie at that time. There’s plenty of good material. Immediacy is, “The number one thing we look at before we pass it up.”

There’s also a great comments thread.

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