Hollywood Isn’t Waiting Around For Novice Screenplays by Scott Kirkpatrick
Film Courage: I’ve heard you say something about ‘the big secret that never gets told to anyone outside of Hollywood is that most films are greenlit before the final script is made.’ So do tell. Because for a lot of people who aren’t from here or aren’t familiar with the business, I think they’d be sort of shocked to know this?
Scott Kirkpatrick: It’s important to remember that movies and TV shows cost an incredible amount of money to produce. And if there is nobody to watch it on the backside or to transact upon it, on iTunes or at a movie theater, then there is not much of a point in doing that. And there is an even more expensive aspect to producing something which is marketing it and getting it out in front of people so they know it exists. So that when they’re interested in seeing it and ready to buy tickets or download it behind a paywall and pay money for it, they have the ability to do it and they’re ready to do it right away. That’s the financial end.
People in my position…from where I am working all the way up to top executives at studios, what those people (the end-users) want to see is really, really important. And that is kind of where we’re thinking because if the end-users are interested in seeing it, then international countries would be interested in also having access to it. And they would be willing to invest money to have access to it early which is where the whole pre-sale games comes into play. Or a TV channel here in the US, if they know their audience want something very specific they will work to have that produced on their network and they will kind of work backwards, first finding out what kind of project its got to be, the types of people who have to be in it, and then working their way backwards to get to the point of actually drafting writing and creating and all that.
“Most screenwriting books approach it as: you write a story and it evolves into a movie. And this whole industry doesn’t exist with people twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the right script to drop into their hands. It works in the opposite direction which is…we know we need this type of content to be successful. We have certain channels or certain platforms that we have to cater with content, so that’s the stuff we’re going to be looking for as finished content or we’ll go make it ourselves.”
On the big scale for these major, major productions at the studio level of a major network level, that’s why they go for things like major franchises or very well-known books or very well known media properties are doing re-makes. There is already an audience there. They kind of have an estimate of how it’s going to get from Point A to Point B and that is where the business side of it really plays. It’s what is it, how is it going to work, where is the money coming from, and who is going to get paid what to make this whole process happen? That’s got to all be figured out before you really hone in on the right script. Most screenwriting books approach it as: you write a story and it evolves into a movie. And this whole industry doesn’t exist with people twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the right script to drop into their hands. It works in the opposite direction which is we know we need this type of content to be successful. We have certain channels or certain platforms that we have to cater with content so that’s the stuff we’re going to be looking for as finished content or we’ll go make it ourselves. That’s what MarVista did really well.
In [Scott’s book] Writing for the Greenlight, the whole first chapter is exactly about that idea. I used to go to the Cannes Film Festival, we used to go to Berlin (to the major film festivals). I’d meet with my buyers. We’d have a slate of movies that we were going to pitch and we would see which ones had traction, which ones didn’t. We had a reputation for being able to produce or deliver movies that would get from Point A to Point B and be delivered on time and be quality productions. We’d get the pre-sales first and then we’d go back and say “Okay, write a movie based on the pre-sales.” Write a movie based on the poster we invented to sell the pre-sales.” That’s how it really works. Content is developed from the inside out. The occasional one-off to that or the occasional exclusion is when major A-list talent who already have a very well-established career come up with unique ideas, but frankly they can walk into CAA or a top executives office in town (whatever) and say “Here’s an idea I’m thinking of” and it can be greenlit right on the spot in the sense that they can movie forward with it.
Question for the Viewers: What Big Ideas Do You Take Away from This Conversation?
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About Scott Kirkpatrick:
Scott is the author of the book Writing for the Green Light: How to Make Your Script the One Hollywood Notices and is the Senior Vice President of North & South American business development, sales and global digital strategy for the London-based distributor DRG. Previously, Kirkpatrick served as Executive Director of Distribution for MarVista Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based production and distribution company that produces original TV movies and has managed international TV deals on major franchises including Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Before shifting to the distribution side of the industry, Kirkpatrick worked behind the scenes on major studio productions, including Talladega Nights: The Balled of Ricky Bobby. Kirkpatrick has also produced and directed TV series and feature films including Eye for an Eye, Muslims in America and Roadside Massacre.
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