By Arun Fulara. Posted on April 26, 2016
This is the big one, a question that haunts every screenwriter. For all of us, meandering through the dark alleys of writing & pitching what we write, this is an anathema. What should we be working on? Should we follow the, 'write what you know' school or should we get 'inspired' by that new wave of films that everyone else seems to be excited about.
Neither. And both. That's what Ken Miyamoto has to say. He's a produced screenwriter & former Sony Pictures script reader/story analyst so he should know. We've published many of his answers on screenwriting earlier & all of them make sense.
Here's what he has to say to every screenwriter who's confused about what he/ she should be working on.
You must choose... but choose wisely.
To obtain the best odds of a successful run at becoming a represented, working, and someday hopefully a produced screenwriter you need to stack your deck before you send any queries out to anyone because the first question you'll get IF you beat the odds and get into a room (literally or metaphorically) with a development executive, producer, agent, or manager is "What else do you have?"
I'll offer a personal anecdote in that regard...
In 2005, after honing my skills as a screenwriter thanks in due part to the education I achieved as a script reader for Sony Pictures, I went off and wrote my first marquee script, Doomsday Order.
A submarine crew launches their nuclear arsenal at the brink of World War III and must deal with the psychological aftermath of destroying the civilized world as they knew it, leading to mutiny, chaos, and the struggle to survive.
Crimson Tide meets Lord of the Flies.
I choose this script because it was high concept and engaging. I choose it because the first couple of screenplays I wrote were the rookie mistakes of writing self serving scripts written primarily for me... when I should have been developing scripts for the people that I'd be pitching too. Something I learned during my studio development days.
This script was taken out utilizing some creative networking and eventually fell into the hands of Paramount. This lead to referral to my then manager, which lead to the script going out wide and nabbing me meetings with Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal, Dreamworks, and Disney. And with each of those meetings, the first question that was asked after initial discussions on the script that got me in there was, "So what else do you have?"
Point(s) being? First, once I started writing for them and not solely for me, I had success. And second, because I didn't have a stacked deck of solid scripts, the momentum I had was stalled the moment that question was asked and it took me another year to get back into the "room" with my followup script that nabbed me a deal with Lionsgate.
So you MUST choose wisely with each and every script you write and you MUST stop writing solely for yourself. You have to write for them.
What does that mean?
First off, let me tell you that no, this doesn't mean that you don't write what you enjoy to write. This means that you create a hybrid of what they want and what you enjoy. If there is a secret to success (there's not), it would start right there.
So how do you find what they want? Here's a few bullet points to start with...
So that's pretty much it. Oh, and they don't want Westerns or Fantasies. If you can hit some of those major bullet points, and do it well, your odds of success increase ten fold.
So what screenwriters NEED to do in order to evolve is to understand that you're no longer writing the stories you solely want or need to write... you're writing what will attract the powers that be to make your career aspirations and dreams hopefully come true one day. That's the hard truth. Anything else you hear is utter BS from people that have read too many screenwriting books and haven't really had the necessary film industry access and experience.
Don't even trust the interviews by the A-List top one percenters of screenwriters out there that tell you to write what YOU solely want to write because, friends, hindsight is 20/20 and it's very easy to say such things when you're living the dream.
So now is the time to decide, right?
Well, it's time to really brainstorm and come up with some great core concepts. How do you know what they want in that respect?
That's how you decide.
You need to give yourself the best odds. You have to have the best stacked deck/hand that you can offer to create that impression that you're ready for the film industry.
And lastly, know that it's more likely that whatever you choose and whatever hits will more so act as a calling card for assignments rather than lead to outright sales.
Such is the life and business of a screenwriter...