Don’t Imitate Blockbusters

Blockbuster movies like “Avatar” make millions of dollars in profit, but here’s why you should avoid trying to write a similar story like that.

When most people want to write a screenplay, they tend to make several mistakes. The most common mistake is to look at what’s popular today and then write a copycat story. I imagine that agents are getting flooded with screenplays based on similar situations as shown in “Avatar.”

First, you have to realize that studios are risk-aversive. Look at all the big-budget movies being made today and you’ll see that they were based either on existing books (Harry Potter, Twilight), video games, remakes of old movies or TV shows, or had the backing of high-profile Hollywood people like James Cameron.

The reason Hollywood does this is to minimize risk. They’re only going to throw millions of dollars into a story if they feel it has a good chance of succeeding based on a director or actor’s reputation or an existing fan base, such as the Harry Potter series.

Even when such big-budget movies are approved by the studios, they further minimize their risks by going with established screenwriters who they know can deliver a script. (Whether it’s any good or not is irrelevant.)

That means if you’re writing a screenplay, your chances of selling a big-budget story is next to zero simply because the studios don’t want to spend any more money than necessary on something that isn’t a sure thing. If your screenplay relies on million dollar special effects, you’ve frightened potential buyers (the studios) away before they can even consider your story.

If you really want to give your screenplay a shot at success, think on how you can minimize a studio’s risks. Start with any story that doesn’t involve million dollar computer-generated special effects. Next, think simple locations that don’t require building a Victorian city or a medieval castle.

In “The Matrix,” the illusionary world was just the current world so the studio could use existing buildings rather than try to create futuristic cities for the setting.

Think simple, low-cost, easy availability, and low budget. Take a tour of the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood and consider if your story could be filmed there. “The Sting,” a movie about con artists during the Great Depression, was filmed on the Universal Studios lot simply because it was easy to turn the buildings into a 1930’s setting. A movie that required a science fiction setting might not fit so well in the Universal Studios lot.

Screenplays are a business decision so maximize your chances of success by keeping your potential budget as low as possible. By doing so, you can make your screenplay more appealing to studios as a low risk venture, and that could translate into a sale and produced screenplay for you. Now all you have to do is write a compelling story that people will want to read.

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