Special Effects

How has the movie industry changed over the years? It’s more spectacle-driven and pre-awareness driven.

In her book “Sleepless in Hollywood” author Lynda Obst makes two interesting points that every screenwriter should know. First, most Hollywood movies make 80% of their revenue from the overseas market. Because of that, Hollywood doesn’t care as much about making movies for American audiences as they are in making movies for the rest of the world.

Second, overseas markets often don’t understand movies centered too closely around American culture. In countries like India, they make comedies and dramas strictly for the local Indian market. Rarely do American dramas and comedies translate as well in overseas markets. As a result, local studios can easily fill the need for local content.

What overseas markets want is what they can’t do on their own, which is produce the computer-laden effect spectaculars that only Hollywood has the technological expertise to create such as “Transformers,” “Pacific Rim,” or “The Avengers.” That’s why Hollywood gravitates towards big spectaculars that have plenty of visual effects that overseas markets can’t hope to match.

Third, Hollywood is risk aversive, so they prefer making movies based on anything that has pre-awareness such as a video game, a comic book, a novel, a TV show, or a remake of an older movie. Such pre-awareness makes it easy for a movie to attract a crowd.

What this means is that you need a movie that can either appeal to the international market, or you need a low-budget film that can be made inexpensively to cater to the local market. Comedies and horror movies are always inexpensive to make since they require few special effects. Any movie that requires massive special effects won’t likely get made into a movie until it’s first turned into something else.

“Oblivion” was originally a graphic novel that wasn’t even published, but it still got turned into a movie anyway. “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” is an example of a big budget spectacle that studios want to see. If you’re interested in breaking into screenwriting, either start with low budget films (comedies and horror) or turn your story into something else first to get a built-in audience for a movie deal.

Unless you’re already a star who can get things done like Tom Cruise did with “Oblivion” or James Cameron did with “Avatar,” don’t try to market a screenplay that requires massive special effects unless it could appeal to an overseas market. Remember, movies are part of show business where the emphasis is turning more and more on the business end.

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