The Bankruptcy of Ideas

Hollywood keeps remaking old movies, TV shows, and even video games. Why the bankruptcy of ideas in Hollywood can be a good thing for an aspiring screenwriter.

Every week, the latest Hollywood movies usually include a movie based on a comic book, a TV show, or an old movie. Is Hollywood just running out of ideas?

The truth is that Hollywood has always been looking for ideas from other sources. In the old days, many movies were made from stage plays and novels. The reason is simple. If people like a play or novel, chances are the movie version will attract a built-in audience, which can often help a studio recoup its costs in the first or second weekend before word of mouth spreads that says the movie sucks.

Now Hollywood is branching back to old TV shows and movies along with video games and comic books, trying to play it safe. Hollywood is all about avoiding risk and making money. If the studios churn out a piece of crap, but tie it in with a popular video game or TV show, the thinking goes they’ll have a near guranatee of profits from an audience that already wants to see the movie. That’s the theory. The reality is that movies based on comic books or video games often bomb horribly because the story basically stinks.

To appeal to Hollywood’s fear of the unknown, you have to position your screenplay as similar to a popular movie or video game without being that movie or video game. For example, you could write a script based on the popular “Street Fighter” video game, but that involves paying a licensing fee. Instead, just pitch your movie idea as similar to Street Fighter, but without the expensive licensing fee. Now you’ll get Hollywood’s attention because they can have a script that’s almost as good as the real thing but without the annoying profit-sharing expenses that the studios don’t like.

So here’s how you pitch your script. Position it as similar, but not exactly identical to an existing old movie, TV show, video game, or book. Find whatever’s hot and associate it with your screenplay. As long as your screenplay is close to the same story as the video game or TV show you’re mentioning, you’ll get Hollywood’s attention.

Whatever you do, don’t ever pitch your story as something original because Hollywood doesn’t understand originality. They prefer reducing their risks as much as possible. That’s why they pay A-list stars and directors. That way if the movie bombs, they can say, “Well, we got Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie, so it’s not our fault.” Now if that same movie had bombed with a cast of unknowns, then studio heads would roll, so movie stars are insurance against the studios from getting the blame for creating a crappy movie.

Of course, when you write your screenplay, be original. When you pitch and market your screenplay, originality is too scary. Associate your finished script with something more familiar, and then you’ll improve your chances of success.

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