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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Friday, July 22, 2005

How Can You Tell If Your New Idea is Old?

Another very good question from my friend Tommy:
"How can you find out if the great and wonderful idea that came to you the night before while showering is in fact and original idea and wasn't made ten years ago as a direct to video project? How can you find out if the idea isn't already being developed or made at a studio? Does it matter?" - Tommy
Well, yes and no. This is really the nightmare of the contemporary artist. You've come up with a brilliant idea (this happens to my friend Tommy a lot, by the way) and then discover it's literally in development at a studio, or in casting, or being filmed. So even though it landed in your lap in a fit of inspiration, it seems like it's totally useless.

Total drag.

So here's the answer. You can't worry about it. It's impossible to live as a creative spirit and constantly work from the outside in. You have to work from the inside out. (Even when you are handed an assignment with a strict set of rules to follow. More on that another time).

Point of it is: every year there are probably four of the same films being developed at every studio. And I mean, the same film. This is the nature of the business, massive companies trying to thread the eye of the needle in what they hope will be their commercial blockbuster. And their eye of the needle is just that - it's quite narrow creatively. So that means - a superhero movie, a cop movie, a killer thriller, a broad teen age comedy, a romance. They're going to develop about four of each of these to try and get one that doesn't suck, so they can pump more money into it than is in most third world countries.

And there you are, inspired, pulling down brilliance from the heavens and onto the page and some genius tells you - forget it, they've got one just like yours in development at Sony. So you stop, and broken hearted decide to open a donut shop.

The truth of it is. 90% of what's in development won't make it to the screen, but is actively being written. Agents will be quick to tell you to put the kabosh on something as they've heard it's elsewhere. But you have to say screw it - and not listen to what anyone tells you. You follow your muse, and write the best version of what moves you. Because in the end - what jumps off the page is what generates excitement, and if you can do that, they just might buy your script after the three like it in development have failed.

Now - huge caveat. I wrote a spec. script a year and a half ago, one that I loved - and that a great reaction from producers around town. Cruise/Wagner took it to Paramount to Buy, Radar took it to Universal to buy, I had producers at Sony who wanted it. I had a great reaction from agents and had interest from several and was able to move to a new agency with terrific people who I'm extremely happy with. This is the kind of reaction you hope for. And then not one studio bought it. Why? Because every studio had something like it. So what the hell do I know?

Upside - it generated a great response, created new relationships, and it's still a piece of gold on the shelf. One never knows the exact purpose of each piece of writing. You hope they all sell, but in the end, each one is part of the larger picture of your life, and the only way to have peace of mind is to trust that each one is doing what it should.


Blogger The Moviequill said...

I guess the secret is to get your 'Monster As A Private Eye' spec into the system ASAP, so that when the call out for 'Monster Detectives' rings, your agent or whatever can roll back his Aereon chair and exclaim "I have a Monster Detective script!" and just maybe get you a sale.
So the moral is, we all need to keep writing our Monster Detective stories as long as one hasn't been made yet

Saturday, July 23, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Yes, the moral is, write your best story from the moment you're in right now, and finish it, and write THE END. And if you nail it, that will get a response. I have a friend who's always saying "hey, look, the studios just bought two scripts about BLANK, maybe I should write one like that...?" Totally wrong attitude. You can't write from the outside in.

Saturday, July 23, 2005  
Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

excellent advice, phil. you constantly hear from other blogs about checking done deal &, if it's similar to what you're doing now, scrap it. but your view makes a lot more sense. especially when you consider how few movies actually get made out of the ones that are sold. &, really, if you're writing something you think is/can be wonderful, why stop?

Saturday, July 23, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

tnDreamer: exactly right, a good friend of mine, excellent writer (many awards and success, etc.), only ever counseled me to forge ahead on what I was writing as he put it: regardless what I'd heard as to how similar something was, it will always have my unique view, my originality, and that in itself will always differentiate my work. The same for you and everyone else out there.

Saturday, July 23, 2005  
Blogger Pop's Kid said...

Wow...you may want to add psychic to your list of talents.

3 days ago I found a straight to DVD movie made 6 years ago about something similar to a script I'd just started. To call me deflated would be a bit of an understatement.

I've decided just now to not scrap or "shelve" this idea, thanks to this post.

THANK YOU!!! (see ya next week)

Saturday, July 23, 2005  
Blogger Alex Epstein said...

Also, you can ask your agent. It's their job to know these things.

Sunday, July 24, 2005  
Blogger The Moviequill said...

I was discouraged to discover a similar plotted film get optioned (via Done Deal) that made me abandon the project 3/4 of the way through. I jumped into the next one right away. One of my fellow screenwriter group members asked after my first project. I told them. Then they said the magic words 'well, then why not make it a horror film instead'. It floored me. I never even took a second glance through different shaded glasses. I saw a whole other project, with similar characters and events, happening. Sitting side by side with my first idea it will have similarities, but not enough to warrant a WGA citation.
I guess what I am saying is I should have completed the project anyways, and looked for another idea out of the existing one

Sunday, July 24, 2005  
Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

moviequill, you're right. sometimes you have to rely on friends to point out another road. i've been avoiding going to a screenwriting group here in Nashville bc, being so new, I don't add many comments to the scribosphere knowing that my comments could turn out to be big "misatkes" & I haven't even finished one screenplay yet. But I realize now I had the whole thing backward, I need to go to learn, not to show. I'm going to go to my first meeting this Wed.

Monday, July 25, 2005  
Blogger Matt Reynolds said...

Good post. I was in a similar situation a year and half ago, where I had a great idea for a movie, along with a title. I walk into Blockbuster recently and there on the shelf was a DVD that not only had my title but idea too. I was pissed.

Will it stop me writing it one day? Hell no. I just need to think up a new title.

Monday, July 25, 2005  
Blogger lad said...

It is refreshing to hear someone with industry experience confirm my thoughts on this. I believe that if I try to match the market, I can't have my true passions in a project. I write what I love, but I still have markebility in the back of my mind. I think that it is essential. Thank you for the great advice.

Monday, July 25, 2005  

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