Commercial Scripts: We Breakdown What Producers Want
What’s a “commercial script?” Here at ScriptArsenal, we’re in the process of restructuring a program called “The Wish List,” which came out of a desire to determine what precisely producers want, and try to connect them with writers who have the material that fits their needs.
We thought it might be interesting, now having nearly 60 producers signed up (new producers are added every month), to breakdown what common features we’ve seen amongst the producer needs. These most popular commonalities are, within this sample, “commercial scripts.”
From our nearly 60 producers, far and away the biggest precise need is contained thrillers/action scripts. 10 of the producers in our program specifically pinpointed this need. A close second is Lifetime-style female-driven thrillers. 7 of the producers specifically noted this need.
A few film industry terms
- High Concept- A familiar, easily pitched premise that has mass appeal and a unique twist.
- Contained- A story taking place within a single or limited location like a building or large vehicle, e.g. an airplane or ship, but can be contained in a much smaller venue such as a room or even a coffin.
- Lifetime- The signature style of the lifetime network, e.g. focusing primarily on female protagonists.
- Supernatural- A story wherein the main elements, characters or surroundings are made up of the fantastical e.g. Gods, demons, etc.
- Grounded- A story taking place in the not too distant future with a level technology that is plausible given current scientific trends, aka Hard Science
Somewhat surprising, given its specificity, is the want for high concept and/or “grounded” sci-fi scripts. 5 of the producers included either or both caveats. The demand for sci-fi just in general as a genre included 14 producers.
Horror as a genre is popular as well – 23 producers included a want for horror. The most popular subgenre within horror in our program is “supernatural horror” (with 7 mentions fitting this subgenre).
Comedies and dramas are popular genre categories in the program – with 15 mentions for comedy, and 15 for drama. But they don’t break out totally cleanly into subcategories like “contained” or “supernatural.” While some producers are looking for romantic comedies (5) others may want a “dramedy” (2) or an inspirational drama (5).
The action genre in general is well-represented. As a genre, it shows up as a want for 18 producers. “Contained”, as noted above, is the biggest subgenre for action. “High concept” is another modifier that frequently recurs with action (7 mentions).
Another interesting footnote to the program’s wants is that some of the same films showed up again and again as “comps” (comparable films to what producers are looking for). EX MACHINA showed up as a comp for 6 producers. THE WITCH showed up twice. IT FOLLOWS showed up 3 times.
What can writers take away from this data? Well, a clear trend is the need for Lifetime-style scripts. But most other genres are strongly represented too, it’s just that comedies and dramas aren’t hyper-specific in their needs.
But if you’ve got a contained sci-fi script with a high concept in the vein of EX MACHINA – there should be a demand. That should be a commercial script. The same would go for a low budget supernatural horror script in the vein of IT FOLLOWS or THE WITCH. And a contained action/thriller script is always in demand, those are always commercial screenplays.
The data here reinforces long-held beliefs in the spec market. High concept is king, contained is a plus, and contained action or supernatural horror is an even bigger plus, with sci-fi an increasingly commercial niche here as well, particularly in the wake of the success of EX MACHINA.
Are we missing anything? What have you found producers are looking for out in the market?