When putting together pitch materials for financing, one of the key things to include is a list of “comparables.” That is: five to 10 fairly recent (within the last decade or so) films that share common elements.
When determining comparables, you’re looking at genre, sub-genre, paradigm, tone, level of name talent (that is, how big the movie stars in the movie are), the target audience, the budget level, and most importantly how the films did financially speaking. It’s important to note if the films were released primarily via streaming, if they did most of their business domestically, and/or how well the “traveled.” (Meaning: if they did good business in world territories).
While comparables are primarily seen as a tool for producers, running comparables can be invaluable for writers. Because: many writers are often mystified by the process of what makes producers go after one script but not the other.
For example, I’ve known several writers whose scripts have won huge screenwriting awards, which on paper seems to automatically mean the movie would then get traction toward production… only to be baffled when producers couldn’t seem to care less about the award-winning script. The reason for that is screenplay contests are judging scripts on the creative side; producers are judging scripts both creatively and commercially.
Running comparables can help snap into focus what a script needs to have the best shot at getting traction. For example, since it’s the Halloween season, you decide to write a slasher movie.
Make up a list of ten of the last fairly successful slasher movies that have gotten made and released. Now: How many of them are remakes, sequels, or otherwise part of established franchises? How many are new ideas based on fresh spec scripts, like yours will be?
What were the budget levels of those films? Slasher movies tend to be fairly low-budget, so if we put in explosions and car chases and dinosaurs and other expensive elements, kicking the budget higher than we typically see in our comparables, then producers who read it are just going to be scratching their heads. Pay very close attention to the average budget, and write to that budget.
How many of them are straight-up horror, and how many are horror-comedies? How many were driven by a set-up that might be seen as high-concept, for instance like Happy Death Day? How did these films do in the box office? Was the business primarily domestic, or did the movie travel? Has the film spawned a sequel…?
Running comparables won’t guarantee the project will connect with financing. But the first rule of sales is to see what people buy – and why. Comparables apply a commercial strategy to the script. By doing so, we can better understand where a project fits in the ecosystem of the industry, i.e. who might make the film and why. Many scripts are throwing darts over their shoulders and just hoping for the best. By contrast, a script that’s mindful of its comparables is taking careful aim at the bulls-eye.