Decoding "Writing For The Market"
The term “writing for the market” can be a confusing. Advice on this ranges from complete avoidance to slavish devotion. The most effective strategy to write for the market lands somewhere in the middle.
Should writers chase trends? No. Vampire movies were a trend, zombie movies were a trend, and trends come and go. Writers should write material they feel passionately about, period. But, within that, there are some smart ways to adjust your material so it fits into one defined market.
At ScriptArsenal, we often come across scripts that straddle two markets in an incompatible fashion. For example, a writer might have written a great thriller that could be a Lifetime-style-women-in-peril film. But if that script requires a fifty-million-dollar budget, it will never be made for its ideal market (these films are no longer theatrical titles). Maybe that script is reconceived as a lower-budgeted story.
The old-school cop/serial killer script remains a popular niche. But again, after the boom period for this type of content in the 1990s, almost all of it has gone to television. Writing the big feature version of this kind of story misses the practical market, which is TV. Maybe that story turns into a pilot instead.
Slasher scripts have long since gone out of style (quick, when was the last big theatrical release of a slasher film not based on a classic horror movie?). That means any slasher script should also be producible for a low budget.
Superhero stories, if not based on pre-existing IP, need to have a wild take to stand out. Studios are not making these films unless they are based on IP, so the pragmatic reason to write one is as a writing sample. That means doing something crazy, noisy, and very original. Writing a good alternative version of a Marvel film is unlikely to be useful for a writer in 2020.
Age is also a pragmatic factor of writing for the market. Films are financed increasingly with an eye towards the international market. That requires movie stars who are known in international markets, which are typically five years behind the domestic US market. The outcome of this lag time is a lack of movie stars in their 20s. Most bankable international movie stars are in their 30s-60s. But many scripts that come through the door at ScriptArsenal feature protagonists in their 20s. What this means, practically, is that it’s going to be very difficult to cast an internationally valuable movie star in that part.
Now, is any of this chasing trends? Not exactly. It’s more about molding the content to practical concerns. The women-in-peril thriller is more practical to produce at a low budget instead of a mid-budget. The cop thriller is best as a TV pilot. A slasher needs to be makeable as an independent film. Superhero stories must be noisy writing samples, or they are one in a million lottery shots, since studios can just go to a comic book as IP. And perhaps that “20s” age protagonist becomes a “30s” age protagonist.
What practical considerations do you make for the market in writing your scripts? Let us know in the comments below.