ATQ37: Is there a gap in the market?
Is there a type of script that agents/readers crave for that they simply don’t see enough of? I feel that I’m writing in a vacuum. There is no point me writing scripts about, say, female gangsters or comedies set in Hull if they already have loads of them. Maybe people don’t write enough sit-com scripts? Or something else? Can you give us any clues?
Of course, knowing what’s been greenlit recently can save you a lot of wasted time, and there is Open Door for that kind of information.
More generally it seems that broadcasters always, always want more crime shows, more medical shows, and good legal shows.
But those shows exist in such a mature market that these days you have to have some truly exceptional character or two at the heart of your idea to make an impression.
If you are developing one of these scripts, put yourself in the place of the poor Head of Development, or the Head of Drama, who has to go to a broadcaster and actually sell the thing. Competition is intense. You need to help them out by giving them something fresh that they can actually sell.
What’s the remarkable thing about your new cops/docs/legal show? If you don’t have great characters, remarkable angles on the plot and a genuinely fresh take, you may as well forget it.
So, be different?
I’m certainly not going to tell you to go off and develop a crime series set in outer space, or a love story set in a monastery the time of King James.
Either of those could be fantastic, or terrible. Depends on the execution.
As Henry Ford (perhaps) said, if he had asked what people had wanted they would have said faster horses.
Don’t listen to what they SAY they want
I heard this from very experienced producer:
“When a broadcaster tells you they are flooded with police shows, you know what you should do? Start developing a great police show. It’ll take you a year, by which time they will have changed their minds, a great show will always break through anyway, and the competition won’t have developed any police shows so you’ll be way ahead of the curve.”
I honestly can’t tell you what to write and what not to write. You can always surprise me. There is a great script to be written about everything. And that’s the great news.
If you don’t know him, William Goldman he is mostly famous these days for his scripts to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, All The President’s Men, and Marathon Man. (Each of these scripts is a fantastic read. Strongly recommended.)
In his book Adventures of the Screen Trade he famously said: ‘No-one knows anything.’
I read something from William Goldman back around 2000.
He wrote words to the effect of:
“I do have one corollary of that old saying of mine ‘No-one knows anything’. I DO actually know that pirate movies always do badly.”
Within a year Jay Wolpert had started writing Pirates of the Caribbean…
Get into the conversation
There is an instinct at play in the commissioning process. Things somehow feel ‘right’.
That ‘right’ is a complex mix of what’s been screened in the last few years, plus landmark shows from history, plus what’s happening in the real world, plus the subconscious emotional preoccupations of the commissioners, etc etc.
I do know that a lot of scripts you get sent feel like the writer hasn’t watched any TV since the 1990s. That’s a disaster.
The more you watch what’s on, and what’s coming up, the more you know about commissioning decisions, the better.
Broadcasting is a conversation, and you have to join the conversation in a fresh and interesting way.
Here are some of the thoughts that sprang into my mind when I read your question:
“Oh, wow, I don’t know.”
“I can’t say what I want, but I’ll know when I see it.”
“Grab hold of me.”
“Make me laugh.”
“Make me feel strong emotion.”
“Take me into a world I knew nothing about.”
“Show me someone I care about battling overwhelming odds – and triumphing!”
“Give me memorable characters.”
“Make me feel clever.”
Far too few unsolicited scripts press far too few of these buttons…
I don’t think I can be any more specific, sorry.
But then again, in many ways, that list is all you need…
Make contacts and sell your scripts
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Every issue is full of detailed advice on the industry, with plenty of realistic advice on the best way to go about making the contacts you need to sell your script.