Why Bad Scripts Get Bought (and Yours Don’t)

Carson Reeves of ScriptShadow recently answered the question that aggravates every amateur screenwriter: Why do terrible scripts get bought and turned into terrible movies, but no one’s interested in my script?

Carson responds,

The answer to this question is extremely complicated, but I’m going to try and simplify it for you.

Say a producer knows that Seth Rogen just went on a canoeing trip and had the time of his life. And the next day, he hears about a canoeing script from an agent friend. He reads it. It’s not very good. But he knows how much Seth loves canoeing, so he sends it to him. Seth’s a good writer and knows the script’s lame, but the bones of the structure are there and there’s a few funny scenes. He can easily buy the script then hire some guys to rewrite it and a year or two later, have a project ready to go.

There are also times where a studio is dying to make a certain kind of movie but doesn’t have a script for it yet. So say Warner Brothers needs to fill that vacancy left by the Harry Potter franchise. And they find a script about a young girl who goes to a Ghost Academy. The script is average, but they see this filling that same Harry Potter demo, so why not take a chance and develop it into something good?

Then of course there are actor attachments. A big actor likes a script and attaches himself to it. At that point, the studios can’t say no because any project an A-list actor is in has the potential to make money. The catch is, the script sucks. Maybe because the actor’s ability to judge material sucks. Maybe the actor loves the character he’d play, despite the rest of the script sucking. Maybe the script was written by one of his friends. Who knows. But that’s the scenario. In those cases, a studio will almost always buy the script because it comes with the potential of a movie that will make them money.

Here’s the problem with these scenarios. First, this almost exclusively happens to people who are already repped, which you aren’t. Why? Because those writers have agents sending their scripts out to a wide berth of people with buying power. You, on the other hand, have nothing. You don’t have any control over something like that happening to you.  Second, bad-to-average scripts selling are almost always luck-based, a script getting in the right hands at the right time (like Rogen’s canoeing scenario).  And unless you know what everyone in Hollywood wants at every moment, selling a script this way is a crap shoot.

So forget these scenarios. Put them out of your mind. Never think “I’ll write something as good as that average movie I saw and then sell it” because you’ll have a better chance at winning the lottery. Seriously, you will.

The world you’re operating in is much different. You’re competing against all the guys trying to break into Hollywood. And because there are between 50,000 and 75,000 scripts being written a year, an average script isn’t going to stand out. You’ll have to write something much better than average. Typically, if you look at every year like a giant screenwriting contest, you have to finish in the top 30-40 of those 75,000 to get a SERIOUS look from Hollywood (the kind of look that leads to a script sale).

If you’re writing something that’s just “okay,” nobody will care. EVEN if it’s as good as a movie that made 40 million at the box office last weekend, like Ride Along. I know that thinking sounds backwards, but that’s the reality. Like I always say, the only thing you can control in writing is writing the best script you can possibly write at this point in your life (not 60%, not 70% not 80% – but 100%!). If you’ve honestly done that, you’ll have a shot. If you’re writing anything less than that, you shouldn’t expect much.

Read the full article at ScriptShadow.

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