The first time someone told me a script I wrote wasn’t “four-quadrant,” I had no clue what they were talking about. “Four-quadrant” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in Hollywood, and it’s an important term for screenwriters to know and to use in their writing process.
The four quadrants are the four basic demographics that attend movies: men over the age of 25, men under 25, women over 25, and women under 25. Some studio execs might try to tell you that one of those demographics is more important than the others, but the truth of the matter is that the categories are split up the way they are so that the result is a pretty balanced view of movie goers.
Everyone wants to make four-quadrant films. If your idea appeals to each of the four quadrants, that makes it a family film in the most modern sense of the term, and that’s a very good thing. This is how Lee Tidball of Screencraft explains it:
Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Mrs. Doubtfire, Avatar, Independence Day, Despicable Me, Super 8, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Superman, Jurassic Park, The Santa Clause, The Blind Side, Enchanted, The Hunger Games, Kindergarten Cop.
All of those films fall under a creative executive’s definition of a four-quadrant family film. When some people think of family films, they’re likely to conjure up G-rated fare like Bambi. But family entertainment has evolved tremendously in the last several decades. Along with societal changes have come major changes in what people see today as “family entertainment” and what Hollywood sees as a “four-quadrant” movie, meaning one that appeals equally to all four demographics: young and old, male and female.
And because, understandably, those films continue to be by far the most profitable and stable, Hollywood is chasing them now more than ever. A four-quadrant hit is what every executive dreams about every time their head hits the pillow. They are the Holy Grail, the sweet spot and the homecoming queen all wrapped into one.
Lee goes on to explain the elements that go into a four-quadrant script:
- A “high-concept” premise. Whether it’s a superhero’s adventures, an amazing fantasy, a sci-fi quest , or a compelling true story, four-quadrant films live in this realm: an irresistible story idea that can be grasped in one or two sentences.
- Heroes and villains. That doesn’t mean heroes are flawless or villains can’t have a sad backstory, but concrete-thinking kids struggle with too much complexity in characters. You have to find the balance.
- Plots filled with EMOTION, ACTION and DANGER; and yes, that probably means violence and/or death. The trick is to find the right edge without crossing into inappropriate territory. And thus comes another potential shocker…
- Chuck the G-rating! Unless it’s animated, nothing is perceived as more boring to the moviegoing kid than a G-rated movie. The film must have enough edge to go beyond, but again, not too far.
- Theme. Kids and adults both like a story that says something and has genuine resonance, whether they can articulate it or not.
- Humor. Comic moments always enhance enjoyment, no matter how serious the story might be.
Read more at Screencraft.