Writers, directors and producers often ask, what should I make? What kind of film is going to give me the best shot at distribution? Short answer, I don’t know. There’s no magic formula. Film distribution has its trends. Right now, action films and family movies are hot. But, by the time you write a script, raise finance, shoot, edit and finish post, the market may have moved on.
That said, there are ways to stack the deck in your favour. Sales agents and distributors want films with in-built marketing hooks. One way of doing that is to create film projects with pre-awareness.
Pre-awareness is a clunky industry term for familiarity. It means the audience already knows what the film is about.
It’s why we get endless sequels, prequels, remakes and biopics and films based on best selling books, TV shows, comic books, games and toys.
Think Transformers, The Hunger Games, X-Men, The Lego Movie, Star Wars, Star Trek, 21 Jump Street, James Bond and Harry Potter. These are films made about subject matter with established track records and proven success. There’s already an audience. You’re selling them a film a story, characters and a world they already recognise and love, which is much easier than pitching a brand new idea.
As an independent filmmaker, you’re probably not going to be able to grab the rights for the latest hot book or cult TV show. What you can do is tap into the public domain, and adapt from the classics. In the UK, public domain for books applies after fifty years after the death of the author. There’s more information at The UK Copyright Service and Cornell has some guidelines on US copyright here. Project Gutenberg is a great source for what’s available. Here are some authors whose works you can produce:
- William Shakespeare
- Jane Austen
- Charles Dickens
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- H.G. Wells
- Alexander Dumas
- Agatha Christie
- Charlotte Brontë
- Emily Brontë
- Wilkie Collins
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Mary Shelley
These are stories that have stood the test of time across all genres. They give you a hell of a screenwriting credit from some of the best writers in history. They’ve done the hard work for you. Forget the corsets and crinoline, modernise them and put your own spin on them.
There’s been a slew of inventive Austen adaptations – Clueless, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, Bride and Prejudice, and Death at Pemberley. Sherlock Holmes has been reincarnated as three successful modern TV shows: House, Sherlock and Elementary). Romeo and Juliet’s adaptations number Zeffirelli, Baz Luhrmann and the 2013 Carlo Carlei version with Hailee Steinfeld, to more creative versions- West Side Story and Gnomeo and Juliet.
If those don’t appeal, how about fairy tales? Last year’s Disney smash Frozen is based on a lesser known Brothers Grimm story called The Snow Queen. Snow White and the Huntsman did strong box office business and the buzz around Maleficent is phenomenal. These are stories that have survived because they tap into what it means to be human. Deconstruct them, put them back together and show us something new. It’s all in the execution, but you’ll be starting with a great story and commercial hook, which are strong foundations for your film.
Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.
Picture Credit: Maleficent