BIZ TIP TUESDAY:

WRITING A SEQUEL


The summer of sequels is here! The number one film over the weekend was CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER - which kicks off a bunch of sequels and remakes and reboots! Some you may be looking forward to (RAID 2, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 22 JUMP STREET) and some you'd probably rather skip (does *anyone* want to see the HAUNTED HOUSE sequel?)

2011 was a record year for movie sequels, with 27 sequels coming out before the end of the year! Lots of movies with numbers after the title, like CARS 2, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2: RODRICK RULES, THE HANGOVER PART II, HAPPY FEET 2, HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN, KUNG FU PANDA 2, PIRANHA 3DD and SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BOOK OF SHADOWS... Plus ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED, BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON, MADEA'S BIG HAPPY FAMILY, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 and TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON... Not to mention MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, SCREAM 4, SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD and THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN (PART ONE)... Plus FAST FIVE, FINAL DESTINATION 5, PUSS IN BOOTS, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS AND WINNIE THE POOH, THE MUPPETS, RISE OF THE APES and HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART TWO. That was a lot of sequels!

Say you have a great idea for the *next* INDIANA JONES movie, or a killer concept for LETHAL WEAPON 5, or a fantastic notion of what might happen to Alex Foley in the next BEVERLY HILLS COP movie... should you just write the script and hope for the best? Who do you submit it to? Directly to the studios? To Spielberg or Eddie Murphy?

Sorry to break this to you - you can't submit that script to anyone. Writing it was a waste of time. Those characters are OWNED by producers, so writing about them would be stealing (not that the police will bust down your door for it, but if you tried to sell it you'd be in a heap-o-trouble). A sequel, even to a minor hit like FRIDAYS, is like gold to a producer or studio. They are always looking for stories with "franchise-able characters" - characters who can appear in several sequels. Why? Because you don't need to advertize a sequel as much - we KNOW how funny Eddie Murphy was in the first BEVERLY HILLS COP so we'll go see the next one hoping it will be just as funny. The character becomes famous, and they don't need to buy TV commercials that explain who Indiana Jones IS. People flocked to see PHANTOM MENACE because it was a STAR WARS movie - not because it starred Ewan McGregor. So any sequel to an existing film is a cash cow for the studio - a VERY valuable asset. They don't just let anybody write a sequel - these are the most important scripts a studio has.

The producers hire the writers to do the sequels. Not just any writers - they hire the best writers for the job. For MATRIX 2 and 3 Joel Silver hired the Wachowski Brothers (who wrote the first one)... if they were uninterested, Silver would have "auditioned" professional writers and chosen the one with the most interesting "take" on the material. After auditioning writers for LETHAL WEAPON 4 they still hired 4 different writers to create POSSIBLE scripts then picked the script they liked. Your script wasn't in the running - COULD NOT have been in the running.

TERMINATOR was owned by the bank that funded the last flop film, and they've sold it to those wacky Ellison kids (Annapurna Productions and Skydance productions) and they've announced a new *trilogy* starting next year - they could hire Cameron & Wisher to write the sequel, or they could hire someone else. Looks like Ah-nuld is back as an old T800 and the director of THOR: THE DARK WORLD has joined the team to make T5, and have landed a distribution deal with Paramount. James Cameron does NOT own the rights to the sequels - he sold those when he sold the original script & film to Hemdale. Whern the Carolco guys bought the rights to make TERMINATOR 2 they hired Cameron & Wisher to write the sequel. They could have hired anybody - it's their call. Because the producer picks the writer, they're going to pick a writer they know... not you. For TERMINATOR 3 they originally picked the writer of TANK GIRL because they had produced other films she had written...

After a director was hired, they decided to start from scratch with a new script... and hired the guys who wrote THE NET and THE GAME. Why? The director has worked with them before and the producer liked them. Then the TERMINATOR series has been *sold* to another company for $10 million and they made TERMINATOR: SALVATION as the first of three new movies without Ah-nuld... but T4 flopped. So, if you were wondering how much a producer might charge you for the rights so that *you* can write a sequel - the answer is $10 million! The producer decides who writes sequels BEFORE the sequel is written.

Sequels are written as assignments. That is - the producer of the original film (or whoever owns the rights) hires a writer to write the sequel. They DO NOT look at spec sequel scripts. In fact, looking at such a script would place them in a difficult legal situation in the event ANYTHING in the spec was similar to the sequel script they are paying to have written. Since you are dealing with the same characters & backstory, there will probably be many accidental similarities... and that means lawsuits.

Heck, there's a lawsuit now against a film about the British Secret Service by the Bond producers. They sue you for telling a true story if it's too close to a property they own! So writing a spec sequel get syou nowhere (except maybe court).

HOW DO I GET THAT GIG?

The only way to write a sequel is for the producer to hire you.

The way to make that happen is to write some great original scripts with your own characters and become established as a screenwriter so that you are on that list to come in and pitch your "take" on the sequel story.

In order to be that writer, you need to have written a hot ORIGINAL script that was successful. Sequels are valuable to a studio, so they don't let just anyone write them. If a sequel does well, they'll have a "franchise" (like Indiana Jones or James Bond or even Rick O'Connell from THE MUMMY) and can keep making sequels. So they need a writer who has PROVEN that he or she can write a hit film. It's not just one sequel at stake, here, it's several. It's pointless for you to write a sequel script without FIRST being hired by the studio.

By the way - think of any movie that could have a sequel and I guarantee the studio already has a writer working on it, or has a finished script. Even movies you think could never have a sequel, have writers working on sequels. Did you ever think there would be a HANGOVER 2? Or 3? TOP GUN 2 is coming up... with Tom Cruise! Any movie that ever made money (and some that didn't) have sequels in the pipeline. You know how everyone complains that Hollywood never does anything original? That everything is a sequel or a remake? Well, that's true. Heck, they used to wait 20 years before remaking a movie, but AMAZING SPIDER MAN was made only *five* years after SPIDER MAN 3. In the past there have been films remade *the year after* the original came out. Sequels? Heck, evry movie has a number after it these days!

For every movie that gets made there are *NINE* purchased screenplays or developed projects that never get made. Many of those developed projects are sequels that have finsihed, polished screenplays and maybe even some actors and directors involved... but end up on the shelf for now. So just because they haven't made a sequel to BATTLEFIELD EARTH doesn't mean there isn't a sequel script finished and ready to go. In fact, there are screenplays for BATTLEFIELD EARTH 2 and BATTLEFIELD EARTH 3 on a shelf ready to go right now. Someone came in and pitched their take on the property and they hired him to write #2... and then hired some other dude to write #3, just in case #2 was a hit.Before a film comes out and tanks, there's a lot of heat... and they often call in writers to pitch their take and hire someone in the event the film is a massive hit. They'll be able to announce the sequel the Monday after it breaks weekend box office records.

WHAT'S A TAKE?

I have a whole Script Tip in rotation on Pitching Your Take, but basically it's explaining your unique angle on the material. So before Stephen Summers got the job of remaking Universal's THE MUMMY as an Indiana Jones like action adventure flick, John Sayles had written a screenplay (and probably did a couple of rewrites on it) that was THE MUMMY in present day. A completely different take! There are a million directions a remake of THE MUMMY could go, and the studio listens to all of these possibilities pitched by screenwriters they have called in and select the one they like. And sometimes if that one isn't working, call in all of those writers again and start from scratch.

With *original* screenplays, studios are always looking for something that is The Same But Different, and that's even more true with sequels. The problem with sequels is that you want a story that is similar to the original (so that it *is* a sequel) but different enough that people won't skip it because they've already seen that story. I think the best type of sequel is the ALIEN to ALIENS type. Both are about those danged chest bursting, face hugging aliens who have acid for blood... but one is an old dark house horror movie and the other is a military action flick. The same but different.

Some of the complains about HANGOVER 2 was that it was a search and replace sequel. They seemed to just change the locations. To the point that Doug, the misplaced groom from the first film, wasn't part of the search for the misplaced brother in the second film... even though there was no reason for him not to be part of the search party! Too much "the same" and not enough "different". It would be like the Alien in ALIEN just attacking some other ship with some other crew... that Ripley just happened to be part of (you always bring back the star). The thing that made HANGOVER fun was the creative the story was told, and what they should have done is find a *different* way to tell the story in the sequel which was also creative and fun. You can't just leave out the creative way the story is told, then there would be a "hole" in the story. You need to find a different creative way to tell it. That way what made the first film special (and made it a hit) would be replaced by something that will make the sequel special... rather than just the same as the first film. You want ALIEN and ALIENS.

This was one of the great things about CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER. The first CAPTAIN AMERICA movie had a 98 pound weakling turned into a super soldier... but still thinking he's that 98 pound weakling. He has to get used to his new body, and that's part of the character's journey through the story. It's one of the things that made the character endearing. He's kind of a "fish out of water" but the "water" is his physique. WINTER SOLDIER takes the "fish out of water" and changes the "water" to the time period. After being frozen in ice, he's thawed out (what is the microwave setting for that?) and now this 1940s guy is in 2014... and the whole world is different. Two of the main things that are different are *technology* and *morality*. Can he adjust to this new world? Like the change in physique, this is an emotional struggle. WINTER SOLDIER also did the ALIEN/ALIENS thing with genre: instead of being a war movie, it's more of a paranoid 70s thriller. The things we love from the first movie are here, but this film is unique all the way down to the core. I'm writing this before the weekend box office numbers are in, but I'm guessing it did record numbers and the word of mouth will keep it at #1 for a while. You want to find that take that is the same but different!

Even writing a sequel as a sample isn't a good idea, because the characters and situations were created by somebody else. It's not exactly showing your creativity! How can someone judge your ability to create fully dimensional characters if you didn't create them? How can someone judge your ability to come up with great story ideas if it's someone else's story? Scenes? Plotting? (the list goes on!) You need a writing sample that shows YOUR creativity. In fact - why would you WANT to write a sequel? Don't you have enough of your own ideas? If not - get some ideas! Write YOUR stories!

The best way to get a sequel gig is to write a great original screenplay. That is also the best way to get a job adapting that comic book you love, or get the gig doing a remake. It all begins with your original screenplay!


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