BIZ TIP TUESDAY:
WRITING A SEQUEL
This tip is two years old... and we already have reboots of SPIDER-MAN and THE MUMMY! So read it as if it were written two years ago!
The sequels of fall are here! The number one film over the weekend was TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
- which kicks off a fall full of sequels and remakes and reboots! We've already had ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP and MALIFICIENT: MYSTRESS OF EVIL and
ANGRY BIRDS 2 and 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED...
And coming soon are some you may be looking forward to like DOCTOR SLEEP and FROZEN 2 and the CHARLIES ANGELS reboot. Of course, there's a new STAR WARS movie coming at the end of the year, too.
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!
I HAVE A SEQUEL IDEA!
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.
Producers own the rights to the characters, the worlds of the stories, and everything else - you can not legally write a sequel. So how do you get that job?
The producers who own the rights hire 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 had been uninterested, or if Silver decided that the sequels needed a different writer.
he 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 - and COULD NOT have been in the running.
The TERMINATOR rights were owned by the bank that funded the TERMINATOR: SALVATION, and they sold it to those wacky Ellison kids
(Annapurna Productions and Skydance productions) who announced a new *trilogy* starting with GENiSYS a couple of years ago.
They could have hired Cameron & Wisher to
write that reboot, or they could have hired someone else. They hired the wriiter of SHUTTER ISLAND and the writer of the Nic Cage movie DRIVE ANGRY to write the script. And they brought back Ah-nuld as an old T800 and the director of
THOR: THE DARK WORLD joined the team to make T5, and anded 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 for T3, 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.
After TERMINATOR: GENISYS flopped, the reboot sequels were scrapped and they went back to the drawing board. The rights owners (still Annapurna Productions and Skydance
productions) brought in James Cameron to consult on the project and come up with a story, the decision was made to pretend that no movies after T2 were made - so if you had written a TERMINATOR
screenplay it wouldn't be what they wanted. You've wasted your time. It's *their* property and *they* decide what the story is going to be. They hired a handful of writers (I don't know what the order was)
to write a series of scripts, each rewriting the other. The writers they hired included David Goyer (BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KKNIGHT and 50 other big studio films) and Oscar nominated Billy Ray
(FLIGHT PLAN, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and 29 other big studio films. I believe that Billy Ray was the last writer on the project,. The first writer on the project I believe was Justin Rhodes, a
"baby writer" who had written a bunch of science fiction screenplays that have yet to be produced. The "baby writer" position is the job that you might get - after writing a bunch of great original screenplays that
every producer in Hollywood loves (whether they were sold or not) they often look for a "baby writer" to do the first draft on a script. The grunt work of plotting it all out. That "baby writer" is
more affordable than the Oscar noiminee or the guy who wrote the huge hit films, so they can afford to use him to get the bones of the story on paper , then call in the expensive guys to
give it that Barton Fink Feeling. So if you have written a bunch of original screenplays that everyone loves, you may be on the list of baby writers to come in and pitch their take.
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 was a lawsuit 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 gets you 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, and we have already had two SPIDER-MAN "home" movies since the last AMAZING movie.
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
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. CIVIL WAR was the same but different in other ways - by including most of the other AVENGERS and
forcing them to take sides. Splitting the team in half and having them fight each other. 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 bunch of great original screenplays. 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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