BIZ TIP TUESDAY:
WRITING A SEQUEL
The summer of sequels is here! The number one film over the weekend was G.I. JOE 2 - which kicks off a bunch of sequels and remakes and reboots!
Some you may be looking forward to (STAR TREK, IRON MAN 3, FAST & FURIOUS 6) and some you'd probably
rather skip (does *anyone* want to see the SMURFS 2 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 is now owned by the bank that funded the last flop film (they are trying to sell it) - they could hire Cameron & Wisher to
write the sequel, or they could hire someone else. Looks like Ah-nuld and the director of FAST FIVE have teamed up to make T5, and are shopping the project to studios.
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.
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?
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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