TUESDAY'S BIZ TIP:
WRITING FOR TOYS
They are malking a movie based on TETRIS.
Actually, they are making a *trilogy* of movies based on TETRIS.
One of the most important talents a screenwriter can have is the ability to see a
situation from every character's point of view - to make the decisions your character
would make. These skills can be put to use on the business side by putting ourselves in
the shoes of the potential buyers for our screenplays. If we can imagine what it's like to
be the villain of our script, it shouldn't be all that difficult to imagine ourselves as a
motion picture producer.
Where we might be attracted to the story and characters and those great lines of
dialogue, a producer is going to be investing MILLIONS of dollars to put this script on
screen and what they are most interested in is making their money back. Sure, they like
a good story - but they also know that people lined up to see TRANSFORMERS 4... so story isn't everything.
And TRANSFORMERS 4 was a huge hit (over $1 billion with a B worldwide), so next year we get TRANSFORMERS 5: THE LAST KNIGHT, and TRANSFORMERS 6 & 7 are already in the pipeline.
Don't worry - I'm not doing a tip on crass exploitation. This tip is about diversity.
I wish it were a tip on how Hollywood is hiring more women and minorities, but not that kind of diversity.
Diversity, as in: Viacom-Paramount-CBS-MTV-Six Flags is a diversified corporation that owns almost every
kind of business that you can imagine. A screenwriter friend of mine was complaining
about a recent meeting where the merchandising guys gave him script notes - Could
you make a drastic change to this character so that we can sell a toy version of him? Is
there a way that we can lighten up this aspect of the story so that we can get a PG-13
and do a Happy Meal promotion with McDonalds? My friend was complaining that he
has rewritten the script for the producer, the director, the star... and now he's doing a
rewrite for Hasbro.
But that is the reality of the business side of film making. Movies cost so much to make
that they need to find ways to use the film to sell everything from plush toys to sound
tracks. You might complain that merchandising is going to destroy Hollywood, but I'd
ask: When you were a kid, what was on your lunch box? Did you own any STAR WARS
toys? This merchandising thing has been around since the beginning of Hollywood (on
my bookshelf I have a 1940s novel tie-in... hardback!). So instead of fighting the Happy
Meal reality, let's think like a producer and see if we can make our scripts more
attractive to one of those big conglomerates that own everything including a movie
Franchises and toys and tie ins are a basic part of the film business. and if a company has a choice
between a great screenplay that has potential toy tie ins and a great screenplay that doesn't - they will probably go for the toys.
Extra income plus extra promotion for the movie - synergy. We used to live in the STAR WARS era where they made toys and games from a
hit movie... now we live in the TRANSFORMERS and TETRIS era where they try to make a hit movie from a toy or game!
From an interview in The Los Angeles Times: "I like franchises,
not necessarily because they fit the corporate model, but because that's what I was a fan of when I was a kid,"
said Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, who produces the company's films. "Toys simply extend the
experience that people had so much fun with for two hours in the theaters. And if it feeds other divisions,
that's awesome." Here is the rest of the article.
A few years ago MGM got itself into major financial trouble (again) by making three big,
expensive, event movies. Let's look at their choices and see if we can figure out where
they went wrong:
What you are looking for is a story that has mass audience appeal and possibilities for ancillary
deals or tie ins or something another division of your company might be interested in... and MGM made two World War 2
movies and a sci-fi remake? Even though ROLLERBALL seems to make the most
sense of the three, it's not the kind of sci-fi movie that could spawn a sequel, or action
figures, or a TV series... It's also not a typical sci-fi action flick - it's about roller derby
(was popular on TV in the 60s & 70s, almost nowhere to be seen today) - a game that takes
place on a very small track. It's a big budget movie without scope or scale - they have to
manufacture action scenes because the story doesn't naturally create any action
scenes except people skating in a circle! The action figures woulde basically be Ken
dolls wearing rollerblades - booooring!
All three films were major flops - both critically and financially.
If any of these three were a big hit, could it spin into a series of films like CAPTAIN AMERICA
or FAST & FURIOUS or INSIDIOUS or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN or ICE AGE or... well,
just about any other big summer tent-pole film from any other studio. These were SHORT SIGHTED choices!
What would HART'S WAR 2 be about? What is the HART'S WAR Happy Meal toy?
What are the WINDTALKERS plush toys? Can you imagine a WINDTALKERS cartoon
on Saturday morning? How about the TV series spin off? None of these three films had
any franchise potential, any merchandising potential, and spin-off potential, and that
means it's all up to the film's box office potential to make the money back. These are bad ideas
for your studio's one big chance to turn their finances around! Even if they were major hits,
they'd be dead ends! We don't want dead ends, we want franchises and ancillary deals.
Who made these decisions?
A major studio like MGM should have only done expensive tent-pole movies if they find the
RIGHT movie to do, and concentrate on making $15 million genre films - comedies,
thrillers, horror films. Cast WB teen actors, minority actors, older actresses - people who they
can get for less money but still have a name value. Instead of blowing $100 million (or more) on
one WINDTALKERS blow it on ten INSIDIOUS / AMERICAN PIE / SAW / BARBERSHOP type
flicks. Even if that $15 million genre film sucks, it can make back its money on cable,
video, etc. It keeps the lights on while they try to find the GREAT tent-pole movie.
When I updated this tip a couple of years ago, MacGRUBER had just opened and did not do well - it opened at #6 with just over $4 million. Now, the rule of thumb is that
a film's opening weekend times 4 equals it's total domestic box office... which means MacGRUBER should have made about $16 million... but stalled out big time making only $8.5 million on a budget of $10 million... which is less than some direct to DVD films! (those Van Damme, Seagal, and Snipes movies end up around $15m and make around $30m in DVD sales). So MacGRUBER was close to break even in cinemas and probably made a bunch of money on DVD / BluRay. DVD / BluRay is really where it belonged in the first place - it's a one joke film, and we've already seen the joke a million times. But MacGRUBER has all kinds of odd toy and game potential, too. And if it did well enough on DVD / BluRay there may be some direct-to-video sequels. The great thing about a film like MacGRUBER is that there are 2 or 3 commercials for it every Saturday night that the distributor doesn't have to pay for. That's an element of synergy, too.
If you take a look at INSIDIOUS or SAW or even BARBERSHOP - all three had
sequel potential! These were not big blockbusters, they were teh sort of small film that a new writer might have written (the guy who wrote BARBERSHOP lived in the same apartment complex as I did). How many AMERICAN PIE theatrical sequels did we get? How many DVD sequels did we get?
After those DVD sequels we got AMERICAN REUNION with the whole cast back... but not the writers.
This summer we have at least a dozen franchise flicks, we've already had our fill of
SHREKs - #4 was the last one, and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4 may have flopped here... but made a ton of money everywhere else (which is why we're getting #5 next year, followed by #6!).
easily imagine an INSIDIOUS TV series - we follow the ghost buster woman and her crew of slackers from haunted house to
haunted house, and I'm sure there's merchandising for
AMERICAN PIE and SAW and BARBERSHOP that I'm not aware of. Probably not Happy Meals (Would
you like a hot apple pie with that?) but all of those sequels more than made up for that. Fun genre films are designed for
sequels, and as Kevin Feige from Marvel says - we *like* seeing the next chapter in some series we love. Yes, the
studio loves a franchise because it's a money machine... but the audience loves a franchise, too. How many women were
excited by SEX AND THE CITY 2? Next year we get the next 50 SHADES OF GRAY movie, and I *know* that film had merchandising because I tweeted a picture of the boardgame once. I was curious what the boardgame might be, just not curious enough to spend $25 to buy it.
stood in line to see that lame INDIANA JONES movie - because we love the character and want to see his next adventure. We will all stand in line to see the next one, too (2019). A screenplay that
can be a film franchise is good for the studio and the audience.
And, as Feige says, we like to buy the toys, too. Do you think it's only kids who buy STAR WARS toys? Um, I have some.
Every studio *other than MGM* made their story decisions not only on the film... but
the ancillary rights and franchise possibilities, too. If we think like a producer, and chose a story idea that has
sequel and merchandising potential, our script will be more attractive to the buyers.
Look at your script - is there potential for several sequels? Could there be a TV series
or cartoon spin off? What about a video game - is the CONCEPT something that
translates into a game? Plush toys? Action figures? Board games? Lunch boxes? Is the
story something that includes music so that they can sell a soundtrack by the artists
they have signed in their music division? Is their product placement possibilities? (That reality show
RESTAURANT from a couple years ago was entirely paid for by product placement! Because it's a restaurant, they had AMEX as a
credit card sponsor, Coors was a beer
sponsor, etc. They things they serve in the restaurant are stealth commercials!) What
are the toys in the Happy Meal? Can you imagine a hundred different comic books featuring your protagonist?
What does the theme park ride look like?
Okay - some of you think this is the destruction of cinema... what are the SEVENTH SEAL Happy Meal toys? Have you played the PERSONA
video game? How about THE GODFATHER video game... oh, wait, there *is* one of those! We can gripe about studios only wanting scripts that
can spawn products for other divisions... but that isn't going to change anything. The guys at Paramount and Disney are still
going to wonder if they can turn this script into a theme park ride and toys and games and all of that other stuff. Studios
are owned by big congloms with their fingers in a lot of pies - and nothing we say or do will change that. It is reality. We
ignore reality at our own peril.
You may think of your script *only* as a movie, but the people you sell it to think of it as
a chance to market dozens of products. Though no one is going to buy a bad script because there are Happy Meal toys and sequel potential...
no one is going to buy a bad script in the first place. So that leaves good scripts - and somewhere in the back of their minds they may be
looking for something like SAW or THE PURGE or BARBERSHOP that will end up a franchise, or something like DISPICABLE ME or PREDATOR that might have toys and game potential.
Selling your script to them will be easier if you put yourself in their shoes.
You have a great screenplay... but can it be more than that?
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E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
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FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
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