Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Movies Are Ancillaries Of Toys!

From 2009...

And Soylent Green tastes a little weird...

A week ago I did a Doom & Gloom blog entry about the state of the biz after from a dead American Film Market and realizing that indie films and indie genre films are in big trouble these days... and studio movies? Well, it seems like movies today are now an ancillary of toy companies - Hasbro is a film producer now! For real. And Marvel comics is a film producer, they have a deal with Disney. And this just sucks for screenwriters who don't want to write GI JOE 2 or SLINKY: THE MOTION PICTURE...

The biggest mistake of my career is that I am a writer who really wants to tell his own stories and seems to have a bunch of stories to tell. I would much rather write an original script than adapt someone else’s material - and have turned down jobs I should have taken. I always joke about ANGELS & DEMONS, but had I said yes instead of no my name would probably be on a big Ron Howard / Tom Hanks movie right now instead of on some cool spec script I wrote instead that still has not sold. Hey, and that was *before* movies had become just an ancillary right of Hasbro and Marvel and Sony Playstation.

They are making MONOPOLY THE MOTION PICTURE and Ridley Scott is directing.

They are turning a guy’s *Twitter account*, SHIT MY DAD SAYS, into a TV series.

I have a Script Tip called Writing For Toys that gets me a dozen angry e-mails whenever I run it, because it says we should consider the ancillary rights when we write our original screenplays, because that is an elements that the producers are considering. If they have two specs on their desks and one is a perfect for games and toys and Happy Meal tie ins and a Saturday morning cartoon spin off, and the other can only be a movie; guess which one will make them the most money? Hey, you may think this is art, but the guys buying our scripts are businessmen and are making an investment in our screenplays with the hope of making a good return on that investment. They are going to pick the screenplay that will make them the best return. That Script Tip is now out of date because movies are the ancillaries now. They aren’t looking at our spec scripts any more, they are looking at what board game hasn’t been filmed yet, what toy line can be a summer tentpole, what comic book might be the next IRON MAN. It’s long past thinking about the ancillary rights when you write a spec...

Depressing, huh?

As I said in the Doom & Gloom blog entry - Uwe Boll is a genius! He was the one who figured this out before anyone else, before any of the studios, and began making the movies of video games while studios were still thinking the business was all about making movies and then making the videogames of movies.

Terry Rossio (and Ted Elliott) have a column on their site called Mental Real Estate that foresaw all of this a decade ago. This column used to be one that I understood but disagreed with - my theory was that popular movies required original ideas, not some idea so worn out that everyone on the globe knew about it. Of course, that little PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie and its sequels proved me wrong. The Mental Real Estate model is the one Hollywood loves right now. “Hey, everybody knows Solitaire! We play it on our computers when we’re supposed to be working! And old people play it with actual cards! That makes SOLITAIRE: THE MOVIE ‘four quadrant’! We get the young *and* old audience! And SOLITAIRE has built in sequels that are also part of our Mental Real Estate - I can’t wait for the scary excitement of SPIDER SOLITAIRE, can you?” If you have an idea on how to turn solitaire into a movie, you can sell that to Hollywood. The business is more interested in the Universal than the Unique right now.

Depressing, huh?

Everything runs in cycles, so this trend will eventually burn out... but it may takes years, probably a decade. Now, the way we land a job like SLINKY: THE MOTION PICTURE is to write a great original spec with an amazing original idea... and that leads to writing a movie that is just an ancillary for a toy or game or comic book. So we still need to be writing original material... unless you can crack that SOLITAIRE movie (because that games is public domain). But this doesn’t satisfy someone like me, whose motivation is to see *my* scripts on screen. Though I have realized the error of my ways and would now probably take the ANGELS & DEMONS assignment or any of the others I turned down, because for some mixed up reason the biz respects the guy who adapts a popular novel more than the guy who can actually create their own story and characters... and more than the writer of that popular novel. I have learned that I need to play well with others rather than go to my own little corner in my own little room where I can be whatever I want to be. But am I going to write stuff like ETCH-A-SKETCH: THE MOTION PICTURE for the next decade until this trend dies out?

Depressing, huh?

So, Bill from Pulp 2.0 and I were talking about this... and instead of looking at this as The Death Of Cinema, we've decided to use this as an opportunity. To make lemonade out of the lemons. Basically, I’m taking my own advice and looking at projects with strong ancillary possibilities. I have a script called ANDROID ARMY that is often a bridesmaid, but so far has not been a bride. People keep *almost* making this script. The great thing about it is that it’s affordable sci-fi, and has some really strange characters. It is the only thing I've ever written that screams: "Action Figures!" It also screams video game and comic book and game cards and all of that other stuff. The stuff that used to be ancillary rights but now seems to be driving the market. So, we are going to try to set it up as a video game and a comic book and maybe even a toy line *before* we try to set it up as a movie. Instead of looking at the movie first and the ancillary stuff second, the plan is to reverse that - and look at video games and all of those things that used to be “after markets” as equals to cinema. To play this ancillary game Hollywood seems to be playing.

Hey, the economy sucks - games and comic books and all of those things that used to be ancillaries are hurting. We understand that. This is not a case of thinking that setting this up as a comic book is going to be easy, this is trying to break down some other door - find some other way in with this project. If we do all of this and nothing happens, how is that any different than trying to set up the script with a bunch of producers?

I did not start writing screenplays to sell dolls, but many of my favorite films have action figures... no, not CASABLANCA, but ALIENS does. So, for a while, if I have a choice between the story idea that can sell to multiple markets or a story idea that can only be a movie, I'm going to pick the additional markets one. I'm not writing anything I don't like, just selecting from ideas I do like or twisting an idea a little to give it additional chances to be bought and made. I’m kicking down different doors.

And that’s kind of exciting.

Instead of looking at something like SHIT MY DAD SAYS and complaining that some guy sold his *tweets* to Hollywood and they are making it into a TV series... I’m looking at things like tweets as a possible market that can lead to a script deal. Instead of looking at Diablo Cody breaking into the biz because she wrote an amusing blog about working as a stripper, I’m looking for a job as a stripper! Okay, I tried applying for a job at Bob’s Classy Lady in Van Nuys and they wouldn’t hire me to strip, even though my boobs are larger than many of the women on the pole. So I’ll have to blog about something else.

But the thing about Diablo Cody and the SHIT MY DAD SAYS twitter guy is that they are *writers* who are *writing something*, just in a different medium than screenplays. If you think about his tweets, it's not just a basic twitter account - it's very specific and all about one character (or maybe two) and it's funny. I can easily see this as a TV series. Yeah - you have to adapt it, but how is that any different than adapting Ray Romano's stand up routine into a series? This guy is writing 140 character scenes about a character! He has found a way to show off his comedy talents. Of all of the twitter accounts in all of the world, his is the one that will be turned into a TV series. Not mine... not even Roger Avary’s tweets from prison (though, he’s funny as hell, too).

The thing with tweets and blogs is that it's a writer getting attention with *no money* because they found a unique character or world to write about. One of my "FB friends" has a blog with all kinds of attitude and a very distinct voice and "world" - she writes hardboiled kick ass action stuff. Carole Parker, it’s over there –> She's damned smart, and FB spams the hell out of her stuff (usually with a smokin' hot picture of some babe with a gun to get your attention). I know her blog is going to land a screenplay deal because it’s unique and she’s working her butt off to get it in front of people. She has kicked in some other door that may lead to Hollywood. That’s one of those inexpensive things you can do to get Hollywood’s attention. I'm looking at something like that myself - a fictional blog that is really a novel in disguise. Costs me nothing to get that out into the world.

I think the challenge for us now is to find stories that have some sort of additional market. Something that makes this script a "web natural" or a comic book or game or action figure or whatever else *in addition* to being a great screenplay. This ancillary thing isn’t a problem, it’s a solution. Before we only had the one door that we could try to get through - the movie door. Now we have dozens of doors, dozens of possible ways in. We can write a blog or tweet or make webisodes or write a novel or write a comic book or create a game or toy or... well, don’t let me make a list that *limits* the possible doors. Find the door that nobody has thought of, yet. Be like Uwe Boll!

Okay, maybe not that last part.

But find where the door is and see if you can kick it open. The blog thing and the tweets and toys and comic books and videogames and whatever the hell else you can think of are doors. Kick 'em open if you can.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Research - Who Needs It? - and many of my awful films.
Yesterday's Dinner: Fuddruckers bacon cheddar burger.
Bicycle: Rode *West* to a Starbucks with a bad layout.


Nathaniel Tapley said...

Hi Bill,

I had an idea which I've brought up in a number of meeting with TV production companies. All have liked it. All have said that it was far too expensive.

So, in the interests of building our own door, then kicking it down - we've made it ourselves. The first episode of In The Gloaming: Creepy Tales of Now is out now, here: (There's more information at our website: )

No one's getting as much work as they'd like at the moment (at least in the UK). Not actors, not writers, not even sound recordists. So we decided to take that free time and make something with it. Because at least then we'd have, you know, made something.

And the production companies were all right. It would have been far too expensive...

Cunningham said...

Congratulations, Nathaniel.

You've just gone to the head of the pack, because you got off your ass and made something.

That's what the studios want to see - something that got made. Something "real."

Because these days - the Dev. Execs are so inundated with scripts (still) that it's refreshing for them to see something instead of having to read a "movie's blueprint."

Bill and I are putting the cart (the toys, etc..) before the horse (Hollywood) but it's because we know that's the carrot we can dangle.

Grant said...

I hope this doesn't come across as a nitpick, because I think it adds to the point of the story, but Marvel doesn't have a deal with Disney. Disney bought them outright, like they were Miramax or something.

And thanks for mentioning Roger Avery tweeting from Prison. Didn't know about that one.

Racicot said...

Genre author Joe Konrath has an interesting perspective on e-publishing. Here's his blog:

I don't know if you remember or not Bill, but I have that MAD MAX-like script that I'm now writing the novelization for... and looking for an artist to co-create a Graphic Novel with.

And once Mad Max: Fury Road comes out, hopefully there'll be enough heat that a Producer (with lotsa cash) will be looking for something similar.

Racicot said...

P.S. or maybe I should write a script titled SPAGHETTI...

Surely 'everyone' has heard of Spaghetti. BANG! Billion bucks right there.

wcmartell said...

Can it be a western?

mrswing said...

Can it be a western starring a culinary-talented rat?

Ratatouille 2: Spaghetti versus Django.

Wallfly said...

Bill, are you suggesting I wasted my 30's writing original spec scripts? Please, yank out your dullest sabre and run me through.

Although I heartily agree with the misguided assertion regarding ancillaries, I think we miss the Titanic (AKA the new Oasis of the Seas) on transforming original material into cross-level marketing schemes. If anything, by forcing us to rethink our "characters," we will actually develop more depth to them by allowing them to be as specifically general as they can be. Specifically general is truly a marketing oxymoron.

Or is it possible that the target market of 13 year olds has become so infatuated with mindless diversions that writing a movie blueprint escapes their comprehension? I would tend to think that the tide will turn in our favor in the future. Anyone else with time to kill?

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