Selling Out or Buying In?

Published on: August 13, 2015

Filled Under: Thought Processes

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Most judges for contests are seasoned vets who have worked – or are still working – at various production companies or talent agencies.  They know when a script is something solid; a manifestation of the creative process that comes from the heart.  On the other side, they can sniff out the lazy writings of someone hopping onto a trend and hoping to ride the wave for an easy win.

The question you may have asked yourself is, are you Selling Out or Buying In to your writing process?   I’ll offer the question, what is Selling Out?

I’ve opened many a conversation with that very question.  Since it’s a matter of opinion, there are scores of different viewpoints.  Many aspiring writers, and movie goers are not fans of the big tent pole movie franchises; Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Bourne Movies, or any film based on comic book characters.

In their opinions, most Hollywood writers have sold-out, they’ve created a commercial product that is packaged with fast-food promotions, cheap toys and transparent marketing campaigns.  These movies have become nothing more than eye candy that rot out the brains of anyone who sees them.  The real writers are the ones who create the art-house movies, the feature films that force you to actively understand the message.  The Coen brothers, Richard Price and David Mamet are widely considered the “thinking man’s” writer.

So is this view point regarding selling out right, or wrong?  There are Three answers to this question, but only one that I feel is truly the correct answer.

The first answer is, people who feel that Hollywood has sold out, and therefore they (as a writer) must uphold higher standards in their own scripts, are absolutely correct in their assessment.  Only well thought out and structured movies should be written.  These are the ones that will stand up to the test of time and be lauded as classic movies to be studied.  Wolverine most likely won’t be in a film class curriculum, other than to demonstrate how not to write a script.

The second answer is, Hollywood is a movie business.  Even if some people despise the gimmicky summer films based on previous material (TV shows, film remakes, comic books, novels) they fulfill one important obligation.  They make a lot of money!

Spiderman, including its recent re-boots, has grossed almost $4 Billion worldwide.  That’s a lot of money in the pocket of the producers, it’s created jobs for thousands of people in the industry and has left the door open for other sequels to entertain the masses.  Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; $3.7 Billion, Indiana Jones franchise; $2 Billion – the list goes on and on.

One can argue that many of these movies are hack jobs.  If that is true, then who are the people seeing these movies?  For a film to do that well at the box office,  movie goers have to see it more than once in the theater.  Also, these figures don’t take into account the amount of money generated by DVD/BluRay sales.  If we are talking about the show business then these movies are exactly what Hollywood is looking for.

The third, and final answer is the one that I subscribe to.  It’s really quite simple:  It doesn’t matter!   My original question may seem a bit misleading, maybe even an exercise in futility.  But be honest with yourself, isn’t the argument about selling out, one that you’ve taken sides on?  Isn’t this a dilemma you create in your mind when you stare at a page you’ve written?

Don’t worry about the notion of selling out!  Write what you know and what you love.  If you win a contest with a great script that’s a sequel or prequel to an existing movie, it may not even garner a meeting with a production company or agency.

There’s a wide palette of entertainment to choose from.  It’s quite possible to get enjoyment from a CGI heavy film.  What’s wrong with losing yourself in a high-octane action movie while you gorge yourself on popcorn?  So write that movie if you want.  In the fall, movie audiences settle down with more intellectual fare.  So, write the smaller movie that compels people to think.   I recently watched The Hangover followed by The Hurt Locker and enjoyed them both equally, based on their individual merits.

To circle back to screenwriting contests; readers and judges don’t have a preconceived notion of what they want to read.  There is only one criteria – the script has to be great.  Not good, not mediocre.  Great.


Instead of getting caught up in who is selling out, focus on buying in to the process of crafting a solid script that will get you where you want to be in your writing career. Let everyone else analyze the merits of existing movies.  You have better things to be doing, so less talk and more writing!

Are you constantly trying to find a fit for your current project?  Put the Round Peg in the Round Hole.  Make sure you match your script with the right contest.  This will put you on the correct path to getting your script in the hands of the people that can bring your story to the big screen!

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