Here’s how screenwriter Evan Daugherty made one of the biggest spec screenplay sales of the last few years—a lot of writing, and two smart moves.
“In 2004, (Evan) emerged from NYU Film School having written several feature-length scripts, including Snow White. He moved to Los Angeles and started showing Snow White around. But no one was interested in it. ‘I failed miserably. I hit brick wall after brick wall,’ he said.” [Huffpost]
The point is that even if the content of Daugherty’s big-budget movie pitches were good, studio execs weren’t going to gamble on him because he was an unproven writer.
Daugherty realized this and made a smart move—he wrote a script that wouldn’t require as much financial risk.
More Story, Less Budget
He realized that: “He’d been pitching scripts for movies filled with special effects — the type that require ‘a $150 million budget.’ (So) he decided to go for something more bare-boned.”
The result was Shrapnel, a thriller about two veterans fighting their own personal war in the remote Rocky Mountain wilderness. Shrapnel won first place in 2008′s Script Pipeline contest and helped Daugherty get an agent and a new manager.
Still, “even after getting traction with Shrapnel,” for more than a year he “ate only bologna sandwiches and slept on an air mattress on the floor of a friend’s apartment in Koreatown.”
He had a team who believed in him and his work, but he didn’t rely on them completely—another smart move.
“Early in 2010, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was released and grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. Daugherty sensed an opportunity. He’d already written a screenplay (Snow White and the Hunstman) that, like Alice in Wonderland, reinterpreted a classic fairy tale for the 21st century. So he had his agent send the script to Joe Roth, one of the producers of Alice in Wonderland. Roth loved it.”
Soon thereafter, Sony, Paramount, Fox, New Regency and Summit were all making offers and the script sold to Universal for $1.5M against $3M.
What can we learn?
1. If you are an up-and-coming writer, you’re more likely to get traction with a low or medium budget project rather than an epic studio big-budget movie.
2. If you are a writer at any level, don’t rely solely on your management.
There are so few tentpole studio movies made each year—and they cost a lot to make. Executives are much more willing to take the big financial risk on a writer who has successful credits in that genre. So, if you haven’t sold your first project yet, focus on scripts that don’t require expensive action sequences and special effects to tell the story.
Second, remember that your reps may care about you, but they have a lot of clients to service. You need to keep writing, but you also need to keep an eye on the marketplace to look for opportunities. You know your work best.
PS. Shrapnel (now The Killing Season) will be released in 2013, starring Robert DeNiro and John Travolta. Congrats, Evan!