How Screenwriter Evan Daugherty Scored a $3.2M Payday for “Snow White and the Huntsman”

Screenwriter Evan Daugherty at the Snow White and the Huntsman premiere

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.

Be Proactive

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.  [Huffpost]

Soon thereafter, Sony, Paramount, Fox, New Regency and Summit were all making offers and the script sold to Universal for $1.5M against $3M.

Evan Daugherty wrote the script for Snow White And The HuntsmanWhat 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!

Scriptwriter Evan Daugherty wrote The Killing Season

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6 Comments

  1. Adolph Mondry MD
    753 Virginia Street
    Plymouth, Michigan 48170
    734-459-6267
    ajmondry@yahoo.com DearSir: 4-13-14
    I would like you to evaluate HIGHLY CONNECTED, a screen play in which a magical science project connects players subconsciously to a force which controls the entire game? Two sixteen year old soul mates, equal in every way, as in HUNGER GAMES, and too smart to take school seriously, avoid summer school by agreeing to take part in the project.
    Supernatural control in the project is catchy, like an infection, and reflects the subconscious of the connected player – villain as well as hero. An antidote is discovered, which disconnects control, but until the connection is discovered and destroyed, a new connection is made and the screenplay twists and turns around the good and evil of the game through an optional number of computer generated special effects featuring a feeble reactive military intervention; controlled meteorite trajectory guidance and other controlled natural weaponry; and, a chilling example of a connected monster – half human and half evil fiend – delivering lethal lightning bursts from its finger tips as it pursues the heroes, until comedy and young love save the day and resolve all conflicts. The special effects can be realized quite inexpensively and even deleted for a TV show or stage play or added for a competitive lion’s share of a summer time market without detracting from the story. In any event plenty of latitude exists in the story to completely penetrate any desired market. The screenplay moves along like “War Games”, but it defines a much broader game with much higher stakes-the very existence of the universe not to mention the soul mates’. Wouldn’t you like Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Brooklyn Decker, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kristin Stewart or Jessica Alba to star? How about Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise, Robert Pattinson,Taylor Lautner or Bradley Cooper? they all can be made to look sixteen.
    I published an editorial on high level scams, wrote a textbook on medical rip-offs; wrote a poem and fictional account of life from an esoteric point of view; and, wrote a novel examining power and control along with its consequences throughout history (especially in the Middle East). I hold two patents.
    I am a retired physician and a mathematician, physicist, and engineer. I own a software company. I am an energy and medical advisor to the White House.
    Yours truly, Adolph (Duke) Mondry MD

  2. Totally agree on the low budget flicks up to the bat first:

    …1 main location

    …visually driven without heavy budget action ( this transfers the visual emotion power to global audiences better than heavy
    English-driven dialogue and DOES NOT have to always be about explosive, bid budget action SFX — it’s about what shot you choose and where you put the camera…one step after the next)

    …CONFLICT = SCENE = SEQUENCE = ACT = STORY
    No conflict? No scene and so on.

    …genre, genre, genre.

    I started this process out on my current sci-fi horror spec and guess what? Story overtook me and grew. Now what? I’ll cut back to my original idea…and have 2 different types of scripts:

    …one to be shot as low budget…one to be shot for higher budget.
    Shows the exec / producer…I can spin a story on a dime.

  3. Good for Evan. I also have a couple big budget films that I know won’t be produced right off the bat. I guess most big time writer-directors started off with low budget fare: Spielberg’s “Duel” and Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead”. Why is my imagination so expensive?

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