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

Evan Daugherty screenwriter

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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  1. I didn’t think a professional marketing campaigner as you are most definitely, Stephanie, could draw me into your realm but you have!
    My day of writing starts with reading an email from you as part of, what I like to call it, ‘words of wisdom’, AND a learning tool in negotiating the American film and screenplay world. If ever I have the opportunity of needing an agent in America, your my girl.

    Unfortunately, it also highlights the fact that why would we, AND in my case, feature screenplay writer, waste their time with any part of the American Film Industry?
    I am unlikely to get past the ‘American Screenplay Reader’, who appears to be letting the industry and country down because they sort and sift at the first level, an International writers ‘reality,’ under the assumption that they know globally what outside American audiences will buy in the form of a ticket to the cinema.

  2. Please spare my naivety…… How do you seperate a low butget from a big budget movie?
    That is, how do I know my screenplay will cost a lot?

    • Hi Prince. Good question. Some examples of elements that cost a lot are special effects, large crowd scenes, big action sequences where cars or buildings are blowing up, and anytime that lots of actors wearing period costumes are required for a shoot.

  3. Whoa! That is great Evan. I know it take a lot of sleepless nights and restless days Godspeed Stephenia.

  4. Great Article!

    We hear all the time that at the end of the day it’s all about NARRATIVE
    and while that may be true on some level writers or “artists” in general need to take into account the business aspect as well. I know for myself personally my genre is action/adventure/comedies..i.e. BTTF, ET..Goonies..etc but a studio would be hard pressed to hand over a 150 million dollar check to someone other Cameron, Abrams, or Spielberg. Might I add I recently saw a youtube video where they were discussing Spielberg’s recent Lincoln Biopic. It was said that even Steven had a difficult time trying to get financing for the film because world wide numbers wouldn’t fair well. Overseas markets could care less about an American war hero. It really opened my eyes to the fact that we are now competing on a global scale in everything. The fact that the most successful director in the history of film couldn’t get distribution for his film should turn on a light bulb and make you stop and think. How should I approach might next project? Do I want to spend the next several months working on something that probably won’t sell or do I want to be smart and write something that a production company can produce at cost. Just a thought… By the way MI: Rogue Nation had to get additional financing from Ali Babba the overseas equivalent of Amazon. And they had one of the most world wide recognized faces ever…Mr. Tom Cruise. #Adifferentballgame..

  5. Hello Stephanie, great website, excellent content, valuable and actionable.

    Question/thought about Evan and his screenplay “Snow White and the Huntsman” — I find something a bit quixotic, although I understand the rationale, (to a degree intellectually) regarding Evan’s approach and subsequent success with Snow White. Here’s the rub/twist as I see it – this is the conundrum (for me, maybe you can help me better understand this) — His movie sells for $3 mil plus – outstanding, indeed. The point is he wrote the script, not sure if it was his first, but it comes across as it’s his first. The argument presented, in defense of the “studios” not buying initially as quoted above – “studio execs weren’t going to gamble on him because he was an unproven writer.” My point here is “the work is the work” – the script is no better, or worse then he originally wrote it (and submitted and showed, and presumably received feedback – and a “pass”) — to me, this reflects/represents the narrow-sightedness of “readers” and the industry, (narrow-sightedness a synonym for spineless and unwilling to to “get behind a work that was no better than the script as written years prior). Certainly I understand that success begets success, but his winner out of the gate wasn’t recognized as such and was only considered after he had another success. What does this say about Hollywood and the “pass/recommend” system?

    • Good question, Jeff. The issue is that the work doesn’t stand alone. The work will almost certainly need to be changed to meet the needs of stars, the director, location adjustments, and a myriad of other things that impact the budget and the timeframe. An experienced writer is important because the writer is responsible to make all of these changes while keeping the spine of the story intact. This is not easy to do and, with the average cost of a studio film north of $100M, the stakes are high.

      Another way to think about this is pretend you are an entrepreneur with a startup idea that needs funding. It’s typically easier to raise $1M than $10M, and it will be a lot easier to raise $10M after you have a proven track record, rather than getting investors to spend their money on a riskier, unproven idea (even when the business idea is identical in each scenario).

  6. Adolph Mondry MD
    753 Virginia Street
    Plymouth, Michigan 48170
    734-459-6267 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

    • Hi Dr. Mondry. Thanks for your message. My consulting practice is full at this time and I do not evaluate screenplays, but I have a course How To Be A Professional Writer which details how to get your work considered by Hollywood producers, managers and agents. I think that it would be helpful for you as you work to get your work produced.

  7. 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)

    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.

  8. 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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