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A New Age of Original Content Needs Script Services: A Guide

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood April 9, 2013 at 2:27PM

Hollywood is allergic to taking risks on the unknown. But not every young adult franchise or fairy tale retelling can be as uber-successful around the world as "Twilight" ($392 million), "The Hunger Games" ($691 million) or "Oz: The Great and Powerful" ($426 million to date). This year's "Beautiful Creatures" grossed $57-million worldwide, and $200-million "Jack the Giant Slayer" mustered a miserable global $158 million.
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Looper, diner
Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Rian Johnson's 'Looper'

Hollywood is allergic to taking risks on the unknown. But not every young adult franchise or fairy tale retelling can be as uber-successful around the world as "Twilight" ($392 million), "The Hunger Games" ($691 million) or "Oz: The Great and Powerful" ($426 million to date). This year's "Beautiful Creatures" grossed $57-million worldwide, and $200-million "Jack the Giant Slayer" mustered a miserable global $158 million.

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

We've said it before: Adults Crave Original Content While Tentpole Enthusiasm Wanes. Audiences grow weary of familiar and lazy entertainment. It's time for original content to make a comeback on the big screen. Rian Johnson's clever and original "Looper" heralded a more ambitious studio bar, while Shane Carruth's unapologetically smart "Upstream Color" reinstated what "indie" filmmaking really means.

How do the best original scripts make their way to the top of the pile and into hands that can push forward the next big idea? In addition to workshops, contests or programs like those offered by the San Francisco Film Society, Sundance Institute or the Academy's Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, several services claim to make that road easier for writers.

The Black List is the best-known, with several Oscar-winners ("The Kings Speech" and "Slumdog Millionaire," "Django Unchained," "Argo") on its list of over 200 scripts that were featured on its annual list before getting produced. The list started in 2005 when Franklin Leonard surveyed nearly 100 industry pros to find out what their favorite scripts from that year had been. These days around 500 people are polled, and in 2012 the Black List rolled out its membership service allowing screenwriters to upload their scripts and have them evaluated by professionals for a small fee. With their recommendation algorithm, script can also be recommended directly to the right people. Screenwriters retain all rights to their work.

Amazon Studios offers screenwriters and filmmakers a slightly more complicated deal. Writers can submit scripts for review (either privately, through Amazon, or publicly, for fan feedback), then within 45 days Amazon will pay $10,000 to extend their option on the script: either they'll buy it or they'll pass. If projects land on their development slte, they can become test movies, going on to grab feedback from a fan community before undergoing subsequent changes. Directors can also apply for their open directors' assignments for these test movies. Best case scenario, a screenwriter gets $200,000 if their script becomes a feature, and if the film grosses over $60 million at the US box office, they'll get another $400,000. So far, no notable projects have made it out of Amazon Studios and onto the big screen.

Another player is InkTip, which claims that it produces an average of 28 films per year. Their video explains how the site works; basically it matches the right script with the right people, servicing screenwriters by getting their script exposure to the people most likely to be interested in their work. The roster of produced titles that were facilitated by InkTip include mostly B horror flicks, as well as some kids' movies and romantic comedies.

With these services and others, finding the next hit may be like finding a needle in a haystack, but what they can discover in the meantime is a talent pool that needs development--a chance to acquaint themselves with development and production processes that are rapidly changing across the board.

What other useful script services are out there?

This article is related to: Studios, Screenwriters, Amazon, Sundance Institute, Features, Features


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