Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bionic Screenplay: Faster, Better, Stronger—More Sellable

A New York Times article recently tweaked my antennae with a curious set of facts about a growing trend in the Movie/TV biz.

The article, by Jay A. Fernandez, suggests we consider this: in the last six weeks (as of this writing on 4/23/08) studios have announced 22 films based on graphic novels or comics. At the box office (domestic and international) films based on graphic novels have grossed all the biggest numbers, over all, and have maintained the largest dollar averages per screen, per week, for exhibitors.

Now consider this: Universal recently partnered with Dark Horse Entertainment to produce and distribute movies based from its independent bevy of comics, Paramount has its partnership with Marvel, while Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, and every other studio is scrambling for comic-based material.

What conclusions can we draw: For studio creative executives responsible for making and breaking writer’s careers and spirits, having a graphic novel in hand makes script development cheaper, faster, and more fun; since essentially the graphic novel is a screenplay with detailed storyboards already included in the mix. Plus, given the average age of the typical studio creative executive (12-19 years) they are already familiar and comfortable with the comic/graphic novel form. Add to this the fact that graphic novels already have a fan base, Internet platform, and sequel appeal; it’s a no-brainer for studio greenlighters. Ironically, as Jay points out, it can also be beneficial for the writer, since he/she will likely preserve more rights than he/she would by selling an original screenplay.

Jay quotes Frank Miller (“Sin City” and “300”), “I don't think there's a single worse story form than the screenplay … They're unreadable. Just about everything makes you want to put the thing down! Whereas a graphic novel is full of pictures . . . and you get a much clearer idea of what you'd have to spend to make a film.”

So, what’s a writer to do? I can’t draw worth a stitch. I guess I could buy some storyboard software and let a computer do it and then add bubbles to the pictures and fill the bubbles with dialogue. Throw in a few text blocks (like they do in the comics for scene direction) and presto-chango; the new screenplay made better, stronger, faster. Kind of like the 6 million dollar man, only in today’s movie dollars it’s more like 100 million, plus foreign/ancillary and new media.

So my advice to you dear writer, forget the screenplay writing program, expensive story consultants, and film school. If you want to sell your screenplays, get thee to an art school and start learning how to draw. Or, give it up for an expensive graphics package and buy a new pimped-out Mac with all the graphics whistles and bells and let technology do the work. All you have to do is add the words. But, doesn’t that just kind of put us back where we started?

Hmmm, maybe writing is still important after all?

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