Gerald Hanks Filmography

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Prequels, Sequels, and Intellectual Properties: What's A New Writer To Do?

A recent article on the industry news site /Film examined how three original movies released over Memorial Day weekend all had disappointing box office returns. 

The road-trip comedy “The Machine”, the “Meet The Parents”-style comedy “About My Father”, the relationship dramedy “You Hurt My Feelings”, and the action-thriller “Kandahar” made a combined $13.1 million at the weekend box office. These numbers don't even come close to the big release of the weekend: the live-action remake of Disney's “The Little Mermaid”, which made over $95 million.

Even after a 66% drop-off from its first week, “Fast X” nearly doubled the box office returns of “Machine”, “Father” and “Kandahar” combined ($23 million vs. $11.7 million). After four weeks in theaters, Marvel's “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” still brought in over $20 million. (Source: The Numbers)

When you combine these numbers with the ongoing WGA strike, the immediate future looks bleak for writers trying to break into the business. With this dismal news, you may ask, “Should I just give up on my dreams of writing for Hollywood?”

Not necessarily. This news means that aspiring writers must address vital issues with their scripts if they want to make them more attractive to producers and viewers.


If your first spec script is a wide-reaching historical saga with a cast of thousands (e.g. “Gone With The Wind”) or a galaxy-spanning epic sci-fi adventure (e.g. “Star Wars”), you may want to adjust your expectations. 

Many aspiring writers fail to keep in mind that each frame of a film costs dozens of man-hours and thousands of dollars to produce. Most writers get their “big break” by writing low-budget features. These stories often involve less than a handful of actors, limited locations, and tightly-focused stories.


Some genres have specific tropes that allow their stories to reach a wide, committed audience without the need for huge production costs.

For instance, horror, crime, and suspense films often don't require high budgets but rely on a tight narrative structure and a hardcore audience willing to absorb a new story that feeds their cravings. Also, faith-based films typically rely more on their positive messages than on extravagant production values to attract a built-in audience. 


If your story doesn't fit within these genres, you may want to consider taking a different approach. For instance, if the scope of your story doesn't fit within a minimal budget, you may want to consider expanding that story into a novel. 

Thanks to companies such as Amazon, self-publishing has never been easier. If you can gather a fan base for the novel, you can show producers that you have a built-in customer base willing to pay to see that novel go from page to screen. 

Another approach, especially for stories that rely heavily on dialogue and have static locations, could involve turning the story into a stage play. This approach worked for Aaron Sorkin when he wrote the stage play for “A Few Good Men” and later adapted it for the screen.


If you want to write stories that can attract a built-in fan base but don't want to deal with the expense and legalities involved with intellectual property rights, you could adapt a story in the public domain.

For instance, “Succession” has become a global TV phenomenon. When you strip it down to its core, the story is a modern-day retelling of “King Lear”, as the siblings battle each other for both the crown and the affections of their patriarch.

This approach can also work with low-budget horror. The 2013  horror/comedy film “Warm Bodies” featured a pair of “star cross'd lovers”. Julie, a young woman from a family of zombie killers falls in love with “R”, a young man who happens to be undead. 


Another approach that could help you focus your writing career involves considering your primary goal for writing the script in the first place.

If your goal involves selling your ambitious first spec script to a major studio for a million dollars and signing a multi-picture deal, you may want to buy a lottery ticket instead. The process of buying a lottery ticket is faster, much less painful, and has much better odds of giving you a substantial payout.

If your goal involves writing a low-budget script that gets your name out there and gets you noticed, you could use this project as a launching pad for your more expansive stories.

If your goal involves using your scripts as portfolio pieces to show your skills at characterization, story structure, or dialogue, these efforts could help you land an agent or manager who can steer you toward those high-profile (and high-profit) projects. 


One way in which projects can pull viewers' eyeballs away from the overwhelming amount of established properties stems from the use of old-fashioned “star power”. Many viewers, especially those interested in more mature stories, will favor watching a great performance from a big-name actor over the latest superhero pyrotechnics or “fast cars and furious drivers” adventure.

Contrary to some opinions, producers are not vultures, actors are not peacocks, and viewers are not sheep. They're all people. In the end, stories are about people. If you can write a story with characters that can connect with people, you'll have a huge advantage.

One of the most effective ways to gain this advantage starts with a FREE 30-minute consultation call with Story Into Screenplay. During this call, we can assess your project, determine where you are in your writing process, and lay out a path to get your script ready for the big time.

You can schedule your FREE initial consultation by filling in this form or contacting us at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com.