The other week I ventured out into this green and sunny London and headed to the London Book Fair. Although it was a worthwhile experience for me personally, it was unfortunately an event that had been so painfully disrupted by the volcanic ash mayhem that I fully expect to see a slew of new books invading next year’s fair all bad-mouthing naughty volcanoes.
I spent the first day doing THIS with Lucy, missed the following day’s events due to several delightful prior engagements, and returned for the last day to plant my arse and immerse myself in the morning’s panel discussion on writing and selling to Hollywood from a UK perspective. The panel, chaired by Quentin Faulk, consisted of AP Watts agent, Rob Kraitt, and last-minute stand-in, British author and screenwriter, Andy Briggs, who was a worthy substitute for ash-grounded US producer David Gerson.
It was a fun and interesting discussion, and one that reinforced the grim reality that it’s now much harder to sell across the pond than ever before. Rob highlighted that it used to be much easier to sell unpublished books for adaptation to US studios, but now the studios are pretty much looking for material that’s already some way along the proven success route with a built-in audience and existing market.
Andy expanded on that by saying whatever you can do to help sell your product is to be encouraged, citing the recent film, 30 Days Of Night, which was originally written on spec, to no avail, then adapted as a graphic novel, to much avail, and subsequently picked up as an original screenplay. All hail the vail! Basically, anything you can do to enhance pre-sell and help executives imagine the finished film is a positive.
Dealing a further body blow to prospective sellers to the US, Andy relayed his recent experience attending meetings in LA where he was uniformly told “drama is dead” by all those in the know (aka all those holding the purse strings). Andy believes the “drama is dead” bombshell is down to the simple fact that US TV produces "drama so alive" so damn well that the film studios feel it’s best left to that medium, at least for the present. Of course, we all know what statements like that mean in this world where "nobody knows anything", so watch this space for an international drama hit coming to a screen near you soon!
So, with drama being the dirty word, this year’s vogue in Hollywood is the tent pole offerings, the popcorn movies, the mega-bucks mega-commercial movies, which naturally led the panel to discuss the impact of 3D. Rob dismissed 3D as a passing fad, but Andy feels this is just the beginning and 3D is definitely here to stay, but only for those tent pole offerings.
Quentin Faulk wrapped the session up by asking both Rob and Andy to divulge one gem of advice for those hoping to sell their work/themselves to the US. Rob said aim to get produced here first, and Andy advised make sure you have good back-up projects as you should always expect to hear the words “What else have you got?” Wise words, Mr Briggs!
My personal feelings about the future of 3D leans towards Andy’s view, and although Andy said he felt 3D would only involve the tent-pole productions, I still see that having a huge impact across the board, with the concern that the huge sums of money being pumped into these 3D behemoths can only mean less money and focus for smaller productions, ensuring the industry’s rich get richer and the poor just stay that way.
It’s not just the ridiculous extremes of money that will further freeze out those already on the outside, it’s also very easy to imagine 3D cinema changing the very nature of how we’re expected to write screenplays, as we’ll need to maintain a focus on events that involve characters and objects leaping off the screen, floating around the theatre, making the audience
feel sick giddy with joy. With the huge kinds of cash involved there’s every reason to assume there will be studio issued objectives stating how many leap-off-the-screen moments and big scares are required to be inserted into scenes, further focusing these prodigious popcorn peddlers on the quick-fix draw of spectacle over conflict, sacrificing the heart and soul of storytelling along the way. How long before we begin to see the first of many “How to write 3D films” books and seminars appearing?
The simple reason why most traditional children’s fairytales have achieved continued global success throughout the ages is because they employ storytelling that focuses on conflict as identification (drama.. whisper is quietly). Our lives, no matter how dull and spectacle-free, are jam-packed full of conflict from the moment we’re born, which gives us a common grounding in reality that we can all identify with on many different levels. Sitting in a darkened theatre confronted with the latest ostentatious Wow! Factor can be immediately impressive, but it doesn’t leave an impression, at least not a lasting impression, and I fear the battle to pursue bigger and better will eventually become more distracting than attracting and degenerate into a sad pissing contest where Hollywood studios compete like desperate Roman emperors trying to appease bloodthirsty crowds with increasingly grotesque budget-busting pomp.
“Fear and pity may certainly arise from spectacle, but they may also arise simply from the system of the facts itself. This is the procedure that matters most, one that reveals the better poet.” Aristotle