I’ve talked before about how insanely long it takes movies to get made these days. This leads to another sage piece of “common wisdom” amongst seasoned screenwriters: “Don’t worry about similar projects in development. Just worry about doing great work.”
But, once again, try telling this to the studios. After you’ve been pitching for a while, you quickly realize that the biggest single factor influencing the studio buyers on Monday morning is how the box office did that weekend. If your project is similar to something that did well, then they’ll say “Ooh! That topic’s really hot right now!” and they’ll want to buy it. If it has any element in common with a script that just flopped, you’re dead.
This is crazy. If they buy your movie, it will take them at least five years to get it made. By that time, every current trend will have come and gone several more times. But...
A fellow screenwriter had a project about a heroic werewolf that almost got set up several times, and it always seemed like it was going to get made. Then, suddenly, all the heat was gone. The project was suddenly dead. Why? Because of the Benicio Del Toro movie The Wolfman. Even though that movie had lots of problems, Hollywood was so shocked that the mere presence of wolves failed to sell the movie that they instantly cooled on all werewolf projects. Nevermind the fact that there were so many successful werewolf projects before and since.
Part of the problem here is that Hollywood types have a strong incentive to misidentify the reasons for a movie’s failure. For example, it’s pretty obvious that Mars Needs Moms failed because the public has thoroughly rejected Robert Zemeckis’s dead-eyed animation process. But people in Hollywood don’t want to say that out loud, because they’re afraid they’re going to run into Zemeckis at a party. Instead, they blame the presence of the word “Mars” in the title. They’re not going to run into the planet at a party, so it’s all good.
And so you get this ridiculous trailer for the long-gestating adaptation John Carter
of Mars. Not only did they remove “Mars” from the title (though the title is still imposed on a JCM logo!) but they removed the filters from the footage to make it look like the movie is set on Earth!
So what the hell? Is all the “common wisdom” wrong? What do studios really want to hear? We’ll get to that in the next piece…