After the 6th draft of my scifi-horror-dramedy I finally gave up. I threw it on the stack of 10 or 12 other failed story ideas which I had labeled “in process.” Incidentally, someone who is supposed to be providing moral support had written “trash bin” on the shallow rectangular box they sat in (meant to hold one or two scripts, but now well over-stacked). And then it happened!
All at once I knew what I was supposed to write. I started pounding away at the keyboard feverishly painting moment after moment until… it was finished. One day. One afternoon, really, and it was done (it was only a short). It was brilliant, even if its origin seemed a little cliché.
I started shopping it around. Looking for critique. Looking for interest. Looking for potential cast and crew and hoping to convince someone to provide funding. However, it was only lukewarmly received. My friends and family told me “fantastic” and “wow” and “it’s pretty good” in that way that really says, “you could have been a doctor by now” and “bless your heart” and “don’t you have a child now?”
Industry pals gave it a quick glance and wished me good luck. Most of them were too busy on their own projects to even allocate attention let alone any passion toward my perfect script. Filmmaking sometimes is a lonely game and only gets done because of the sheer willpower of people like you and me.
But if you are like me, then you know where this story goes. Feedback on my script was lame, unspecific, or off-based. I started to lose faith. I figured I could make it guerrilla style, but it wouldn’t get the kind of support it deserved and I was tired of making sub-par movies. Why wasn’t anyone interested? What was I missing (besides being completely out of touch with reality, mankind, or normal social behavior)?
But there was my answer. I needed to make my script connect with reality, mankind, and normal social behavior? Well, not necessarily normal, but a film has to resonate with others on a very personal level. A film does that by either supporting, exposing, or pushing against reality, mankind, and/or normal social behavior.
So, there was some flaw to my movie (already obvious), but what? I searched for good feedback on what my script needed and what elements I was overlooking in my thoughts on the filming process. Some of the feedback was good, but ultimately I ended up spinning my wheels.
And so, my script found it’s place among the others “in process.”
I have often wondered why I made no progress. My script was brilliant to me, but it hadn’t translated to others very well. As such, my confidence to communicate myself through film diminished.
But again, why? I had heard a lot of people tell me that if I changed this or that then it would be easier to get my idea off the ground. Only, they didn’t know which thing I should change. Oh, they had their opinions and their personal tastes, but no one really knew. If I had only known then how I could have know.
Here (admittedly after a long intro) are three ways that you can determine if your script is worth making.
1. Determine your audience
Your family doesn’t get you. Your friends don’t really get you either (some do). All of them love you anyway. But they don’t see the brilliance of your movie because they aren’t you!
What you need to do is go out and find an audience.
Caution, this often leads to what I call art nepotism. This is where artists are so similar to each other that they end up making art for themselves. The only people that see your art is other artists. They support you, you in turn support them, and a feeling of artistic superiority develops to the point that achieving any commercial success becomes a form of heresy – selling out.
That need not be the case. You have two options: you can to look for people like you on a wider scale (outside of filmmakers) or you can look for an audience that you can relate to and then augment your script to them.
I’ve written earlier about how to define an audience using analytic tools and methods. You should start looking and building a following of likeminded individuals who will want your film content. Otherwise you should start targeting a audience that you relate to where you can speak authentically while crafting a custom story for them.
There should be one other thing that you consider: profitability. It’s not as important that you be seen by 10 million mass viewers as it is that you are seen by 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 viewers that are really going to love your movie. It’s 2016 (that’ll date this post 20 years from now), you don’t have to release in the theater to find and reach that audience that will love your movie forever. That’s what analytics can do for you!
But to quickly sum up the profitability angle; if you know that 10,000 viewers are going to see and love your movie and be willing to pay a regular ticket price (say $10) to see or own your film then you can project an income of $100,000 on that movie. If you want to double your money that means your budget is $50K. If you want to make 10 times what you put into the film then you have to stay $10K or under. The numbers become fairly simple when you know what size your audience is.
2. Survey script elements
Another great way to analyze (get it, film analytics?) the viability of your script is to survey elements of the script. In the real business world this is called market research and its fairly simple to do. It can be free too if you use Google Forms.
Peidmont Media Research charges an arm and a leg to conduct this research for you. But you can use analytics to figure this out on your own.
Basically, you ask people to rate their interest in different elements of our story. “Here’s a brief one to two line synopsis of my film. Now, what would make you most interested in watching this film?” Following that you offer rating options such as genre, story feel (upbeat, moody, etc), character genders, character backgrounds, character objectives… basically, anything you want to know about.
Now, I warn you that people are terrible predictors of what they will do (what they have done is a much better predictor of what they will do). You should do some research on proper survey techniques or hire someone out (if you think that it will be valuable to your goals). And you need to make sure that you have a large enough sample size. I’ll dive into surveys and samples another day, but lets just say that you want the people that reply to your survey to come from the people you want to be your audience.
The next step is all analytics. Once you have the data you derive from it correlations on what changes make a difference. Then you change those that make a difference. You may be surprised to find that some relatively minor changes can make a world of difference on how your story is received.
3. Model off of past successes.
What is your story like? Be abstract here. Is your story like Fault in Our Stars but set in India? Or is your story like Blade Runner but set it the 2000 BC? Find some similarities between your story and others (they exist no matter how original you are).
Build a list of similar movies. They won’t be 100% the same, but that’s okay. Do a little web scrapping and download audience ratings, genres, cast, and story plot points.
Then go through the trouble of categorizing and tagging every element of the film. You can use crowd sourcing methods like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to outsource the tedious work of classifying each element within each of these films.
Finally comes the real analytics here: regression. Use regression to find the correlation between these story points and their audience rating. You’ll find all sorts of interesting insight on what things matter and what things don’t. World Wide Motion Picture Group (now C4) does this for $20,000 a script (or more), but you can do it on your own.
4. Make honest decisions.
I know this is a fourth reason, but this is actually the most important analytic step to me. What you want and what’s right for your creative vision is a major factor. Let analytics inform you but not control you. Make movies people will love and say something that will be remembered. Make money so that you can keep making art.
Let me know what you think. Analytics: is it just hocus pocus or is this something you can really use?