Lacks a specific genre. Unmarketable. Won’t get funding.
This was the feedback I received for a screenplay I wrote in college. I don’t think my professor hated the screenplay, but she had a fair point: what I had written would never seriously be considered by a studio. In my defense, I hadn’t given the script much thought. In fact, I wrote it in one week.
For whatever reason, I had failed to come up with an idea for my feature-length screenwriting course at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The assignment involved writing the first 12 pages or so of a screenplay, with the idea that the rest could be written later.
One day, I got to class and learned that we needed to pitch the idea that we were writing about. I had not prepared a thing, so I dug deep for the most ridiculous thing I could think of. I hoped that a bad idea would motivate the professor to give me time to reconsider. I pitched a film about a sci-fi nerd who builds a time machine to travel to the future to get a yet-to-be-released DVD. She didn’t ask me to come up with a new idea, but challenged the idea that I could write a feature-length screenplay on the subject.
For the next week, instead of writing 12 pages, I wrote a full 120 pages. The screenplay was titled Alex Mudword: Space/Time Continuum Crusader (I figured a ridiculous premise needed a ridiculous title). The story opened with sci-fi nerd Alex Mudword in his room when a time machine materializes in his backyard. When he investigates, the craft is abandoned. So, he decides to steal it to go into the future to buy a DVD. However, the machine malfunctions, sends him first into the past, then the future, and eventually, in the midst of a galactic war.
I don’t stand by this script in any way. When I wrote this, I was mostly sleep-deprived and occasionally tipsy, like any good college student. But the experience planted the idea in my head that good writing might never be read because it doesn’t fit a studio’s business model. Beyond contests, if a studio didn’t pick up a script, it went nowhere. That’s the way it is.
Fast-forward a decade. After years of working in corporate video for an investment bank, I found myself freelancing with some time on my hands. My cousin and I had co-wrote another screenplay that my professor would surely say lacked a genre and was not marketable: Tubby the Fat Clown. The premise was that there was an overweight clown who worked at a failing circus and, on the side, would show up unexpectedly at children’s birthday parties to steal the cake.
It seemed unlikely that a studio would be interested in such an oddball idea as Tubby the Fat Clown.
Maybe the screenplay could stand alone.
Then, I realized that there were probably hundreds if not thousands of other (and better) screenplays that were collecting dust on a bookshelf somewhere. With the amount of screenwriting competitions that are held annually, there is no shortage of quality, award-winning writing out there. But there is a limited amount of resources to produce feature films.
I wondered how screenplays would never see the light of day without a production deal. Perhaps, if screenplays were published as literary works, independent of any film studio, they would have a life beyond contests and script coverage.
Thus, 120pages. The goal was simple: to provide exposure and income to screenwriters for quality screenplays that, for one reason or another, film studios have passed on. By publishing them in print and ebook format, these stories could be read by anyone.
I don’t know if this will work. As far as I can tell, no one has tried to publish screenplays on any scale. But, in a society that craves disruption, I hope this is a way to shake up the screenwriting world. It would be such a shame for all the great writing out there to only be seen by a handful of contest judges and script coverage people.