How Marketable is Your Screenplay?
Write what you’re passionate about. It sounds good, and I agree all screenwriters need a passion project that’s not just a labor of love but also reflects their best writing. These are the scripts that often make excellent writing samples. But here’s the dirty truth about making a living as a screenwriter (I assume that’s your goal—to have a career writing for film or tv— versus simply writing screenplays you hope to sell): screenwriting is a business first. Businesses exist to make money. Therefore, if you want to sell your script to a producer that wants to make money (trust me, they all do), the script must be marketable.
So what is marketable? Marketable scripts are: stories that follow one of several accepted screenplay structures; fit cleanly into a genre; have relatable, well-drawn characters; can be made at the target budget level; have a defined audience; and follow basic screenplay formatting. If you don’t have all of those, then your screenplay better be based on a book, play, character, or person that already has a significant following.
Writers that have never made a penny for their work typically hate the word ‘marketable.’ They see writing ‘marketable’ scripts as selling out, kowtowing to the less-than-creative marketplace that mass produces content.
Writers that work a lot tend to embrace the idea of marketability. We see it differently. There is something inherently creative in being given a box to work within and despite that, still coming up with a plot and characters that are creative and original. It’s not easy to do even once, let alone two times… or three… or ten. But if you can do it ten times, you have a career as a screenwriter. Let the others come home from their day jobs and spend their evenings working on’ creative masterpieces’ no audience will ever see because no producer wants to produce.
Personally, I love writing. And I love making money doing it. My voice is in each of my characters. Because my scripts are marketable, they get produced and my characters are seen by millions of people. My characters and my stories aren’t always as purely creative as I’d like, but they still shape opinions, influence people, and entertain. They aren’t existing only on a shelf in my closet where no one will ever get to know them.