After the whole â€˜â€™Justice Leagueâ€™â€™ debacle â€“ Iâ€™m talking about the bogus script, send to us a fortnight ago, that was obviously written by a sexless fiend with nothing better to do than to thrash both his purple member and naturally, his word processor â€“ and the many spec sequel scripts weâ€™ve heard about all these yearsâ€¦ I thought itâ€™d be interesting to check in with some of the folks that have written them to see whether anything ever came of them or whether theyâ€™ve simply just exhausted their typing fingers for sheer thrill.
As I tell anyone, donâ€™t write a sequel, prequel or remake to a film thatâ€™s in existence â€“ it will not get made. Thatâ€™s someone elseâ€™s property that youâ€™re exploitingâ€¦ and youâ€™re gonna need a pretty sharp pair of scissors to cut through all the red tape to get it made, let alone get it on the desk of someone that can get it made.
Hereâ€™s what HollywoodLitSales.com says :
Get this straight: you can’t write a sequel unless the studio that owns the original hires you to write it. Or, they might purchase a spec script of yours and turn it into a sequel, which happens very occasionally. Never write a sequel on your own. For legal purposes, it’s a waste of time. Rule number 2: no successful writer ever says, “I’m just going to write my own screenplays.” Specs are hard to sell; in order to make a living, most writers take assignments. If you turned down repeated assignments, your agent would be frustrated, but if you wrote brilliant spec scripts that sold, he would definitely take you seriously.
The best thing to do â€“ if you are a NOBODY, and if you donâ€™t have REPRESENTATION – is to write a stand-alone original pieceâ€¦ and if itâ€™s a sequel youâ€™ve evoked wood forâ€¦ you never know, the studio might buy the piece and retool it to fit one â€“ thatâ€™s what happened with Matt Venneâ€™s â€œSecond Sightâ€ script, it ended up being retooled as a â€œWhite Noiseâ€ sequel. Same with Josh Stolbergâ€™s â€œPassion of the Arkâ€, Universal snapped it up and turned it into â€œEvan Almightyâ€ (granted, without any credit to the original scribe).
Joe Halpin, who worked on â€œWalking Tall 3â€ and â€œThe Art of War 2â€, agrees : â€œIt’s my opinion that “new” writers doing spec scripts on existing franchises is a waste of their time. The chance that the script will be good or taken seriously by the owner of the franchise is nil. Why take the chance on an unknown, possibly temperamental, inexperienced writer. The executive would rather travel down the safer road of using an experienced writer that will take direction as well as notes. A new writer’s energy would be better served writing a “new” and “original” spec.â€
A lot of the spec sequels scripts youâ€™ll find on the web are for superhero films â€“ like Batman and Superman.
Steve Younis, of the Superman Homepage, says any Superman fan with a penchant for writing has probably tried their hand at writing a treatment or script for a Superman movie at some stage. â€œOver the years I’ve had many such people email me with complete or partial scripts asking for my opinion. It’s hard to judge them or give constructive criticism because it seems that everyone has a slightly different take on what they think an ideal Superman story should be. Are they wasting their time? Hard to say. It really depends on whether they’re doing it for the personal satisfaction of writing or whether they really think they have a chance of getting it in front of someone at Warner Bros.
Personally, I think writing a script for a Superman movie and getting it read by someone who counts is probably a pipe dream for the average fan. Pie in the sky stuff. You’re more likely to get a job writing Superman comic books… and we all know how difficult that field is to break in to. It’s my experience that Warner Bros. and DC Comics won’t read anything submitted unsolicited, mainly due to legal reasons (they don’t want to be sued if they run with a story that someone later says was stolen from their unsolicited script they sent in). You’ve really only got a chance if they approach you and ask you to write something for them or regard you high enough to be willing to read your pitch. Someone like Mark Millar has a good chance because he’s known to the powers that be and has a body of work (on Superman no less) that speaks for him. Your average Superman fan wanna-be writer with no published work to vouch for him isn’t likely to get a look in… no matter how good their script might be. It’s just the nature of the business unfortunately.â€
Some folks, like Nick Miranda , who penned the spec â€œGhostbusters : At Deathâ€™s Doorâ€ know that â€“ and donâ€™t even bother. He was going to make it himselfâ€¦. If even just for his family to see.
â€˜â€™Sadly, this screenplay was nothing more than a fanfilm that my friends and I were going to make on little to no budget. In the two years it took me to come up with a final draft I had some major life changes that took me out of state and away from any foreseeable completion of the project. It was never intended for anything more than a bunch of fans of the Ghostbusters franchise getting together to continue the spirit–no pun intended–of the original characters. And to be quite honest, there are a lot of screenwriters out there posting their work on websites like Simply Scripts if for nothing more than to show their love of copyrighted characters without fear of big-money studios filing law suits against them. Or of getting that dreaded rejection letter.â€™â€™
Sam Park, on the other hand, knew exactly how hard it was going to be to get his script to the powers-that-be but still keep tooting his â€œPredator 3â€ script â€“ hoping a door would eventually open.
â€œI and my writing partner on the “Predator 3: Deadlier Of The Species” story treatment, Clay McBride, never took it further than thatâ€, says Park, a co-producer on the new horror film â€œDeath’s Doorâ€. â€œI originally pitched the idea to a friend, Reggie Hunter, who was an assistant to Joel Silver over drinks at the Coronet Pub (next to the infamous Trashy Lingerie) one night. This led to Reggie asking for a story treatment. We supplied one and he flipped for it. Reggie took it into Silver who thought it was very good but said he was strictly a Warner Brothers producer now and that only Fox could make a decision on this. I take solace out of the fact that everyone that’s read the treatment thinks it’s a sensational idea and a perfect way to bring Dutch back before today’s audiences while actually building upon the original film. We worked hard to produce concepts for “smart” sequels that grew out of elements hinted at in the first story. At least that’s what development execs at Cameron’s Lightstorm, Donner/Shuler Productions and other action/genre producers said. Of course Schwarzenegger can’t play it now but I think a new hunky actor (who can act) could fill the character’s shoes. Unfortunately for us Fox has the AVP-syndrome-going so we’ll never see the film produced (and I can’t blame them for chasing the money). One thing that Clay and I were very proud of was at the end of our Predator story we set up the next sequel with some nifty new twists and actually wrote a brief paragraph setting it up.â€
Park, who has another horror pic in the works called â€œThe Needâ€, has decided to start pitching an â€˜originalâ€™ project around town.
â€˜â€™Having been down the pot-holed road of bumpy comic book and sequel adaptations more than once with producers I decided to write a superhero/action adventure script based upon an original idea by myself and Peter Lenkov (currently Peter is an executive producer/writer of “CSI: NEW YORK”) entitled, “X-RAY” that is my fanboy valentine to the comic books and characters that I grew up on”.
If youâ€™re already in the business â€“ or have a good manager, as was the case with the boys who sold their awesome â€œWonder Womanâ€ spec to Warner Bros (we did ask to speak to them for this column but they werenâ€™t allowed to discuss it) â€“ you might find it easier to get a spec up; especially one thatâ€™s a sequel. Even still, writer/producer/director Joel Soisson (â€œFeastâ€, â€œPulse : Afterlifeâ€, â€œBill and Tedâ€™s Excellent Adventureâ€) doesnâ€™t believe itâ€™s a waste of time writing a sequel on spec.
â€œWriting a spec sequel is a smart way to break into the business because the hardest thing a writer has to overcome is the fact that the money people always want their movies made more than your movies. So if you can make your movie into their movie, you’re well ahead of the game. For example, I wrote a treatment called Buried Alive that Bob Weinstein liked but had no initiative to make because he was focused on his own franchises. So I suggested (mostly as a joke) that they stick Pinhead in the movie and make it a Hellraiser sequel. It got greenlit in 24 hours and became Hellworld. Same story, but it suddenly made financial sense. Sequels, good or bad, are the bedrock of a successful studio. They aren’t going away any time soon. And big kudos to any writer who can credibly resurrect a dead villain for another round.â€
At the same time, Soisson says if you must write a sequel to someone elseâ€™s film itâ€™s probably best to write a follow-up to a smaller film like a â€œHellraiserâ€ than a bigger film like a â€œSpider-Manâ€ or â€œBatmanâ€.
Last week, comic-book fave Mark Millar mentioned on his blog that heâ€™d written a treatment for the â€œSupermanâ€ sequel. Because he is Mark Millar â€“ he was able to get his script to Warner Bros, and better still, get someone there to read it.
â€œâ€¦for about fifteen minutes things were looking very sweet. I had a massive three-picture epic in mind, cribbed from notes Iâ€™ve been putting together for the last five years for a Superman comic-book revamp and the people I spoke to absolutely loved it. Everyone said this was very, very exciting, butâ€¦ Well, sadly, Iâ€™m a Marvel guy and we were surprised to find out that WB couldnâ€™t hire me for a DC property. They were incredibly nice and superbly apologetic about it, but when they discussedâ€.
But thatâ€™s beside the point â€“ though disappointing for Millar, no less â€“ the fact of the matter is he was able to get Warner to read his sequel spec because he is Mark Millar. Or Joel Soisson is Joel Soisson. Itâ€™s a lot harder if youâ€™re an unrepresented Jo Blow.
Jedd Jong, who wrote â€œBatman : Masked Soulsâ€, knows exactly what Iâ€™m talking about.
â€˜â€™I did Batman: Masked Souls merely for fun, as a fan-fiction project. I submitted it to simplyscripts.com to get some exposure, but as far as “getting it made” is concerned, no, nothing yetâ€.
And there wonâ€™t be anything either. Bill Ramey, of Batman-On-Film.com, says : â€œI know that WB doesn’t accept spec scripts — especially for their tentpole franchises.â€
Which might explain why â€˜Jayâ€™ couldnâ€™t do anything with his Lost Boys 2 script.
â€œI knew I should have shut my mouth on trying to get together a follow-up. They probably heard the hype of someone else trying to do it, so they [have] hire[d] one of their under paid scripters to crank out crap!â€.
When word got out that Sylvester Stallone was interested in doing another â€œRamboâ€ movie, quite a few people had a crack at writing their version of what they thought the film would be. A company called Alpha1media went so far as to announce their plans â€“ and unleash their treatment and outline â€“ on the web, including hitting the PR websites. They honestly tried everything to make sure that their script was the one chosen. I dropped the company an email to see if theyâ€™d commentâ€¦ but no reply.
Like the Alpha1media guys, Ben Trebilcook decided to start writing a sequel to a popular film once he heard that the studio was interested in doing another. He thought he might be able to beat whoever got the job to the punch.
“I wanted to write a third Die Hard movie and began in ’93. I had set it in Japan. Holly McClane was the US head of Nakatomi Corp and our lone cowboy John McClane was going out there with her to meet the head honchos. It obviously went sour for him. It was a bit like Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Rain’ in a sense. Very fish. I was a little late with that. Not only did i not know what to do, With a vengeance was already in production.â€
A couple of years later, Trebilcook tried again â€“ and wrote â€œDie Hardestâ€, which he envisioned could be the fourth â€œDie Hardâ€. â€œAround the time I got my first agent so Die Hardest was [able to be] discussed with Willis’ attorney, Skip Brittenham. My agent at the time went to Law School with him and as with most cases it’s a who you know not what you know. Much correspondence occurred. “Bruce isn’t doing DH4 for at least 6 years. This was around 1999. Via Bruce, I was instructed to ‘gain attention for myself’, before I could even attempt to get a Die Hard ‘deal’. How? I did everything I could. Self promotion. Too much maybe. ‘get a film made’ or ‘get a top producer behind you’. Came more instruction from the Willis camp. I managed to gain the attention of Andy Vajna. We met in Cannes one year and unfortunately he sold the rights of Die Hard back to Fox to fund the Terminator movies. He wished me luck. I think I came close and believe i was told by insiders that there were around 30 or so in competition, vying for DH4 glory. Mine was whittled down to 5 then the top 3.â€
It was a weird time, he says. â€˜â€™At the time, I was working in a supermarket, whilst also attending film school. It was fun as the patrons of the school were the Monty Python guys. Anyway, at the supermarket I was getting calls from the press asking to interview me. Lad mags and film magazines and high profile newspapers, as well as TV film shows expressing interest because I had written a script intended to be the fourth installment of a huge action franchise. More importantly I was a Brit who was young and had no connections to film whatsoever. Brits don’t write those kinda movies. They write films, not MOVIES. It was also odd as nobody wanted to know or assist in the UK. No agents wanted to rep me, no producers or people in the ‘game’ either. It’s no wonder I sought assistance Stateside.â€™â€™
Would he do it again? â€œSure? There’s no set route to this business. I was told Die Hard was a business, not just a movie. I was advised by some producers not to attempt it. I will always say if you want something, go for it.”
So there you have itâ€¦.. unless youâ€™re very, very, very luckyâ€¦. Or happy to suck off Joel Silverâ€¦.. your sequel spec ainâ€™t going to go anywhere but in the direction of an execâ€™s dirty ass.
Peace Out. Gotta get back to writing â€œOpen Season 2 : Electric Boog-a-looâ€.