According to the Scoggins Report (a four-year old private company that analyzes script and pitch sales in Hollywood), Tinsel Town is trending at about an 11 percent increase over the spec-buying market last year. From Jan. 1 - May 31, 2013 the studios bought up 47 spec scripts as compared to 40 in 2012. The most popular genre so far this year is thrillers (16 sold), followed by action/adventure (9 sold), sci-fi (8 sold), horror (6), drama (4). Comedy came in dead last (3 sold).
Pitch sales to-date this year are at 35. This reflects about a 30 percent increase over last year. This means it stands a chance of being on a par with the total numbers of pitch sales for 2011. Fox and Universal have been leading the charge. While most of the other studios have only bought one or two pitches each so far this year, Fox has scooped up five pitches and Universal has purchased nine.
But Jason Scoggins and his partner Cindy Kaplan's analysis says these numbers are deceiving because the bigger picture shows that most studios have been buying fewer specs and pitches over the last four years. Thanks to a sluggish 2009 and 2010 buying market and lower overall sales for each year, Scoggins and Kaplan claim there's a 45 percent decline in studio pitch and spec purchases. There are, however, non-studio buyers in the market filling at least some of the gap.
I believe this overall decrease in buying specs and pitches at the studio level is due, in part, to an overall shift to leaving more of the research and development to independent producers and their labels. That's who's buying in the gap. It makes sense in a tight economy to spend less on developing projects in-house. R & D is costly and much of it never goes anywhere. By off-loading that burden, producers have to get smarter about what they're making.
So it's no wonder we're seeing a flood of sequels and remakes. The logic is, if it worked once, it will work again - especially if they can secure the same cast. Sequels are easier to finance and most sequels and remakes make more money than the original film. Film franchises are virtual cross-marketing gold mines too. Theme-park rides, caps, t-shirts, fast-food tie-ins to name a few. The 24th James Bond movie is now in development. Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is in work as is Mission Impossible 5. Fast and Furious 6 is currently making box office history. I could go on but it's plain to see in theatres everywhere.
The lower-trending sales numbers for specs and pitches may also reflect another trend - buying pre-published manuscripts and best-selling books. As you know, Hollywood gets its ideas for film in several ways. Books, pitches, in-house concepts that are pitched to writers and/or producers and spec scripts. Having worked in all areas of development for mainstream Hollywood features and network television, I can tell you unequivocally that books are fast becoming a major source of film material. Read the credits of any film and you'll see it too.
The reasons for this are multiple. First, everybody wants a sure thing. A best-selling author has an established audience and so they're more likely to spawn blockbuster moves than unknown authors and screenwriters. Books also come with a subsidiary rights package (TV, film, DVD, Cable, Internet & Character rights, etc.). Studios want complete control so this allows them to negotiate up-front for the rights package. Pre-pub manuscripts and books are also a much more powerful place to come from as a writer. When you sell a script all the rights go with the sale! Once you sell it, all the rights go with it. Many writers don't realize this. That's why you need a good agent/lawyer to negotiate the deal.
Then there's the rise of new media, the proliferation of original made-for-cable movies and the global move towards watching entertainment on mobile devices. The old studio model is changing along with the way audiences are choosing to view entertainment. And let's not forget the video-gaming market. Video games are the fastest growing sector in the media industry with an estimated 9.1 percent annual increase in sales. In 2012 the Avengers movie grossed a record $270 million its opening weekend. By comparison, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 opening weekend sales came in a $662 million.
The value of the worldwide video-gaming market surpassed the movie industry as far back as 2005 and it is expected to reach a value of 91 billion by 2015. That trend seems to be in jeopardy (click here for more details) but ideas that can be translated into video games and other media platforms are especially appealing to producers. If you can create a story world and memorable characters that can live independently on multiple platforms, you have a slam dunk.
Something to think about.