Saturday, June 14, 2008

Speed to Market or He Who Hesitates, Loses

I was chatting with a business associate the other day who said, "When launching any new business idea, the most important factor to it succeeding or failing is its 'speed to market'".

This got me thinking about the many screenwriters who are guilty of coming up with a great script idea, only to leave it to 'gestate' for a few months / years (while writing something else). Then, when they finally get around to turning their great idea into a script, they discover that there's already a film being released, or a script in development at a major studio, or a book or a comic at Borders which covers the self same idea they'd come up with, in a VERY similar way. So much so that their version of the idea is now dead in the water.

Case in point: a screenwriter friend of mine, Arthur, pitched a nifty film idea to me nearly a decade ago called 'Cowboys and Aliens', which had all the hallmarks of a big budget 'tent pole' movie, with aliens landing in the wild west and the local cowboys having to fight them off.

If memory serves, Arthur (who's also a talented musician) came up with this idea after hearing a studio album of the same title from UK band, Kitchens of Distinction.

Anyway, for whatever reasons, Arthur never got around to turning Cowboys and Aliens into a script. Life, as the saying goes...happened.

Several years later, Arthur mentioned Cowboys and Aliens to me again, saying that he was finally going to turn it into a screenplay...only for me to have to tell him that there was now a successful comic book on the market called 'Cowboys and Aliens' which covered a pretty much identical story line, with aliens landing in the wild west, and the cowboys (and Indians in this case) having to team up to save the day.

If Arthur hadn't lucked onto a comic geek of a friend like me who knew about the pre-existing work of the same name, he'd have promptly wasted 3-6 month of his life writing it, and would now be stuck with a totally unsalable script, as the comic book version of the idea has been picked up by producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for DreamWorks and Universal, with screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby writing the screenplay.

However, if he'd actually turned his terrific idea into a screenplay all those years ago...maybe today it'd be his script Grazer and Howard where championing, instead of a comic book.

I mention this, not to point the finger at Arthur of course - because any screenwriter worth his salt has had the same thing happen to him, in one shape or another - but to use it as an example of how we as writers often mistakenly believe we are well-springs of creative wonderment, and can come up with a dozen unique film ideas before lunch. And as such, fail to notice the really commercial and inspired film ideas, when we do come up with them.

The key to all this of course is RECOGNISING the great ideas we come up with, from the not so great ones. Because, as much as we like to think that every script idea we generate is a Hollywood blockbuster in the making...the truth is that (if we're lucky) maybe one in a hundred of our ideas is worth developing. Maybe. And that when we do come up with a cracker of an idea...we need to stop whatever the hell else we're doing, and write the damn thing and GET IT TO MARKET, QUICKLY.

Because if we don't, you can be pretty damn sure that somebody else will.

Brian M Logan

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