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When they say "It's all about the script, the script, the script", why are so many bad independent movie made?

In Hollywood, this phrase is said but I believe what they really mean is "it's all about the money, the money, the money".

I mean I see some terrible British indie genre movies on the shelves of my local HMV each month, basically variations of London gangsters, soldiers, zombie and hooligan movies starring z-list actors and 80s pop stars. They show them on London Live. It seems these films are getting made because the money was available at the time, definitely not because the scripts were great.

  • It's all about the money. It's only ever about the money. It's like when TV people say "we love hearing new ideas" what they really mean is "what we want is something identical to (current hit on other network)" - the words aren't the strict truth!

    4 months ago
    • I wouldn't say only ever about the money. If it were, more people would invest in weapons and tobacco. Politics has a big part to play, so does glamour (or the perception of glamour, the "prestige" picture.)

      Sadly, these days there is an extreme conservatism to the point of cowardice, but there are still people who want originality. Even if they are copied.

      3 months ago
  • What one learns with age is just how truly mediocre, despite being lauded by their peers, are so many who have, by diverse caprices, been given the reins of power. So much decision making could be just as effective by throwing dice.

    It does mostly come down to money. Perversely the skill of money making is too often falsely claimed to be comensurate with good taste and nuanced appreciation. Happily though, we still get some great films and factuals despite them. It's not all trite and banal with technological effects.

    4 months ago
  • I recently had a big shock.
    To me the script is the "I.P" of a film. If the writer hadn't had the idea, researched and written (and re-written) the script then all the other jobs, money, income, profits etc that flow from the script couldn't have happened.
    But I recently introduced a writer and his excellent script to a well known casting director, in order to get her interested, in order to attract a few names, in order to attract investment; packaging basically. And when we met around her over-sized table she grandly announced - "You know, you have nothing right now, all you have is a script" I said "Please don't say this, he's taken 10 years writing and refining it! Look at his little face!"
    Maybe she was right, but it struck me as depressing. What does anyone else think?

    3 months ago
    • I'm not sure the casting director is the right person to go to in that case. Look at how others do it. You can try agents.

      Casting Directors are generally below the line, and below the line talent usually only gets involved when there's money (or at least significant above the line.) They are like recruitment agencies, not venture capitalists.

      3 months ago
    • @vasco de sousa

      you can try agents; of course you can, but I knew this casting director and she knows all the agents - so when she recommends this script to the agent it is not just another script - it is tagged as being worthwhile, because of her reputation, PLUS she knows the talent that would work, so her approach to the agent is also focussed and not just random "hey we have a script if you care to read it". As I said it's "packaging" and it has worked for people - you get a high profile lead actor or support, and other talent will follow in through the door. PLUS once there is a name associated by letter of internet, then you can start to approach money - either investors or producers who know investors.
      I am sure there is no one way of doing this... but my main point, made some time ago now, is that I was disappointed that an excellent script - one that has been shortlisted [to a final five] on Scriptapalooza and got excellent feedback from 'The Black List' etc - got the response that it was worth "nothing". I disagree. Sure if you've got the dosh in your back pocket you can haul in talent for your film, but without it I had hoped, and I still do, that a great script will be recognised and WILL attract talent.

      3 months ago
    • @graeme holmes

      Sorry... that should, of course, have been "letter of intent"...

      I also forgot to mention, that one of the main reasons we approached a casting director was to explore the possibility of a filmed table read. The casting director was to help with the casting of parts for that, then we would film the read on multi cameras [it's a very funny comedy script, so I wanted the audience reaction] - and the idea is to edit it and upload some "teaser clips" - so producers investors, agents, other actors etc - could have got a couple of easily digestible 5-10 min slice of the table read highlights -[in my opinion - just read the script os it's all there and it works on the page- but we felt this extra bit of casting and bringing to life would maybe tempt a producer more than just bunging him/her a script.

      This discussion has meandered off Matthew's original posting - which was actually about why a lot of cheap, bad British knock off gets made [answer: vanity and/or tax right offs], but as ever, it all starts with the script!

      3 months ago
  • "Why are so many bad independent movie made?" Sturgeon's Law.

    3 months ago
  • With regard to Graeme's post. That casting director is a pompous ass. But that's often the nature of the beast. It is of course merely a negotiating stance. It has no empirical force other than whether its grandeur is unique. Could that script find a better deal? How needy was its author?

    It underlines how valuable it is for creatives to be their own producer. It's the producer who adds value to IP

    Courage mon braves. Start at the top and don't let the bastards grind you down!

    3 months ago
  • Wouldn't worry too much Graeme, you can give great cast a stinker of a script, and they can't polish a turd. Making a film is collaborative - give a great cast a great script and you're on better ground than either without the other.

    3 months ago
  • Sorry I was just reading, and it asked me to submit, but as a fairly humble actor, I sometimes see scripts that leap off the page, and I say YES! and others where I go, hmmm, or even what? One of them, I didn't get the role, but I loved the script so much that I asked for a copy when they finished it, and it was every bit as good as I'd imagined!

    3 months ago
  • I don't know why there are so many "bad" films made, but then it's only a matter of taste and there are films to suit everyone as there are books. Me and my mate Stephen Spielberg say its all about the story. In my view, if you don't have a story, then you don't have a film worth watching. If you have a story then at least you have a book. If you turn it into a script, have some actors say the lines and apply some music judiciously then at least you have a radio play. If you put the actors on location then at least you have a stage play and if you film it, then and only then do you have a film. I think "bad" films come about because too many are obsessed with the moving image and forget all the other elements.

    3 months ago
  • I agree with Norman in that it's a matter of taste. I'm not sure I agree with the rest of it. A book involves much more than a story. I've seen some terrible renditions of classic fairy tales. (Some academic journal articles have great stories, but they are poorly told.)

    Koyaanisqatsi doesn't have a story, but it has its fans.

    Okay, I could go into tastes of music, or food (frog legs anyone?) but I've done that before.

    However, I'll go with the food analogy again. Just because you have a great recipe, that doesn't mean you'll have a great dish. If it was, then you could pay chefs minimum wage and hire anyone off the street without an interview or training.

    Ever go to McDonalds and get served by a student who was too good to be there? They don't mix the McFlurry properly. I've been to a KFC where the guy ruined a porridge oats. Go eat fast food, or mexican food, in a student town sometime, and you'll see that recipes ain't everything.

    Cowboy builders can have great blueprints, but still make a mess of things.

    A script is merely the starting point. However, it's still important. But, the script is much more than the story. Much, much more. (Otherwise, they'd pay people minimum wage to adapt Harry Potter.)

    Then, take amateur Shakespeare. Great script, but acting, directing, acoustics... sometimes one element can ruin the rest of it.

    ... now, as far as grade z actors, well, everyone starts somewhere. Brad Pitt's first acting job was wearing a chicken suit. Jack Nicholson did black-and-white grade Z films (when black and white meant low budget.)

    3 months ago
    • I'd like to apologize for conjecture in part of that response. I have no idea why students sometime mess up fast food.

      I did some side jobs as a student too, and sometimes we were just thrown into the job without training, some of us might have been preoccupied or tired from exams, and so on. I have no idea how well I did, but I appreciate all the people who try their best.

      Perhaps I should have chosen another metaphor.

      3 months ago
  • Oh, and by the way, you can raise money without a script. It has been done before.

    Usually, you option the script before buying it outright, putting a down payment to reserve it. Or, you can option source material.

    The money people will look at a script, business plan, team, and any other attachments. Sometimes, your enthusiasm might be enough.

    3 months ago
  • This a perennial discussion. Without getting into the merits of individual films and personal tastes, it's a systemic problem. The British film industry is very geared toward production, especially when it comes to tax breaks and various financial wheezes (you get a break for *filming* in the Isle of Man, not for writing a script there.)

    Due to under-capitalization, the money just isn't there for development (and possibly there a cultural tendency to undervalue the development process.) Consequently, many films are rushed into production to get the cash flowing when really they need one if not two or more new drafts before they're ready to be shot.

    I have read scripts for a number of production companies and schemes and I cannot tell you the number of potentially good scripts I saw made before their underlying story problems were solved (you can just hear the conversation: "We'll fix it in the editing. No one will notice.") The result was a mediocre, forgettable film instead of what could have been a really good one.

    3 months ago
  • Everyone says it’s about the script and indeed obviously good films have a good concept and also a good script. But a film for investors is so much more than that, in fact I know many investors do not even read the script. All they want is someone they trust to do that for them, often times.
    So film maker A makes a fairly ok but commercial film where everyone makes a 50% profit and ghetto investors read the script Then along comes Filmmaker A with 2nd film. It’s packaged well- good IM (IP) letters of intent from profile cast and crew. The synopsis and Treatment look good so often the Investor will not read the script and just invests so hence bad script seep through.
    In this case it’s all about getting a good producer who will sell your good or bad script convincingly for you.
    Next it’s all a matter of taste. There is a big commercial market for horror and gangster films with Z listers or better actors in them or not. They make money often eg the clichéd funny horror the epitome of bad taste with extreme and obvious moments of fear, so corny the audience laughs has a big following. A really canny film maker might make a couple like that, make profit to have money the next time to make what he wants.

    Third reason and the worst in my opinion is arrogant film makers who also direct and write and have a script they think is the bees knees. They get money to make it perhaps wealthy friends and family and will not tweak, change or alter a thing despite being told certain or all parts need rewriting by producers/cast more experienced. Convinced they have a masterpiece they plough on.
    Life is not fair, if a film maker has a truly great script he/she should enter it to really prestigious script competitions. I mean a producer will sit up when you write this script 2nd in Sundance this year, on the blacklist etc it’s about...
    As a working film maker I am in hospital waiting for a small op so have time to answer your many posts. The gyst of them makes me think you are a frustrated film maker with many ideas or scripts that you can’t get funded and you find it unfair that other filmmakers who in your opinion make lesser films than yours could be getting a head start.
    My nephew just graduated from film school and was never taught how to seek funds, find investors, pitch or any idea how to make presenters, IP,s etc. These are skills you will have to find on short courses, if all costs money you don’t have and want to put into films but you have to learn these skills if you ultimately want to succeed. Or team with someone who has the connections and you just learn how to pitch to such people.

    2 months ago
    • Great answer and speedy recovery after your op :)

      2 months ago
    • @Stuart Wright
      I agree with you, ‘great answer’ I’d just add that as William Goldman says, nobody knows nothing - and that sometimes excellently written scripts are not easy to read and bad ones are, i think scripts are more about being a technical blue print for a film, and people still overlook that fact all the time!

      2 months ago
  • I think Jane nailed it with her thoughtful and detailed post.

    I'll add that in every creative art, water always finds its own level. If it's truly good enough it will rise to its level of greatness for many reasons.

    Coming from the music industry, I've seen a lot of bad acts signed in bidding wars. They may even make a little money for a short time.

    Then you have Adele. In 2006 there was little interest in a heavy girl singing introspective 1960's style white soul. She played to about 15 people at the 12 Bar club on Denmark Street (her first London gig) and no one was listening. A waitress was standing in front of her taking an order as she sang.

    It took a true visionary to sign her and let her be her, and now she is a once in 30 years talent and a billion dollar cottage industry unto herself, with no end in sight.

    A script good enough for Nicholl's will always see the light of day.

    And as far as film school? Or music business school? Kids aren't taught the "Hustle". It's probably THE most important thing in both music and film, and you can't learn it in a classroom. The kicking down doors and getting face to face that make it happen. This is a developed skill that very few kids have or understand.

    I would also add that if you really expect to succeed in the major league of any creative art you need a feedback loop of people that have already succeeded willing to give you brutally honest feedback, and the ability to accept and incorporate this to get to where they are.

    If not, the likelihood is, you're professionally doomed, away from major success.

    2 months ago
  • Haha! In my previous post I am not sure where ghetto investors came from?- darn predictive text -that was supposed to say some investors!

    2 months ago
  • First, name the bad movies. Then, go to your library, wikipedia, Screen International or Hollywood Reporter, local film academic, or directly to the filmmakers themselves. Watch the making of on the DVD.

    I've done that. I found that most terrible films are made by people who follow all the guru's advice, especially the raindance advice of shooting long hours and under budgeting. They ask editors about directing, they ask cinematographers about writing, they ask writers about set design. Almost all the worst low-budget films are either horror or sci fi, though quite a few are gangster or other high concept genres.

    (For high budget films it's different.)

    I'm sure Ed Wood invented a time machine and went to a raindance seminar. He didn't go to UCLA, I can tell you that much. Watch the film Ed Wood. Ignore the stuff about how he dresses, and focus on his filmmaking technique, how quickly he writes the screenplay, how he spends more time hustling than drawing storyboards. Adjust his budget for wage inflation.

    2 months ago
    • Hey Vasco, can you please eloborate on "the raindance advice of shooting long hours and under budgeting"?

      Thanks so much!

      2 months ago
    • @Günalp Koçak In the raindance guide to filmmaking, (I forget the book's exact title) they have a schedule of shooting seven day weeks, and an assumption that you'll not raise sufficient funds. The suggestion of shooting a feature film in two weeks is in that book, and of not taking a break to shoot it more quickly.

      If we look at the old Harryhausen films, they had union 8-9 hour days, and weekends off, even with a low-ish budget.

      Just watch the film "Ed Wood," it's great fun.

      2 months ago
  • There's much more bad songs released than good ones. Awful cafes open on every high street and are gone in under a year etc... Point is film is a business just like every other venture that relies on capital investment. Few are very good. Many are mediocre to awful... You ask how they got funded? The taxman system of SEIS and EIS which is the UK goats attempt to incentivise the rich to invest their money in new opportunities (incl film)... Just like the clueless person who starts the bad cafe, so do useless people make films... It's just the law of averages.

    BUT... many of those zombie, gangster, hooligan films have an audience and can turn a profit. They may never see a Palme D'or but their attracting enough eyeballs. They may never be to my cup of tea, but they're certainly made with the zeal and enthusiasm (and intention) of making a 'good' film.

    It's not a meritocracy... Get over that hurdle and you'll be much happier working on your own ideas.

    There'll be an element of luck along the way. All our responsibilities is to be ready to be lucky if we're serious about filmmaking.

    Much like you should never punish yourself by measuring your standard against a master of their craft, I'd add if the schlocky sub genre stuff isn't for you, don't assume you are above it, just ignore it... You'll be much happier.

    And where do you live where there's a HMV on the high st - 1998? :)

    2 months ago
    • Stuart Wright says - 'it's not a meritocracy'. Ain't that the truth Stuart. That should be written out and pinned above every writer's p.c.

      2 months ago
  • I’ve got a great script for www.MargeryBooth.com but don’t take my word for it. After Stephen Fry read it he asked for a part, as did Anna Friel, BUT it becomes all about money. Because it’s a WWII espionage biopic about a female spy it was suggested I find a female director so a dear friend sent a list of 45 women directors. I emailed all and only got 5 replies. Declining. The director needs to be approved by my distributor and only then can I get the money from several potential investors who are sitting in the wings. So yes - it all comes down to £££sss!

    2 months ago
  • To echo what Vasco said, I will quote Oliver Stone:

    'When I hear writers talking about successful films and saying, ''It was all in the script, the movie already existed on paper'' I think they're being, at best, totally naive. It's more fluid than that. I used to say, ''Script is everything'' because that was the way I had been trained. But today I think too much is made of the script. Look at the studios who invest so much time, money and energy getting their scripts rewritten over and over again.. What do they get in the end? Perfect scripts that turn into terrible movies. because film making doesn't work that way. It works in a magical way. For instance, when I read the script for 'Pulp Fiction, I thought it would never work, that it was too talky and incredibly self indulgent. But then I saw the way Quentin Tarantino did it, and the actors he chose to do it and it became totally different.'

    I think it needs to start with a good script. A bad script will not likely make a good film. But a good script doesn't guaranty a good film..

    2 months ago