On Chasing Trends

Chasing Trends. When screenwriters decide their next script will be thematically the same as whatever the latest hit film was.

And there are loads of so called experts, including managers apparently, who think this is the only way for new writers to get themselves out there. Don’t write what you’re passionate about. Write something THAT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE.

Yeah... that’s the way to get noticed.

Trend chasing is an exercise in futility. You understand that films are developed over years. By the time your trend chasing script gets out there, that trend has been replaced by another one.

New writers get noticed for their trend setting, not chasing. By their wholly original work, which MAY NEVER GET MADE, but sets them apart from all the formula drones and trend chasers, whose scripts are routinely rejected at the first phase of review.

New writers get noticed by their own unique voice, a voice that gets attention instead of yawns or worse, derision when your script is the same as everyone’s. How do you find your own voice if you’re trying to write another version of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars or Fast & Furious or any superhero film? You don’t. YOU DON’T. You get thrown into the reject pile or never read because your logline screams: Seen it before.

With everything you see out there on the big screen I can see how the wish of every screenwriter who wants their name there would think this was the way. But it’s a false flag. The writers whose names appear on those films got them there by first writing something so original that their writing was noticed as something different or special in the first place, that they knew how to tell an original story. Those completely original scripts MAY NEVER HAVE GOTTEN MADE, but they set the writer apart from the masses and got them in the rooms they needed to be in to succeed.

On a screenwriting board I look at occasionally, a writer was complaining that his managers were rejecting all his original ideas. Ideas that excited him as a writer. Ideas that he was passionate about, and telling him no. They told him that he needed to chase trends, to write what THEY wanted him to write. I gave him the following advice:

Get new managers.

If you can’t write what’s inside you aching to get out, how can you write honestly? And when reps tell you to chase trends they aren’t thinking of you as an individual artist, they’re thinking of you as no different from anyone else in their stable of writers. Part of the masses who write will write what they want so they can throw them all at the few walls and hope one will stick. Doesn’t matter which script or by which client. They aren’t managing you, they’re running a script farm.

It’s not an accident that the most exciting new original stuff in now streaming on platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu or on cable TV networks. These are ideas and scripts by people not afraid to go out of the box. To write what they’re passionate about. Did it take a long time to get there? You bet. It takes EVERYONE a long time to get there. But they got there. That’s the take away. Not by chasing a trend or using some phony roadmap of beats, but by being original storytellers.

The best spec script I think I’ve ever read is A Killing on Carnival Row by Travis Beacham. Just amazing from start to finish. Did it get made right off the bat after EVERYONE went nuts over it in the industry? Nope. It sat. For years. Travis got a career out of it though. It put him on the map. It gave him instant credibility with decision makers. He got a running start because of his originality. I always wanted to see it come to life.

Now, it is. As a Netflix series. Not the film he envisioned, but as a streaming series. His originality rewarded. My guess is that it will be a huge hit. I’d bet on it.

Don’t chase trends. No matter what you hear or what “experts” say. You’ll always be late to the party. Write what moves YOU. Write a story you want to see. It might not be successful, because truthfully most every script isn’t. If that happens, write another one. Then another. You’ll see each one getting better and better as you get closer to revealing your own unique voice. The voice that sets you apart.

I know I sound like a broken record when I talk about how long it takes to get noticed as a screenwriter in this business. It does. It’s a frustrating maddening long time for everyone. There is no instant success or gratification.

Now I have to get back to my new car chase script “Speedy and Really Really Mad.”

(For you out there who are literal, the above was a joke)

Go forth and write something original. IT MAY NEVER GET MADE. But it could get you a job writing Spiderman 12.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

4 thoughts on “On Chasing Trends

  1. Pea Woodruff

    I think somewhere inside, most of us know there is no substitute for putting in the work. But no one, except yourself, talks about that part of the job. It is like swimming toward a shoreline you cannot see. I just need someone to tell me on occasion, that I am headed in the right direction. Great post, Bob. Thanks.

  2. J. J. Hillard

    Another great post Bob! I love your cautionary line about (some) managers: “They aren’t managing you, they’re running a script farm.”

  3. david breslow

    As always–honest. To an audience that not only thirsts for it but requires it. As in so many of the arts–confusion reigns and mix that with self-conscious artists who can doubt too easily–there needs to be a voice–a beacon like you who speaks a simple truth. That’s you Bob

Comments are closed.