The M Word

Yep. The dreaded “M” word. The word that splits the writers who consider themselves artists from the ones they see as sellout commercial screenwriters.


Now, let me get something straight right from the start, screenwriters who write commercial scripts are not sellouts in any way shape or form in my humble opinion. You can come up with a great commercial idea for a film and feel the same passion for it as a writer as you can any script you write. In fact, you need to if you want it resonate with an audience.

This all comes from a post on a screenwriting board where a writer decried the fact the money going to into superhero films was ruining the film business. That commercial films were making it hard for serious “message” films to get made. Films that raised awareness and educated and allowed a writer expression. Not so surprisingly, films like the ones he writes.

There’s a whole group of people who think all film should be art. To improve mankind and to inform and educate. That pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake in film is a waste. Superhero films, remakes, TV adaptations, sequels, best seller adaptations... all these things are ruining the film business and shouldn’t happen. Film as art. And that’s what the studios should be making.

I know it’s not a black or white thing. I love film as art as much as anyone. But I’ve seen some great commercial films I thought were art. And... I’ve seen “art” films that were so pretentious and full of themselves there was really no art to be found. No one person or group can define it for another. And that’s the problem. There are writers that would like to define it for everyone.

Would I love to see studios taking a flier on some real spec scripts and make something different? You bet. Name me a writer who wouldn’t. But reality says that’s not going to happen. Maybe ever again.

Studios and even some of the bigger Production Companies these days are so risk averse they don’t want to take a chance on losing any money on anything that they don’t think already has a built in audience.


It’s an ugly word that some of these writers think should be low on the list of why films get made. Well, except when it comes to what they expect to be paid. But that’s a whole other blog.

A world they live in where money, other people’s money, not theirs, shouldn’t matter to the artistic filmmaking process. That the reason they haven’t sold their art is based purely on the stupidity of the studios and big Production Companies and what they think are the purposefully dumbed down audiences. Audiences who would be so much smarter if they just watched their films. That all these studio people think about is Money, not art.

And you know what? They're right. That's what studios think about. So do independent producers. So do production companies. And the sooner you as a writer who wants to see your work made and on screens for the public someplace recognize this truth the more it will make you think about what you write. And that’s a good thing.

I’m not saying you need to chase trends. I’m completely against that. I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t write something that moves you. More than a few writers have written films strictly as writing samples. Something out of the box and exciting or controversial or completely different for a genre, just to get noticed. The difference is that they knew the films probably wouldn’t get made, but might get them an agent or manager or writing assignments. It’s worked for quite a few of my friends, and actually, me.

But there’s a big difference between writing something as a sample and writing something with no commercial appeal and getting angry no one wants to buy and produce it because people are too stupid to realize that it’s art that needs to be seen.

If you want to sell a script and make money, you need to think about the audience you’re writing for. And the wider that audience, the more chance you have. My first real chance at a produced film was writing a Christmas Film for Hallmark. Did I worry it was Hallmark and what people would think? Nope. I took that opportunity and gave it everything I had as a writer, heart and soul...

And it’s a film I’m really proud of. I didn’t particularly make a lot of money for it either, but boy did it open doors. And it definitely wasn’t art. But it made people laugh for the right reasons and got incredible ratings. Good enough for me.

I love what I do. I love it every day. I get paid to tell stories. Something I would have to do even if I wasn’t getting paid. If I was a caveman, I’d be the one painting the buffalo pictures on the cave walls. I love creating story. I love the challenge. It’s what I dreamed about doing. Do I feel blessed that I’ve been able to get paid for it? You bet your ass.

So... do I think about money when I write?


I think, “Is this a script that somebody would invest in?” before I write anything. I think, “Is there a wide enough audience for this?” at the same time. Why? Because I understand any money I might make as a writer depends on my honest answers to these questions. It’s a fact of trying to do this for a living because the word “art” is not a word producers think about when reading your script.

They’re thinking about money. If they like it, they’re thinking about what it will cost them to option or buy it. How much it will cost to make. Where they can go to get the money to make it.

The M word.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

5 thoughts on “The M Word

  1. FD

    The fact that Hollywood pursues money is not a bad thing. Writers should pursue money too.
    But not necessarily EASY MONEY. Meaning lazy money. Meaning not giving an audience something new and unexpected.

    The problem with formulas is that they work too well. People become convinced that today’s formula is ne plus ultra. Perfect. absolute, unchanging. But the audience is always changing. And a new movie formula might potentially make even more money if someone somewhere is brave enough to stick it in our faces.

    Hollywood is complacent. It’s making good money today. But it may not last. Film may not be art, but it will evolve, probably by accident. Like nature. The best most profitable movies ever made are going to require facing risk and adapting to an ever-changing audience .

    Not adhering to rigid formula.

    One day, superhero blockbusters will disappear and smaller nimbler movies may replace them. It may be the audience that is superhuman, not the movie characters.

  2. Dougie Brimson

    Excellent blog and one which resonates with me as a pro author and screenwriter.

    What people tend to forget is that the film business is just that, a business. And as such, it has to make money or it can’t survive. The way to do that, the only way to do that, is to give the audience something they not only want to see, but are happy to pay to see. They, after all, are the driving force behind the industry so what on earth is wrong with giving them what they want?

    Surely we actually owe them that.

  3. FD

    We don’t always know what we want to see until someone shows it to us. Many in Hollywood weren’t eager for “talkies,” but once people saw heard them, they wanted to see more of them.

    In addition to profit, there is also a need for innovation and variety. Otherwise, we could just remake the top 30 hit movies each year and laugh all the way to the bank.

    In order to make money, movies need to continually surprise us. It’s tough to do that without taking a risk.

  4. Howard Scott Warshaw

    Writers are free to create whatever they want. The market is free to choose whatever it wants. Money is merely the signal through which the market tells the writers what it wants. Sometimes it results in surprises but usually not. Any artist is free to produce their art. In fact, in the history of mankind it has never been easier for one individual to produce and distribute their work. Any medium can host art or commerce. And many people don’t agree on the difference anyway. Media business people have a job in which they are responsible for earning a living, not unlike any other job. Blaming money for suppressing art is like blaming a stop sign for causing an accident. Of course, if I really believe this is a serious social issue in need of a spotlight, I’m free to write a script about it and see if it sells.

  5. Kelly Raymer

    My 2¢ is write what is in your heart. I look at the script Juno. She wrote what was in her heart.
    One of my coaches told me about screenwriting. How do you want the audience to feel when they walk out?
    Writing any screenplay short film or feature is like “Field of Dreams” If you build it, they will come as long as it’s what’s in your heart. Even if it never gets made it enhances your craft and how fun is it to create a world from scratch. Forget about the M word and write something that resonates to you.

    As always, grateful for your blogs Bob.

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