People go to the movies to be entertained. The emerging screenwriter should rule out writing scripts for any other reason than that. Like Spotlight.
This film should not have been made. Even with its impressive cast, at the time of writing it only grossed about $40m, which is barely what you would expect the production budget to be.
Why Spotlight Should Not Have Been Mad
Let’s look at all the reasons you should not write a film like this:
- The topic is a no-no.
It deals with child abuse. Nobody wants to hear about this when they sit down at night to relax. Give me a story about a superhero (like Birdman!).
- It’s been milked in the news
We’ve heard enough about priests abusing children in the news. After all, that’s where it belongs. In cinemas, we need escapism.
- It was a long time ago
We have more pressing matters today, things we can do something about. Let’s not waste our time on the past.
- It’s about journalists
Who is interested in journalists? They’re not cool. Bad hero material. All they do is talk and write. Totally un-cinematic.
- There is no clear protagonist
Who is the main character in this movie? Good luck figuring that out. It’s easier to care about one character than a whole bunch of ’em.
- There is no real jeopardy
Unlike the victims of child abuse, the journalists are never in danger. They’ve got a tough time finding the truth, but hey, my job is tough, too!
- Boston is not sexy
Boston? Really? Why not a photogenic city like New York or L.A.? And haven’t we seen enough of Boston’s darkness in the stories of Dennis Lehane?
Of course Spotlight won Best Picture.
And Best Original Screenplay.
So the arguments above are moot.
One of my writer contacts recently emailed me, saying
What has brought a middle-aged man like myself into the whole writing game is my disappointment with the ideas presented in so many of the Hollywood or Australian films made films we often waste our time watching. Some of these are critically acclaimed and yet – what do we get at the end – an empty pop-corn bucket and we are 2 hours older….
Spotlight proves that – yes – you can pick a topic you really care about, and pretty much break every ‘rule’ in the book.
(Except perhaps the one about active characters – with tremendous willpower…)
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.