Trev asks:

How do you feel choice of subject matter influences commercial success. Do you think Hollywood is more interested in another LETHAL WEAPON or SCREAM 3 rather than another AMERICAN BEAUTY?

If you were starting out–what genre would you write for spec?

That’s really three separate questions, so here are three answers:

How does choice of subject matter influence commercial success?

Subject matter per se has little to do with commercial success. Unlikely subjects often turn into successful movies. E.G. “Shindler’s List” (Holocaust), “A Beautiful Mind” (life of an obscure – at least to the public – economist), “Sideways” (wine tasting). The real question for the spec writer (and probably any writer) is whether you can make the subject accessible to your audience. If you desire to write for mainstream Hollywood, then you want the subject to be accessible to mainstream audiences. At the risk of getting a parade of horrible subject matters, I can say that there is almost no subject that, with the right story treatment, cannot be used to create a marketable spec screenplay.

That having been said, the more uncomfortable the subject matter, the more difficult you may find it to create the right story treatment. You will walk a fine line between honoring the subject matter and telling an accessible story.

Do you think Hollywood is more interested in another LETHAL WEAPON or SCREAM 3 rather than another AMERICAN BEAUTY?

It doesn’t matter. Hollywood’s interests change faster than you can write a quality spec. Trying to write for the market is always a mistake. By the time any of us knows what the market is looking for, it is already saturated with that type of product. It’s time to move on.

Over time (and usually after writing a number of scripts), you will develop an internal story sense that tells you what types of stories you are likely to have the most success with. It will certainly relate to what’s happening in the industry in a larger sense – but it will relate as much to how you feel about stories and what your interests are. What Hollywood really wants out of you as a spec writer is a fresh, unique voice – your voice. That’s what lights up agents and execs – something new and different and well told. You will only develop a unique voice if you write stories that speak to you and about which you are passionate, even if they don’t seem to meet immediate market trends.

If you were starting out–what genre would you write for spec?

It doesn’t matter. Your first spec is likely an exploration anyway. It is very unlikely to be something you should actually put into the market. Even if you do intend to put it out, forget about what genre sells the most or seems to be the best for breaking in new writers – that is what every other spec writer is writing and what is least likely to get you noticed.

The most important thing you can do as a beginning writer is discover what you have to say. It doesn’t have to be profound or serious. Whether you write comedy, horror, action or anything else, what will be most interesting to Hollywood will be your unique sensibilities in the story. It may take time to hone your voice, but that time is needed anyway to get your writing chops up to professional standards.

If you focus on what you think is important to do within your own storytelling, if you are intentional about developing a story telling philosophy, if you pay attention to the values you imbue in the writing, if you develop your own voice as a writer, and if you write in the genre that inspires you, you are more likely to attract interest than if you try to fill the same mold as everyone else.

Go for it. Good luck.

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