Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick Gives Advice on Creating a Film Franchise

by Jeffrey Reddick

I’m a 20+ veteran of the entertainment industry.  Like most people, I grew up seeing Hollywood as Oz – this magical place where dreams came easy and artists were treated like kings. At 19, I started interning at the coolest mini-major studio at the time… New Line Cinema.  I sold them Final Destination when I was 26.  I never went to film school. But I learned about the business in the most invaluable way.  Instead of being caught up in my vision of Oz, I got to go behind the curtain of The Great and Powerful Oz and see how the business really worked. From development and marketing, to financing and distribution, I spent 11 years immersed in the business side of show business. And from page to screen, I got to see my first film turn into a profitable franchise.

But today I find myself sitting in my office (Starbucks) staring at a blank page, waiting for my muse to get off her ass and inspire me.  And that’s when I hear a young guy sitting next to me say something… something I hear a lot in this hallowed coffee shop.

“I want to be a screenwriter.”

I look over and see that the young man is knee deep into a screenplay.  I lean over and inform him that he’s writing a screenplay, so he is a screenwriter.  He smiles at this simple encouragement, and we have a long discussion.  We talk about art and commerce and what it takes to really be a professional screenwriter.

After this young writer and I finish talking, I start thinking about the nature of screenwriting, the business and the different types of screenwriters.

Most screenwriters I know fall into three categories. The first are natural born storytellers. These people seem to be born full of stories that they feel compelled to tell. As they grow older, this compulsion becomes a fire that can only be quenched by letting these stories out.

Writers want to connect with people and make them think. Or laugh. Or scream. And they usually take two paths in life. They go balls out… eschewing the cooperate world, and advice of parents and friends, and live the life of an “artist.” The take odd jobs to pay the bills but writing whenever they can. Or they take the path of least resistance. They quell this desire. Tell themselves it’s only a pipe dream. They either let the dream die.  Or hibernate, until later in life, they realize they have to give writing a shot.

The second type of screenwriters are the people who have an idea for a story, but really only want to write, because they think it will bring them fame and millions of dollars. Most of these screenwriters don’t want to put in the time, or effort, to hone their craft. They either bang out a script after reading a screenwriting book, or try to find a writer to write their amazing idea, thinking it will give them the life of celebrity.  These writers clutter the market, but usually quit when they realize success doesn’t happen overnight.

The third type, I like to call the accidental writer. They’re creative and artistic… but express it in some other form… like acting or directing. But over time, they find their creative instincts aren’t limited to one area.

I find myself in this latter category.  While I have always loved writing, acting was my first love. I started in the early 90’s when non-traditional casting wasn’t in vogue. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity, I decided to give my second love a go. And I haven’t looked back.

Now one would think that working in a studio like New Line Cinema, would give me an instant in.  But it didn’t.  With Final Destination I actually took my idea to a production company with a first-look deal at the studio.

Most people ask me why I didn’t go straight to a close colleague in production?  The answer is simple.  I knew that even though I had the connections and a strong idea, it was better to get a producer onboard early.  When you take a project to a studio, you need to have a stacked deck. A strong script, sadly, isn’t enough. I had to be business savvy.

Studios got, and still get, bombarded with dozens of scripts a day. And no matter how strong the material is, you have to do everything you can to make your script “package” as irresistible as possible. I learned this by observing the development process up close. Amazing scripts would come into the studio and get great coverage. But then a weaker script, with a hot producer/actor/director, attached would come in… and guess which script got picked?

For Final Destination we had producers Warren Zide and Craig Perry, who we riding high from the success of American Pie.  But even then, there were hurdles to climb. The studio wasn’t convinced a movie with Death as the killer could be done. And after months of discussions, and the threat of taking the script to another studio, New Line finally came on board.

I stayed at New Line Cinema for six years after I sold Final Destination.  When I sold the story for Final Destination 2, I finally decided to leave the studio nest and write full time.

But that was then. The marketplace has changed drastically since the 90’s. Hell, it’s changed in the last five years. And I have been in the middle of it. I have worked on studio fare, as well as low-budget films. I have seen how financing is put together and distribution deals are done.

In fact, a screenwriter today cannot expect to just write. You almost have to function as a producer and bring something to the table, whether it’s a director, actor or some financing.

The most important thing I’ve done, and I’ve seen others do, to survive in this business is evolve and adapt to this new world. A world where someone can shoot a film on a handheld camera and find distribution. A world where someone can post a short on YouTube and end up a star who gets a studio deal.

And, by the same token, I’ve seen talented writers make mistakes that kept their careers from blossoming. Most of this is due to a lack of knowledge about how the business side of “show business” has changed. If you look at what the studios are putting out, you’ll see that most movies are based off of books, comic books, video games, remakes or sequels. So to get your movie made, you have to know the current landscape and think outside of the box.

And that’s what I want to speak with you all about in my webinar, Creating a Film Franchise in Today’s Movie Market. Whether you’re a young writer who’s knee deep in your first screenplay, or a seasoned pro, I want to share my unique 20+ years of experience about the industry and offer ways to think outside the box to create, not just a movie, but also a franchise property in this new, exciting and ever-changing world.

photo 2Jeffrey has worked in the film industry for over 25 years. He spent the first 11 years working at New Line Cinema, where he created the “Final Destination” film franchise. To date there have been four sequels, which have grossed over $650 million worldwide. Reddick has sold, or optioned, over 15 projects for film and television.  Credits include Lions Gate’s thriller, “Tamara,” the remake of George Romero’s classic, “Day of the Dead” and USA Networks’ “Return to Cabin by the Lake.” Currently, Reddick is developing several projects, including “The Undertakers,” for Modernciné,  based off the young adult series – and “Superstition,” for Global Renaissance Entertainment. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @JeffreyAReddick.

 

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Creating a Film Franchise in Today’s Movie Market Webinar

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ws_filmfranchise-500_mediumAt a Glance:

  • This webinar is for screenwriters and TV writers interested in learning the creative essentials of crafting a franchise property.
  • Gain an understanding of the current state of the film business, and the marketplace.
  • Discover secrets to increase your chances of getting a franchise property made.

 

5 thoughts on “Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick Gives Advice on Creating a Film Franchise

  1. Pingback: Film Distribution System | How To Sell Your Movie | 7Wins.eu

  2. Jareddick

    Hey Neal,

    I’m surprised you only caught one typo. 🙂 Yeah, I hear you about the writers. That happens a lot to me. People don’t understand how hard it is to write and think they always have an “amazing idea.” But they have to learn to write it. Especially the idea that they’re giving you an idea and deserve to share credit. That’ burns me up.

    Wishing you all the best Neal. And I’m glad you enjoyed the interview in “Breakin’ In.” 🙂

    Take care,
    Jeffrey

  3. NealR

    THE DESIRE THAT CAN NO LONGER BE QUELLED

    I think your analysis of the three types of writers is spot on. I’m 1-B… that is, I’m on my third screenplay (previous one a contest semi-finalist), I’ve written over a dozen short plays (so far two of which have been produced on small Chicago stages), and I’ve written down loglines and brief micro-outlines (page each) for several more screenplays that I’m anxious to work on once I finish the current one.

    But most of this writing wasn’t done until I had already spent many, many years working a fairly well-paying day job (including lots of overtime), trying hard to convince myself that being a writer was an impossible, selfish (I should keep earning good money to help relatives whether I liked what I was doing or not) dream. I’m so glad that the compulsion to write FINALLY overcame those forces!

    Alas, I have a friend (from high school) who seems to be the second type — he keeps insisting he has great ideas, but he just needs somebody else to “write them for” him. Needless to say this causes conflict, as I keep telling him I have no interest in writing his ideas (he doesn’t want to do ANY writing at all!), and that he can write if he’ll just try — especially if he’ll do the same things I (and most others) did to get going (read scripts, take a couple of short classes, type a few page of an existing script to get the feel, etc.).

    Alas, it’s been a couple of years now and he still refuses to — while at the same time still insisting he has great ideas if he could just get somebody to write them for him. Of course, the one time I made the mistake of asking about one of his ideas it really wasn’t so much of an idea as simply a setting. I told him it wasn’t my type of thing, but if he wrote it, or part of it, I’d be happy to look over whatever he wrote and give my input. He never did.

    So we’ve grown apart, since that is easier than constantly dealing with his buried (most of the time) anger that I won’t write his “great ideas” for him. (To make it clear, his idea of being a co-writer is that he just gives “great ideas” and then his writing partner [ideally me] writes a scene, and then he says whether it is good or bad. He doesn’t have to write ANYTHING! But he still considers himself to be a co-writer because the basic idea was his and he will have gotten rid of so many bad scenes (or lines) along the way. I’ve told him I’ve never heard of any writing team that works this way, but apparently he doesn’t believe me. Apparently he’d just rather have his fantasy that he has all these great ideas, if only he could get somebody to write them for him.)

    I’ve never understood the way he thinks, but I guess from what you wrote there are a lot of people like him out there. Thanks for letting me know!

    By the way, I don’t think you want a comma after “write” in: “but really only want to write because they think it will bring them fame and millions of dollars”.

    (I almost never read an essay without spotting at least one typo. I guess it comes from having done some newspaper theater reviews on the side a while back and being totally responsible for getting the actor and character names right [the editor at the newspaper office didn’t have a copy of the playbill], and once making the mistake of the spelling of the lead actresses name wrong!)

    By the way, enjoyed you on “Breakin’ In”! Love that show.

    Best wishes,

    NealR

    1. Jareddick

      Hey Neal,

      I wrote you yesterday, but it’s not showing up here. Sorry to hear about the stress with your friend. But people don’t seem to realize they have to contribute 50% original material to a screenplay in order to get credit on it. An idea gets you a ‘based on an idea by” credit. I get how frustrating that can be.

      My response yesterday was longer, but I’ve gotta run out. I hope you’re well and glad you enjoyed the “Breakin’ In” show. 🙂

      Take care,
      Jeffrey

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