We all do it. Every time we see a movie like "Gamer" or "Inkheart" hit the cineplexes, we shake our heads, rolls our eyes, and say, "I know I could do better than that." We imagine ourselves as studio bosses, greenlighting a dozen District 9s, Hurt Lockers, or Up In The Airs. We'd make quality films, films that actually had something to say dammit! I mean let's be honest, the only reason Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe made any money is because they had 100 million dollar marketing campaigns. Right?
Hmmm. Not so fast. Think about it. Really think about it. If you had a job that paid you 5 million dollars a year and allowed you more power than almost anyone in town, would you really be gambling it away on trying to find the next "Good Will Hunting?" It's easy to play armchair studio boss from the confines of your living room. But I'm not sure any one of us, if put in that position, wouldn't be calling Michael Bay, promising him tens of millions of dollars, if he would just please commit to Transformers 3. It's sad, but it's true.
Well lucky for me, this article isn't reality. It's a pseudo-quasi reality where I'm opening my own studio and trying to come up with my first year's slate. I'd imagine, since this is my first studio, that my investors wouldn't be giving me a billion dollars. They'd probably give me around 150-200 million (yeah, totally). I'd use this money to make five movies in the roughly 20-50 million dollar range. With that money, these are the five scripts I'd immediately put into production.
DEAD LOSS by Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson - Thriller
Premise: A crew of crab fisherman rescue a drifting castaway with a mysterious cargo.
Do you remember the cinematic atrocity that was The Perfect Storm? They got us to pay ten dollars to go see a 15 second sequence of an enormous computer generated wave that we had already seen in the previews! That was the only memorable part in the entire movie! Dead Loss is the movie The Perfect Storm should've been. It's got a good story, deep characters, intriguing twists and turns, in addition to a subject matter we haven't seen on the big screen before. True it's set on water and water is always trouble for productions, but after seeing this Youtube video, I've realized that elaborate sets simply aren't a problem anymore. Which means you're basically spending all your money in one place, the boat. You could be flexible and keep it under 25 million with B-level stars, or make it in the 50 million dollar range with one A-lister. Also, as long as contained thrillers are done reasonably well, they'll always make money.
SOURCE CODE by Ben Ripley – Sci-Fi Thriller
This may seem like an obvious choice but I actually went back and forth on it for awhile. Source Code, like Dead Loss, takes place in limited locations (2 to be exact) so it'd be super cheap to make. My big fear with Source Code stems from this same issue however. Is it big enough for the average sci-fi fan? I know the kind of people who went to see Moon will line up for Source Code, but does it jump into that larger sci-fi appeal that is District 9? In the end, I have to go with the old adage that story is king. When you look at a similar movie like Déjà Vu (I think the biggest spec sale ever, at around 4.5 million dollars), they tried to make this huge sci-fi action movie but it didn't amount to anything because it never made any sense. Source Code's story is so sound (the Ripley draft at least – which is what I'd go with) that word of mouth will carry this film. So I'm including it on my slate.
THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE by Kathy McWorter – Romantic Comedy
Premise: A loveless man who believes he's dying meets a woman who turns his life upside-down.
For those who don't know, The Cheese Stands alone has become sort of this infamous screenplay in Hollywood, and for a lot of people, a cautionary tale. When the script sold for the most money a comedy spec had ever sold for back in 1991 (1 million bucks), studios began mumbling that they had gone too far, that they were swimming in excess. Unfortunately, as year by year went by and The Cheese Stands Alone wasn't made, it provided enough ammo to turn that cheese into swiss, and now the script is used as an example why never to pay too much for a screenplay. But see here's the thing, none of that matters anymore. And this script, which at the time was maybe a little bit cliché (reminiscent of movies like Moonstruck and Mystic Pizza) has entered an era where it would be completely original. As Hollywood complains about the dismal state of the romantic comedy, this script turns all of those horrid clichés on their head and feels, ironically, like a brand new voice. Not to mention, the dialogue here is better than 99.9% of the dialogue I read in any modern-day screenplay. But most of all, when I read this script, I just get this sense of fun. You can't read it without smiling and you can just tell that that's going to show up onscreen. It baffles me that no one's even attempted to make this in the last five years.
SUNFLOWER by Misha Green – Thriller
Premise: Two women are held hostage in a prison-like farmhouse.
If you're starting a studio, your best bet is horror and thrillers. Why? They provide the most bang for their buck. Cheap to make and don't require huge stars to get their money back. Sunflower is another contained thriller (single location – cheap) that adds a twist. Instead of a single woman trying to escape a madman's prison-like home, it's two women. In other words, it's a horror-thriller with a unique twist and a potentially sexy undercurrent. Hello? Two super-hot women clawing and scratching their way to freedom – only one survives? I'm in. This script would actually be so cheap to make (you could probably do it for 5-10 million) that I could use the extra cash to land a couple of A-listers in my other movie choices. So Sunflower is a definite go picture at Scriptshadow Studios.
THE DOGS OF BABEL by Jaime Linden - Drama
This would be my one big gamble but it's a gamble I'm comfortable making because the script is freaking awesome. It's just a great great story. From what I understand, the big problem with The Dogs Of Babel is that there's no appeal for male actors to play the lead role. But I think this role is meatier than actors give it credit for. It's very similar to the role Jodie Foster played in Contact, where she was going on this impossible journey, but refused to quit no matter how many obstacles were thrown in her path. Because she refuses to give up, she emerges as the protypical hero, the kind of person we all want to be (which she garnered an Oscar nomination for). That's the same kind of reception a male actor would get from playing this role. But regardless of that (let's just say we throw a B-Lister in the part), the female lead is a wonderful and challenging role for an actress. You're basically playing a bi-polar dead person. That sounds to me like a role with all sorts of potential. Add into that the ten cajillion dog lovers in the U.S. and I just find it very hard that this movie wouldn't find an audience. This is the kind of script that if done right, would be up there at Oscar time. I have no doubt about that.
SPECIAL MENTION – BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE by Craig Zahler – Western
If any of these movies fell apart at the last second, I would put Brigands Of Rattleborge on my slate. Why? Because it has the potential to be the best Western of all time. I'm not saying it *would* be, but it has the potential to be. The reason this doesn't get Top 5 mention is because…well let's face it, it's a Western. And how well do Western's do in the marketplace? But the reason I know this would do well is because I don't like Westerns. And I love this script. So I'm betting there'd be other people out there just like me, non-Western fans ready to crossover if you give them a reason to. And the reason here is simple: the character of Abraham. The mysterious tortured vengeful killer who has more ingenuity in his killing practices than Hannibal Lecter and Dexter combined. I still don't know why they can't target every serious A-list actor in town because I can't imagine a single one of them reading this part would not want to do it. The big stumbling block here is obviously the director. It ain't like 30 years ago when you had ten directors who were proven to be able to pull off a Western. Nowadays, you don't know who's Western-worthy, which results in the assumption that only the A-list directors can handle the challenge. And we all know how easy it is to get one of them to commit to a project. Because this would be the hardest project to set up of the six mentioned, I'd only do it if something else fell through. But hell if this wouldn't be a cool movie.
Well, those are my picks. Would my studio crash and burn? Can you do better? If you were starting your own studio, which five scripts would you make first?