Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010 Writing Advice from The Asylum

Recently the founders of the film production and distribution company The Asylum were interviewed for Wired magazine discussing how they have been successful with their "mockbuster strategy."

From the article:

Using cheap digital technology and even cheaper talent, the Asylum can turn around such requests in as little as four months (the Sherlock shoot — one of the Asylum’s longest — was 14 days). And though the majority of its films are sci-fi or horror, the company has lately expanded into biblical-disaster movies (The Apocalypse), teen-sex romps (18-Year-Old Virgin), and even family fare (Sunday School Musical). It’s a new kind of B movie: low risk and made to order. “I said, ‘Make me a T&A movie in 3-D,’ and they did that with Sex Pot,” says Keith Leopard, director of content acquisitions at Blockbuster. “They’re constantly delivering good little filler products for our customers.”

And for writers wishing to understand what it takes to craft one of these movies:

The Asylum simply strips away all of the lofty ambitions found in a big-budget spectacle and boils down the hot-selling concept to its essence. If the movie is about robots, you get robots. If it promises dinosaurs, you get dinosaurs. “We don’t skimp on the genre,” Latt says. “When I talk to writers, I say, ‘OK, take a three-act structure. Write your first act, your second act, your third act — let’s develop it. Let’s get it good. Now take the first and the second act and throw them away. I only want to make act three. Because that’s when the drama happens.”

The result is a popcorn movie without pretensions — or hackneyed moralizing — which many genre fans appreciate. “I will go on record to say Transmorphers is better than Transformers 2,” says Kevin DeBolt, a 36-year-old Asylum fan from Chicago. “At least with Transmorphers, you know what you’re getting into when you start watching. “

Of course, nailing the timing — not to mention making money — is greatly helped by the fact that the Asylum consults with its distributors, who carefully study the market and have a good idea of what will rent six months down the road. “There’s nothing wrong with people who have a passion project — their black-and-white coming-of-age film,” Bales says. “But it’s hard for films like that to find an audience. We’ve listened to our buyers. And when they say, ‘We need this,’ we take it seriously.”

Read the whole article. I look forward to discussing it with you.


Andrew Bellware said...

It's always hard to know with an article like that because there's so much BS involved. Yeah, I know: "Welcome to the movie business, kid."

On page one the writer says that Megashark was a "hit" but then points out by page three that the sell-through revenue was "so-so". Um, which is it? ;-)

I was going to blog about this article but I realized that I'd just be cranky and I'd rather blog about guitars.

Andrew Bellware said...

OK, I'll chime in some more (hey, you asked): their strategy isn't necessarily a "mockbuster" strategy, their strategy is an "ask the buyers what they want and then give it to them when they want it" strategy.

And they've had that strategy since the beginning of their film production business.

Which makes them smarter than, say, me.

What's interesting is that means they have almost no use for outside producers because they have to provide things which are so very specific to their buyers' needs that they may as well make the pictures themselves.

Also, they have to make the pictures cheaply AND they have to make them on very short order. Under the "fast, cheap, good, pick 2" rule, you know what that leaves out... ;-)

Cunningham said...

Sell thru revenue is for DVD only. You're TOTALLY forgetting the foreign revenue they made.

Plus: How many people became aware of the Asylum thru MEGASHARK then went back and saw the rest of their library? The shark octopus opus raised their profile considerably. It even go them a 3 page piece in wired which would have cost around $15K in advertising.

It's not a bad thing when a domestic distributor tells you this is what we want, however you have to balance that with what you have.

Fortunately, Asylum has the ability to serve both markets with: a) ultra low budget DVD filler and b) larger disaster movies like MEGAFAULT.

Andrew Bellware said...

Oh believe you me, I ain't forgetting about foreign. Of course, the article doesn't mention overseas -- so we don't have any idea how much Megashark made from non-North American markets, and we certainly don't know how much in comparison to their other titles.

As far as I know, Netflix doesn't do a revenue-sharing deal with small producer/distributors. So how many units could they have sold to Netflix? I'd figure a thousand tops. That's what, about $7000? I dunno, I'm asking.

Cunningham said...

Let's make this perfectly clear to everyone:

If you have a script - an original property you own - The Asylum will probably not make it. Don't try and sell them your spec.

Show them your spec and see if you can write something for them based on their needs.

Writer: Here's my period drama piece, I wrote for grad school.

Asylum: That's great kid. Good looking dialogue. It'll never sell. Can you write a giant lizard movie?

Writer: Well. uh...sure.

Asylum: Great! Oh and not too much dialogue.

Andrew Bellware said...

Ah yes! Exactly. And more than that, the conversation will go like this: "We need a giant lizard picture with a scene where Red Square in Moscow gets eaten by aliens. Oh, and there has to be a sex scene (probably on a submarine)."
But the kicker will be the last sentence:
"And we need the final, polished draft in 24 days because we have to deliver final picture in 120 days. We'll have less than 100 days for script changes, scheduling, casting, shooting, visual effects, post production, editing, dialog editing [ha! The Asylum doesn't do dialog editing! ;-)], color correction, final mix, and authoring."

Cunningham said...

and $1K for a script in 24 days - that you KNOW is going to camera and will be seen around the world is not a bad way to start a career.

Andrew Bellware said...

Absolutely. And make sure you can deliver! ;-)