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  • The Real Deal with Sequels & Why You Shouldn’t Write Them!

    April 16th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    Sequels mean big money for Hollywood, and they’ve become more than a trend – it’s almost a necessity these days. In 2011, there were 28 sequel films released including the 12 highest grossing films of the year. And it doesn’t look like the sequel train is stopping anytime soon.

    There are already 25 sequels planned for release in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and there will be more! And that’s not counting re-releases, remakes or reboots like the new OZ films or Alien prequel Prometheus or superhero combo film The Avengers.

    There are anywhere between 70-100 sequel projects currently in development, production or awaiting release including sequels to; 300, Spider-Man, Captain America, Avatar, Bourne, Dark Knight, Twilight, Die Hard, Expendables, Fast and Furious, Paranormal Activity, Ghostbusters, GI Joe, How to Train Your Dragon, Girl with Dragon Tattoo, Ice Age, Madagascar, Iron Man, James Bond, Major League, Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Piranha, Percy Jackson, Bad Santa, Red, Resident Evil, Salt, Scream, Star Trek, Transformers, Strangers, Taken, Terminator, Thor, X-Men, Wolverine, Zombieland, Zoolander, Grown Ups, Tron, Planet of the Apes, The Hobbit, The Hangover, Saw, Pirates of the Carribbean, Smurfs, Despicable Me, and many more!

    Already this year, there have been at least 4 projects released that did so well, sequels were immediately put into the works – Hunger Games (obviously), Project X, 21 Jump Street and Woman in Black.

    And with American Pie Reunion being released this weekend, MIB 3 coming in the next couple weeks, and the recent announcement of the Anchorman sequel, I think it’s a perfect time for writers to know the real deal with sequels – and why the word SHOULD NOT exist in your vocabulary.

    THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SEQUEL UNTIL SOMEONE ELSE TELLS YOU THERE IS!   PERIOD.

    It is one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the biggest amateur writer mistakes I come across constantly! If you have not sold, set up, optioned or even PITCHED your script, and you are a first time (unproduced) writer – then DO NOT write the sequel to your script. What an unbelievably pointless waste of time and energy!

    NONE of the sequels of the films listed above were written before the first film was released! Not ONE! Even if a sequel was planned beforehand, there was still no script yet. And that is because – there is NO such thing as a sequel until someone else tells you there is. It’s NOT UP TO YOU! It’s not even up to the studio – it’s up to the audience who either makes the first film a big enough success to warrant a sequel, or doesn’t.

    The only bigger waste of time and energy would be if you wrote a sequel for a project that you don’t own the rights to. If you think you have a great idea for the next Star Trek movie – well, no one cares. Unless you have a great agent who can get you a meeting with the film’s producers or you are connected to them in some way, this is a colossal waste of time.

    And by the way, even IF you are lucky enough to get your film made and it makes a boffo amount of money and the studio wants to make a sequel – you’re probably not going to be the writer anyway. You will get an executive producer and “based on characters created by” credit and a bunch of money and they will hire other fresher writers who can look at the material in a new way to continue the story.

    Looking at the list of films that have had sequels made or where sequels are now in the works, there are three major trends that should jump out at you.

    First is that most films that get sequels, trilogies or franchises are based on SUCCESSFUL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY that already existed and garnered a huge fan base before the first film was ever released.  Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, LOTR, Hobbit, GI Joe, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Transformers, Mission Impossible, Resident Evil, and ALL of the superhero movies from Iron Man to X-Men to Dark Knight Rises fall under this trend.

    Do you really think a studio would have made Harry Potter if there wasn’t a ridiculously successful book series and IP to base it on first? Or what if there was only 1 book? Do you think they would have made 7 films? No, probably not. Studios make franchises and sequels when they know there is enough intellectual property and material to warrant it, they can read (or see) exactly what the world is and where it is going before investing millions of dollars and when they know that there is an already proven fan base that will keep turning out for each film.

    The second trend is that the every single theatrically-released sequel film is either a huge tentpole film (which studios don’t buy from first time writers anyway), or they are in action, horror, fantasy or high concept comedy genres. There are no dramas, no thrillers (unless based on a book series like Dragon Tattoo), no low concept comedies, no biopics, no teen movies (Mean Girls 2 and Cinderella Story 2 went straight to DVD).

    So especially if you are not writing one of the trending sequel genres, don’t waste your time.

    The third trend is animation. Almost every animated film gets a sequel these days and that’s because once the first one is done, each subsequent film is easier to make and they are constant cash cows domestically and overseas especially in ancillary products.

    And for you writers out there who love the idea of sequels, just remember – studios still have the same number of slots to release movies throughout the year. So if 50% of their slots are now taken by sequels, remakes, reboots and re-releases, that means that there’s only half as many spots available for original material.

    People want to know why more original material isn’t sold and made in Hollywood – THIS is why! Because studios only get X amount of release slots per year and the top 12 grossing films in 2011 were sequels. Where would you put YOUR money?

    Putting the business reasons aside, there are also a number of important creative reasons why you should STOP writing sequels to your projects or even planning on a second or third film.

    I find all-too often that writers that think their film will get a sequel or trilogy save ALL their best material and the real meat of their story for the second script/film. When this happens, it usually means that the first script is 75% BACKSTORY leading up to the great stuff – which we will never read.

    If ALL of your best material isn’t in your first script, then you are wasting your time and pages. There is no point to a second script because no one will ever get through the first. There is no sequel until someone else tells you there is.

    You need to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. That is not to say your last scene can’t leave open the possibility of a sequel or that you can’t leave one small piece of the story unresolved to leave the audience wondering. But your story needs to END, your plotlines and conflict need to resolve themselves by the last page.

    If you are planning a second script for your story before you fully complete and polish your first script, then you will subconsciously be holding back in your writing and you will be FORCING the story to go in an unnatural direction to make sure there is no resolution, and that will ruin your script. Stories WANT to end.

    You don’t have to be worried about running out of material and ideas in case a company does want a sequel – because they are going to ask other writers to come up with it anyway.

    Leaving an audience (or a reader) unsatisfied in your climax or ending and not actually completing your story or giving us the big showdown because you want to save it for the sequel will guarantee that you never get your first script made.

    Yes, sequels are a hot trend right now and they are what’s getting made and making money. But that’s for A-List studio writers with A-list agents to worry about. If you write a successful big, high concept action film or a low budget horror and someone wants to make a second movie – don’t worry – they’ll figure it out! 

    In the meantime, STOP writing, pitching, or even thinking about sequels!

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