Intellectual Property (IP)

Intellectual Property

There is a myth, or huge misunderstanding around the concept of Intellectual Property and how that can affect the success of a screenplay. If you frequent screenwriting forums such as Stage32 or Reddit Screenwriting you will no doubt come across discussion about intellectual Property (IP).  A lot of writers talk about rewriting their screenplay as a novel or even a comic book as a way of generating “existing IP” (as they like to call it).

The Intellectual Property misconception.

A lot of writers seem to think that having a story in a different form will somehow make the screenplay more valuable. This is of course incorrect. If your story is bad, it will be bad no matter the form it takes.

Finding the correct form for your story.

Although it is possible to write any story in any form, there is a natural best fit for the story. This best fit is based on three factors, the story, the complexity and size of the narrative and you, the writer.

Chernobyl was written by Craig Mazin. I have heard him talk about it many times. He says that he started with a movie in his head, but soon realised there was too much story. This meant he had to find a longer form to tell the story. So he wrote it as a limited series.  This was six episodes when conceived and sold. But the story could be best told in five. So he wrote it that way.

The point I am making is that your story will have a form. That could be a novel, a comic book or a film. You can’t just produce all of them thinking that the existence of the others will help the first one sell.

Quality Sells, not forms.

If you have created a substandard screenplay. Yes, it is amazing. But not to the standard that has got it a sale, so sub that standard. Why would creating a comic book suddenly increase the standard of your screenplay. Or creating a novel from the screenplay (which are difficult to write). You will end up with the same problems in different forms.

Why is existing IP Intellectual Property valuable?

I was standing in Borders (A bookshop for you young people) and a guy rolled out a box from the store room and all these girls clamoured over the latest edition of the Twilight Saga. One girl, about 16, turned to her friend after doing combat to get her copy and said “I didn’t think I cared so much. I guess I do”.  That is what existing IP is all about.  People that have invested hours or years into an existing story. 

Fans.

These people are your guaranteed audience.  They are going to see the film no matter what the reviews say. These people are completists. Like me with Chris Nolan films, Tenet could have been an infomercial for cow poo, I’d still go see it.

So let’s do some maths. You have a book that sold 10,000,000 copies. It is a YA (Young Adult) and these people go to the cinema.  So we can bet on 30% of the readers converting to tickets (guaranteed). So if we get $7 as our share of the ticket and we get 3,000,000 tickets, that is a guaranteed $21,000,000. No risk, $21,000,000 which makes funding the film a much easier process.  As most films are 100% risk. We have reduced that by $21,000,000.

So people are using the wrong term when they say producers only want existing IP. What they should say is “producers want a guaranteed audience”.

So how do you give a producer a guaranteed audience. You could travel back in time and start a series like the X-Men (the longest running narrative in human history) or you could write an amazing script. This amazing script will make an amazing film which will generate buzz and bring an audience.

There are no tricks or shortcuts.  No ways of adding value other than writing amazing work.