Bear with me now, I'm outside my comfort zone as I write up my notes from a lecture we had on...(shocking chord) Project Assessment.
We had a talk from Tom Strudwick, who has worked in development and distribution for many years. He introduced us to some basic concepts which could be useful to bear in mind, especially when you come to try and sell a spec.
The first of these is marketability vs. playability. Marketability refers to how easy the idea is to sell to an audience. A new Harry Potter film is automatically marketable. There is huge existing audience who will go and see a Harry Potter (or Bond or Star Wars...) no matter what. Or a film might be marketable because it has a great premise (Snakes on a Plane, 40-Year-Old Virgin...) or top acting talent. Playability is about the audience's viewing experience. If it's good, they spread the word, and the audience grows. Shawshank Redemption and Sideways are examples of less obviously marketable films that were playable. A marketable film, even if it's not very playable, can still get a release. These films typically have a huge first weekend box-office take, which then slowly drops off as the reviews and poor word-of-mouth circulate. Ideally, of course, a film is both marketable and playable, but marketable comes first. Marketable films make money in the long run, because the premise, talent, or franchise hooks people in.
The second basic distribution concept is upscale vs. downscale. Upscale films are review-driven. People who see upscale films typically read reviews and take notice of Sundance, Cannes, etc. Guardian didn't like it? Independent didn't like it? No Palme d'Or? Your film, Rasputin's Piano Teacher, is dead in the water. Downscale films don't need good reviews. Does anyone care what Time Out thought of Kickboxer III?
Is your film mainstream or arthouse?
Does it entertain or aspire to culture? Does it make the audience think or
feel? Will it do well at a festival? Is it intellectual? Are the stakes high or
low? Is it "feel-good" or "feel-bad"?
Next, you need to understand your core and secondary audience, mainly in terms of gender and age-group. Women tend to like romance, comedy and crime; Men go more for sci-fi and action. Comedy appeals to both sexes, as does horror, but horror attracts a younger crowd. The biggest group of movie-goers are the 16-25 year olds. A cross-genre film that appeals to this group, and was marketable and playable would make lots and lots of money. Titanic, anyone? Scary Movie?
Next up: Script Assessment.