Again I have to apologize for the scarcity of postings lately. Real life has been keeping me busy. How about some reader mail?
I got this email last week from a reader named Martin:
I just completed an animated screenplay based on a character from a Disney animated movie, [REDACTED]. I’m a father of three kids that loved the movie just like countless kids throughout the world that went to see the movie at the theatre and now continue to view it today in the privacy of their homes. My son, in particular, loved the character [REDACTED] and wished there were more stories related to that character. I agreed whole hardily and one day began to write down some thoughts that ultimately, years later, turned into a full blown script.
It started as just a hobby and although now completed, I just assume keep it on my hard drive and look to it as a completed personal masterpiece; quite an accomplishment. However, I have dreams of the story being developed into a film to see how the story jumps off the page and how it would look on the screen. I understand the truth behind animated films and the in house development of these films by Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. I was considering sending a few Query Letters out just to gauge interest, but after reading your brief article, “Writing Animated Specs”, perhaps I should just keep it to myself and enjoy it with my family. I just wanted to get your thoughts and see if you had any additional insight.
First, considering you wrote a sequel to an existing movie, I'll direct you to my thoughts on the practice in this post.
However, in the event that the character you're working with happens to be in the public domain, the problem might be less restrictive. No one owns those characters, so those "toys" are available. A really good example of this would be, Wicked, the book and Broadway production that focuses of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. The novel The Wizard of Oz (but not the movie) is in the public domain, so anyone can do anything with those characters. In that case, using characters with an existing following and name recognition can be a benefit. Studios are cranking out remakes like nobody's business, and there's always room for a new take on an old story, especially if it's high concept. When you think about it, isn't it strange that no one asked, "What if Peter Pan grew up?" before Steven Spielberg explored that question in Hook?
However, if your fairy tale character isn't in the public domain, you're screwed. If you're writing this to be a sequel to an existing animated film, you're probably also screwed. The odds of a first time writer selling an animated script are extremely long. If you were a guy thinking about starting a script, I'd tell you to invest your time on something else.
But at this point, the script is written, so you might as well make some use of it, right?
My advice: rewrite the story so it doesn't necessarily have to be an animated film. Then, rewrite it so that there's some wiggle room for it to be taken as less of a direct sequel to the original film. In the same way that Hook isn't a direct follow-up on Disney's Peter Pan, your script need not be beholden to the original story. (Though in the case of this specific story and character, I have to admit I'm unsure if the lead of your script exists in the original tale and is in the public domain. Double-check this fact.)
Then, get to work on your second script. Have a strong treatment, and possibly a few other pitches. A realistic best case scenario is that people might like your animated spec, but feel like it's either not for them or that there's nothing that they can do with it. However, if the quality of your writing and your imagination impresses them, they might very well as, "What else you got?"
Make sure you have a good answer for them. My gut feeling is that you're not going to sell this first script, but it might be enough to open the door for another, more marketable spec.