When you're reading, does potential for profit play a factor in your analysis?
(I know, ostensibly, the best ideas/concepts/screenplays should make the most at the box office, but that's not reality.)
Hell, yes. The people I work for aren't exactly the sort looking to throw money away without so much as a care of making that money back.
When I'm reading for a producer, two big questions I have to consider are "is this the sort of film that this producer is interested in making?" and "Can I make a case for this being a good investment both creatively and financially?"
When I'm reading for an agent or manager, my thoughts are: "Is this writing strong enough to cut it in the market place" and "Is this guy writing the sort of material that is capable of justifying its cost?"
I'm sure someone will pop up with the old chesnut about how Star Wars was passed on by everyone in town because it was so different and no one had any kind of track record they could point to and say, "This is a hit." And yeah, it happens every now and then that producers and studios miss out on a long-shot that really connects with audiences.
But if you honestly think you can build a career with a spec that no one can figure out the audience for, you're living in a dream world. I don't care how much you're dying to tell your story about the WWII platoon that pulls together against impossible odds - no one's going to see those period pieces these days. If you're Clint Eastwood or Steven Spielberg then you've got enough clout that the studio won't say no.
But look at the figures for something like Flags of Our Fathers. It cost $90 million to make, made only $33 million domestically and another $32 million abroad. Letters from Iwo Jima only made a little more than that, but at least its much smaller budget of $19 million put that film in the black. Granted, that was over three years ago, but can you think of a WWII era hit since then?
I've already discussed why you shouldn't write about the Iraq War in this post. I'd say that the Western is nearly dead too. If I gave a Consider to any period piece, Iraq War film, Western or drama, I'd better be damn prepared to make a case for why it would be able to find an audience.
I know there are writers who throw fits when guys like me taint their "art" by bringing up the commercialism of "marketability" but the fact is if someone is going to spend tens of millions of dollars on your passion project, you'd better be able to show that someone other than you and your mom are going to go see it.