Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reader mail: Public domain and Is there still a place for romantic comedies?

Jordan asks:

I recently came across a public domain superhero that has not been used in mainstream media for quite some time that I would be interested in reviving in some form. Before I start on the script, though, I would like to ask if any good can come from pitching a public domain story. I don't have to pay any options and neither does a studio. If the studio wanted, they could take a look at the project, decide to pursue it, and then then dump me in favor of another writer. I know you talked about how writing a parody script is essentially useless, so could the same be said for a public domain property?

I am also working on a spec at the moment, so could it be beneficial to show them original material if they are interested in the project?

I tend to think there's nothing wrong with mining the public domain, so long as you keep a few things in mind. In the case of a superhero, it's probably most useful if the character in question is familiar enough to audiences to have some branding value. If it's EXTREMELY obscure, there might be a benefit to writing it up as a completely original spec rather than a public domain adaptation. (On the other hand, adaptations have been hot for a while - but mostly in cases when there's some name recognition value.)

The most important thing: make absolutely sure that the character you're dealing with is in the public domain. There have been so many copyright extensions over the years that there's always a chance that character is still owned by someone. Disney has been very good about lobbying to extend copyright protection because they NEED to maintain ownership of Mickey Mouse, who first appeared in the 1920s. Superman didn't come along until 1938, and as he hasn't fallen into the public domain yet, I'm unsure if any other superheroes have. (Though I suppose it's possible assuming the owner had no interest in maintaining their rights.)

As a friend reminded me in this post, the public domain isn't always cut and dried.

As for the studio stealing your idea, well... that's the risk of working with characters you don't own. However, if they were blown away by your take, it's going to be a hell of a lot easier to just buy your script and put you to work instead of hiring another writer to come in and do it on assignment. (Think about it, as a newbie, you're going to be cheaper, even if they eventually boot you off the project and hire another writer for rewrites.)

As for original material, I'd say it can't hurt you, so long as it's as solid as your adapted material. Heck, my strategy might be to use the adaptation to get the meeting and the contacts, then see if there's anyway to capitalize on that to sell your original script. Don't go into any such meetings pushing both scripts, but be on the lookout to mention that you're wrapping up a new script. If they express interest in anything else you've written, don't be shy about mentioning the new one.

Romantic at Heart asks:

With the foul stench of Bromance in the air, is there even a place for traditional male/female romantic comedy anymore? And if you do take the time to write one, does it have to be jaded and sarcasm laden, or is there still room for a "Sweet Home Alabama?"

A manager I used to know once referred to romantic comedies as "perennials." At least, in this manager's estimation, romantic comedies would never go completely out of style. I'd like to think there's still room for a rom-com that isn't jaded and sarcastic. A rom-com with a great concept and enjoyable characters will always sell.