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No, Your Spec Screenplay Is NOT A ‘Drama/Thriller’. Here’s Why

NEWSFLASH: Drama/Thriller Is NOT A Thing!

So, I keep seeing screenwriters on social media saying they’re writing a drama/thriller.

OI WRITERS NO … YOU ARE NOT!! Dramas and thrillers are VERY different beasts. It’s why I wrote a whole-ass book on each of them!!!

Before I start this epic rant, a reminder: B2W stands with the WGA and the current US writers’ strike. This post is NOT designed to encourage anyone to break the picket line and scab. It’s an article primarily designed to help you with your writing CRAFT. Secondly, it’s to help you realise how the industry works.

Okay? Right let’s go …

Why Writers Are Confused

It’s very easy to see where the confusion lies, of course. Sites like IMDB tag just about everything as ‘drama’.

There’s this thought that drama is ‘everything’ amongst spec screenwriters too, but IT IS NOT. (More in a sec).

What’s more, nearly every PRODUCED drama gets tagged as a ‘thriller’ (especially if it has crime or ‘gritty’ elements).

This is because sales agents know full well the average viewer doesn’t want to watch drama … They want thriller!

Yes, it’s nothing more than a marketing cheat

But guess what … a spec screenwriter doesn’t have to worry about marketing. The film is not made yet!

If you basically lie to industry pros that your feature script is a thriller (when it’s really a drama), at best they’ll think you’re clueless. Sad but true.

These are the facts: the industry divides stuff into two …

  • Genre – usually high concept, commercial hooks. Think Horror, Comedy, Rom Com & soforth
  • Drama – usually character-led stuff about issues, individual struggle, true stories, etc

Sometimes genre and drama cross over but it’s VERY RARE, especially in movies.

This is because drama is basically a DIRTY WORD in the 2020s. That will be why you may have seen THIS HEADLINE below in Screen Daily back in February before the current writers’ strike began. check it out …

Not Just Movies, But TV Thrillers Too

Financiers want ‘anything but drama’ and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. I’ve been tracking this phenomenon for over a decade now.

How do I know? Well, I wrote my Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays book back in 2014. I came to the conclusion back then that screenwriters wanting to write drama screenplays will most likely have to produce themselves … this is even MORE the case now!

In contrast, in the same time thriller screenplays have really come into their own. I wrote the first edition of my Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays book back in 2013. Fast forward a decade and SO MUCH has changed, I needed to write a second edition!

Whilst always popular, thrillers are off the scale now … not only in movies, but television as well. This is owed in part to the streaming revolution and so-called ‘bingeworthy content’.

In fact, nearly all your favourite Netflix, Prime, Disney+ and AppleTV shows are thrillers at heart! Yes, they are merely likely to have **drama elements** (especially in the C storyline of episodes, which is often given over to characters’ interpersonal relationships), but crucially it’s their genre elements that override this by 90%. This is because it’s genre, NOT drama that attract – and keep! – viewers.

This is why I always recommend serious writers learn as much as they can about our industry. It can only help you.

What’s that — you don’t read about the marketplace?

Are you on crack … How the hell are you going to SELL anything if you don’t know what the money moguls like studios, networks or financiers actually want???

Of course, this is where spec screenwriters say they ‘just’ want to write … They say they don’t want to worry about money, the producer can worry about that’.

Oh … what’s that: you DON’T HAVE A PRODUCER YET?

How are you going to get one if you don’t know how the industry works??

Yeah, I’m harsh. The industry IS harsh.

When I think of all the deals I’ve seen or been a part of over the years … GUESS WHAT: The spec screenwriters knew what they were doing when it comes to the marketplace. This is not rocket science.

Selling, NOT ‘selling out’

Of course, this is when spec screenwriters push back AGAIN saying what I’m advocating is ‘selling out’.

Nope … it’s SELLING. Selling is what professional writers DO.

If you don’t know what sells, why are you doing this?

And no, selling doesn’t mean sacrificing your ‘vision’ or writing ‘cookie cutter’ scripts or whatever buzzword makes you a SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE ARTISTE. It’s possible to write what you love for a target audience that also makes $$$£££.

This is the reality in the 2020s …

  • Genre – industry says YES PLEASE!!
  • Drama – industry says NO THANKS!!

So if you think you’re writing a ‘drama/thriller’, make it a THRILLER and double your chances!

Do not send out ‘drama/thrillers’ if you want to actually get somewhere. 

Of course, you may decide your ‘has’ to be drama … AND THAT’S FINE.

No one has to do what they don’t want to do. But just know you will probably not be able to SELL it in the same was as a genre script.

As mentioned, it’s been this way for yonks. Deal with it.Instead, understand you are your own greatest resource when it comes to drama. This is because there’s 90% chance you will need to MAKE IT YOURSELF. 

And if you don’t want to do either of these things?

Write a novel. I’m serious: character-led novels about thoughts and feelings are WAAAAAY more popular than drama movies. BY MIIIIIIIIIIIILES. Do it. I double-dog dare ya.

For more on converting your screenplay to a novel, CLICK HERE.

Good Luck!

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4 thoughts on “No, Your Spec Screenplay Is NOT A ‘Drama/Thriller’. Here’s Why”

  1. Hi Lucy
    Just wanted to say that I love your articles (ooh err missus) you cut through the crap and say it like it is, it can’t get any clearer than that. Bravo ma’am.


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