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SHORT CIRCUIT: Foreign Markets - Will It Play In Peking?

Your writing has to be universal, not just your characters, when considering foreign markets. How to find out if your screenplay is ready to travel.

Former rocket scientist, shark safety diver and award winning screenwriter, Dan Goforth’s most recent assignments were RIDING ON FAITH, the true-life story of rodeo champion Amberley Snyder and the feature film adaptations of New York Times bestselling author Col. Walter J. Boyne’s DAWN OVER KITTY HAWK, as well as the sci-fi graphic novel, THE CHRONIC ARGONAUTS, from New Baby Publishing. Visit Dan’s blog,Script Soup and follow him on Twitter @Dango_Forth.

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SHORT CIRCUIT: Foreign Markets - Will It Play In Peking? by Dan Goforth | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Dan Goforth's latest sci-fi spec script.

It's becoming a universal truth that cinema has gone universal... No, not "out of this world" universal (at least, not yet), but movies have definitely spread to the farthest possible reaches in foreign markets.

China has already become the second largest source of box office revenue, fast approaching the United States' $10Billion+ take each year. In fact, the US has gone from being roughly half of a movie's total receipts to being less than a third of the total world-wide box office. Foreign markets are now a prime target for studio's marketing departments. It's a situation that can give a screenwriter pause. How can you know if your script will fly or flop overseas?

One good way to find out if your script will play in foreign markets is by entering international screenwriting competitions.

I first "broke in" to the screenwriting world with a short screenplay set in rural Alabama... Not exactly a universal location that everyone can relate to. But I was confident in the characters and the storyline. They spoke to me, and I had to write it. I sent the finished script off to screenplay competitions spread across the United States. It was almost always a finalist or a winner. Dave Trottier (The Screenwriters Bible) even wrote me, "I thoroughly enjoyed your clash of cultures, especially the characterizations; these characters are real people."

Apparently, it could indeed play in Peoria. But what about outside the U.S.?


I just had to find out. So, I entered the British Short Screenplay Competition. At the time, this was the largest and most prestigious program in the world for the short screenplay format. It received thousands of entries each year, and its judging panel for the final round consisted of renown film professionals like Kenneth Branagh and Sir Alan Parker. I really had no idea how such a totally localized story would play "across the pond." But it turned out these characters could be universally understood. The script was selected as the runner-up screenplay for that year's BSSC competition.

If you write characters that people will care about, your story can be set anywhere - even the smallest, most obscure place in the world (or universe).

Over the past few years, I've been working almost solely on assignments. But I've been trying to slide in a little spec work from ideas I've put into my little brown notebook. I recently completed a feature sci-fi thriller, Ride of the Valkyries, an action-packed roller coaster ride:
When a space exploration ship crash-lands on an uncharted world, its four-woman crew must survive raiders, deadly creatures… and the secrets each woman holds.

But I couldn't help but wonder how it would play overseas, Would the underlying themes and storylines be "lost in translation"?


So, I searched to find a well-known international screenplay competition outside the United States. And my search led me straight to the Oaxaca Film Festival. MovieMaker Magazine has named it "One of the Top 50 Festivals in the world" multiple times. Their Global Script Challenge screenplay competition receives several thousand entries each year. Plus, their judging panel consists of filmmakers from all over the world.

Armed with this information, off went my screenplay - centered on four women, marooned on an deserted planet, facing dangers galore. Science Fiction is often a difficult genre to get a read for, much less impress readers with. As good as the storylines may be, as cool/scary as the alien monsters may be... in the end, the characters are the key to immersing the reader in your world.

If you've done your job and made the reader care, they'll go wherever you want to take them.

When Ride of the Valkyries was recently named an Official Selection Finalist screenplay in the Global Script Challenge. I was obviously pleased. I don't know if it will be a winner. But I now know that it can speak to universal appeal. As soon as my current assignment is finished, it will be time to see if this script really has what's needed to "take off"...

Don’t know if your screenplay is ready for a screenwriting contest? Get our FREE How to Improve Your Odds of Winning a Screenplay Contest Download today!

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