What if someone could read over 12,000 scripts that were read by professional script readers, who gave the scripts an overall score as well as scores for specific factors including plot, dialogue, characterization, theme, and voice. Then looked for connections and correlations to discover what professional script readers think a good screenplay looks like. Well, today on the show I have that man, Stephen Follows.
It’s a monster of a report — 65 pages to be exact — that examines data from over 12,000 screenplays – mostly written by amateurs, but some of them written by professionals and major Hollywood actors. Using rigorous data analysis methodologies, Stephen and his team found some fascinating correlations.
What They Found
Here’s just a taste of this amazing report. Later sections go into more detail and more topics, but below are nine tips screenwriters should take on board to help improve their chances of impressing script readers.
- Know thy genre. Your priorities should rest on the particular nature of your chosen genre. For example, Family films place the highest premium on catharsis, while for Action films it’s plot.
- Some stories work better than others. The vast majority of scripts can be summarized using just six basic emotional plot arcs – and some perform better than others.
- If you’re happy and you know it, redraft your script. Film is about conflict and drama and for almost all genres, the happier the scripts were, the worse they performed. The one notable exception was comedy, where the reverse is true.
- Swearing is big and it is clever. There is a positive correlation between the level of swearing in a script and how well it scored, for all but the sweariest screenplays.
- It’s not about length, it’s what you do with it. The exact length doesn’t matter too much, so long as your script is between 90 and 130 pages. Outside of those approximate boundaries scores drop precipitously.
- Don’t rush your script for a competition. The closer to the deadline a script was finished, the worse it performed.
- Use flashbacks responsibly. Scripts with more than fifteen flashbacks perform worse than those with few to no flashbacks.
- VO is A-OK. Some in the industry believe that frequent use of voiceover is an indicator of a bad movie, however, we found no such correlation. We suggest that any complaints on the topic should be sent to editors, rather than writers.
- Don’t worry if you’re underrepresented within your genre – it’s your superpower. Female writers outperform male writers in male-dominated genres (such as Action) and the reverse is true in female-dominated genres (such as Family).
Stephen Follows is an established data researcher in the film industry whose work has been featured in the New York Times, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, Newsweek, The New Statesman, AV Club, and Indiewire.
He acted as an industry consultant and guest on the BBC Radio 4 series The Business of Film, which was topped the iTunes podcast chart, and has consulted for a wide variety of clients, including the Smithsonian in Washington.
I just love Stephen and his amazing ability to crunch numbers for the benefit of the filmmaking community. He’s truly doing God’s work. Get ready to go down the rabbit hole and see what makes a great screenplay.
Enjoy my conversation with Stephen Follows.
Alex Ferrari 1:52
Now today on the show, we have a unique human being by the name of Steven Follows Steven is by far one of the best analytical film data guys ever. He is kind of like Rain Man, but with film data. And he's probably the best research film research guy I've ever even seen or heard of. A lot of big studios go to him for this information because he just is one of those guys can break through it all. And that information that he's doing through his website, and through his report is mind boggling. And today's episode, we're going to talk about what makes a good screenplay. So this man went through 12,000 screenplays and all of their coverage that were covered by professional script coverage people and then analyzed all the data from all of these script readers and put a report together on what makes a good screenplay what readers what Hollywood what you know, what passes, what doesn't pass, what you know, gets produced what doesn't get produced. This by far is one of the most just mind boggling things I've ever heard of, and he is the man to do it. So without any further ado, please enjoy my insane conversation with Steven Follows. I'd like to welcome to the show Steven Follows man, thank you so much for your busy insane schedule, sir to come on the show and, and share your knowledge bombs with the tribe today.
Steven Follows 3:31
Hey, my pleasure. I'm really delighted to be here. And it's really nice to connect up and hopefully, you know, help your audience as much as the work you're doing already helps them.
Alex Ferrari 3:40
Absolutely, man. I mean, before we get started, I have to tell everybody in the tribe that you I am a huge fan of what you do. Steven is easily the best, like film researcher, film data guy on the planet with without question, the stuff that he does is absolutely insane. And we're going to talk about one of those insane projects in this episode without question. But we were just talking about
Steven Follows 4:08
It helps him there aren't many of us right there. So im making it well in a small category. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 4:15
But the point is the work that you do, which is you know, obscene amounts of data crunching for the film industry, and then you put that kind of information out, you don't hide it behind. You know, $1,000 paywall you give it away, or give it or you know, or you know, pay as you go or whatever it is, you really are trying to help the community. So I'm excited to talk about your latest project and we're also going to talk about some of your past projects as well. But before we get into it, why? Like I what point did what did you have like data like charts on your wall when you were a child? How did this How did you become the world like the film data guy and what made you want to Get into this side of the business. And I know you have other you are in other parts of your business. But first of all, how did you get into the business and then we'll talk about your film data stuff.
Steven Follows 5:07
Well, I've always been into film, as a kid, that's been always my thing, that's always the medium and the power of it, and you know, everything from your, you know, the temple, you know, popcorn blockbusters, I love them, and right down to sort of write down right across to kind of really heartfelt indie films and make you think and cry. And, you know, that's always been my thing. So film is always been there as a constant. And then I used to write a little bit as a kid, but mostly, I always wanted to be a producer. And I went to film school, and I was in a class of like, 100 people, and everyone wanted to be a director, or, you know, camera person, and I just want to produce, so I just produced and produced loads and loads of terrible short films. And just, you know, producing was my thing, I can organize stuff. And I like to bring things to reality. And I also like working with other people. So it's, I never want to go away and just do something by myself. I kind of like the idea of a team and what that means. And then set up a production company and working away at that writing and producing stuff. And my business partner ed is a director and a really good one at that. And so we sort of built a company that was a video company, and now focuses on storytelling. So we still make videos, we do TV commercials, we all our stuff is for charities in the third sector. And so that that kind of that part of my life is that sort of 15 year journey, which was always driven about, you know, wanting to get films made and wanting to move people. And then with the charity thing, wanting to do it for the good guys and get people to change them. And then on the side of all of that, is that I, when I was before I went to college, I had to decide, did I want to study film, and then do the kind of academic intellectual stuff that I enjoyed on the side or the other way around? Did I want to go and study, I don't know, politics or economics, and then do film on the side. And I decided that it was more interesting to study film, and to keep the intellectual stuff as a hobby, and not try and do it as something useful. And you know, it's just curiosity, you know, this more than anything else. It's not, it's just about wanting to understand how the world works. And so then I did that, and I sort of made a commitment to myself, you know, what, I will make sure that I do some stuff that uses my brain, you know, my running a production company definitely uses many parts of who I am. But the creativity, and the people skills and things like that none of its using the just the logical part. You know, it's, there's so many more things going on. And so I sort of used to do little projects and stuff. And I quite often if I had a debate with a friend in the pub about film, they'd be like, Oh, yeah, there are more comedies and nights. I don't know, I don't think so. Or whatever. And I go, I was the one that would go home and try and find out not to win the argument. But because it's frustrating to have people in the feminists who just chatting to each other without the information. And if they knew they could do it, they're far better for their audience for themselves for their projects. And the, the industry is not very good at sharing that information. So it was always a hobby, and I just started putting it out on the blog, because I felt that it was a good place to do it. And why not share it? You know, there's two cool things about this one is discovering something and going, Oh, my God, look how cool that is. The second half is just as interesting, which is, Hey, guys, come look at this, you know, because then people go off and use it in a way you never thought. And then they come back. And they're like, oh, that thing you show me I used it like this. And you're like, Oh, that's really cool. You know, so sharing the information has been as essential as doing it for me all along. And, yeah, so then I started in a blog, and then somebody told me that it was good to try and have some structure to it. So I decided to publish every Monday, I just, you know, it's one of those things where, when you have loads of different things in your life that are all different shapes, it's very hard to work out what to do today. And so by having these self imposed deadlines, it really helped. And I just kept looking for stuff. And the more I look for something, and the more I find something else to think of and things build on other things. And, you know, sometimes I'll someone will tell me about a cool technique like I was a couple of years ago, someone told me about this API, where you could send it a picture of a human face, and it would tell you all the emotions in it. And I'm like, Oh, cool. I wonder if it worked with the posters. And I sent a few movie posters, and it worked. And then I'm like, wow, I could send all movie posters. And so you
Alex Ferrari 9:10
You see, that's, that's where this is where you are different than most human beings. One or two. That's kind of cute. But then you go straight to all movie posters.
Steven Follows 9:19
What are the steps I'm missing in the middle? Because the thing is, the hard things are, you know, conceiving in there, and then building it, but then said like, it's like building a whole printers and printing one magazine, one copy. Now I'm gonna do a print run for everyone. And so and then once you have all this data, what's really fun is that you tend to get really clear patterns and stories and you say, I always knew that, or I knew that as a film fan. But now I've got the proof, or actually, everything in the industry says about x is just wrong. It just doesn't work like that. And the people at the very top or the people who've been in for a very long time, they know this, but they let everyone else think the other thing because it makes it easier for them or whatever. And so it's really nice to come I can go, Hey, no, guys, this is something that you can do to help the work you're doing. You know. And I think this is awesome. Like, that's really a fun thing to do, because people are going off and using it, like if someone's going to make a movie, and they're going to make it like this, but I know that that at that choice they've made is not going to be great for their success, if I can nip in and help them and give them a little bit of advice. They're still doing all the hard work, but then their film will be, you know, much more successful or whatever it will be. I feel like, if you can do that, you kind of got it. You don't, it's not really a choice. It's kind of I got a small part I can play along the journey. And I if I don't, then I'm being a bit lazy and not really playing my part to the community. You know,
Alex Ferrari 10:40
That's it. Yeah, it again, like we've said off air is like, that's just so not in my wheelhouse. I'm so impressed with that mentality, and how the mind your mind works. And and you were telling me like, marketing, I'm like, well, that's me. I could do that. That's my, that's in my wheelhouse. Without question, but your work is, is doing an insane amount of good for for a lot of filmmakers, and a lot of people in the business. And your latest project, which I'm going to read the cover which one it was approached when I was approached by the to about this, I my mouth dropped. I couldn't believe that someone did this. But then I saw your name on and I was like, Well, of course that makes perfect sense. Only a psychopath would do this like oh, let's see what follows. Okay, that's perfectly makes perfect sense. The the new report is called judging screenplays by their coverage, you analyze 12,000 plus unproduced feature film screenplays and the scores they received and revealed. And this analysis reveals what professional script readers think make a good screenplay. And that's what this entire report is about. And it gives you a real like this is a this is an interesting report, because it's about 12,000 unproduced feature films that produced feature films. So please tell me how this came to be. And and how did you go about putting this together? And then we'll get into some of the nitty gritty of the report?
Steven Follows 12:10
Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, there is there's not the main reason I do it. But there is a real side, side pleasure in doing something that it's like, it's like a magician, where they spend years training how to do this thing. And then they got all this equipment and a team. And then they go, Oh, yeah, like this. It was like, magic. And as any screenwriter will tell you, nothing is magic. It's just hard work. You know, like you watch Ocean's 11. And like, I had to get out of that situation you like, well, the screenwriter writers worked on it for like a year, and then made it look easy. So yeah. So what happened was, I was talking over a year ago, with the guys at screencraft. And they manage all sorts of competitions and things like that. And they have really good guys that are really interested in helping screenwriters is one of those businesses, that's a proper business that's come out of wanting to support screenwriters. And I can I can tell theater in the sense that I talk to a lot of people and a lot of people suggest things and you can tell which people are just saying, Hey, can we just get some value out of this or whatever? And then there are other people who really want to sort of say, Yeah, but how does this help writers. And so we were chatting, and both of us had seen years ago, there was an infographic that was still doing the rounds, like it's a big one page infographic. And it was from one particular script reader who had kept loads of notes of all the scripts I've ever read. And they and there was an interesting things like, what country or what state the characters were from, or whatever. But then on the right hand side was this list that was about why they thought the scripts were bad, or why are we held back, you know, wasn't didn't have a strong protagonist didn't have a strong plot, and they'd rank them based on how many times that came up. And john screencraft, and I were both independently saying to each other, could there's that thing I saw years ago, that was really cool. And I was like, Can we do that at scale? You know, can we and we can't find the exact things like that, you know, like, protagonist is a bit weak in the third act, because that is nuanced that the data would struggle to really understand. But there is loads of stuff we can do. So we spend some time talking about, okay, but how do we do this, like, in this modern world of privacy, how do we do this without it being a problem, we don't want to be taking people's private work and doing all sorts of things with it. And, and so that was that was back a little bit to figure out how we do this without causing any problems. We don't want to be the next, like Facebook or whatever. But at the same time, I think we can help screenwriters. And so in the end, we worked out a kind of complicated but good system that anonymized all the data, or the scores that the readers got, but still allowed us to have a look on that. So it's not it wasn't a case of us sitting there reading every script and all that kind of stuff. It was more turning into data. And as I said, as scores, what they get from readers was not just the overall score, but also all sorts of things like catharsis plot structure, you know, voice things like that, taking all of those anonymizing them, but still being able To sort of link data points, and then Okay, great. So we got over that hurdle. And then it took longer than I thought he was going to on a data slide. point of view, shocking, so much information. Shocking. Yeah. Well, it's just, you know, and also, it's one of those things where you start and you think, okay, I'll just do ABC, and then you're like doing that you're like, oh, look D exists. Oh, yeah, he exists f. G. And then you know, so it really was a discovery thing, where as soon as we can act, one thing, we discovered two more things. And in the end, we had to go, okay, you know, there's some things we put to one side and said, You know what, I'm not going to do anything on this. Because we can do this in the future. And it's just too much now. And we should say, I keep saying we, so I let the I let the process and I certainly something that Jonathan Groff and I set up, but also, there was a few great people that really helped me Josh cockcroft. And Laura mentioned, and we're both of them really helped me with the coding and the thought process and the writing up and, you know, it was a team effort. And so yeah, we there's a few things we left on the table. But then we left, we ended up with this 50 page report that looks. I mean, it looks at three different things. Fundamentally, the main thing is it looks at what script professional script readers think of good script looks like. And we can talk more about what that is in a bit. So that's the main, that's the main purpose of the report. But then, the next bit was about well, what does the average screenplay look like? You know, like, what, what's normal, not even good or bad, but like, how many characters scenes pages dialogue locations. And then finally, there's little bits we could do about screenwriters. Again, we don't know, like, individually there, who they are or how old they are. And, but there are some things we can figure out with gender and genre and which bits of software they use as well, because you know, which program do you write with? and stuff like that? So that's the bits that we decided to lend in. So you may be telling me you think it's long. I think it's short.
Alex Ferrari 16:55
You're psychotic. You're psychotic. That's that and that's fine. Fine. Thank you. No, but you're psychotic in a wonderful way, sir. In a wonderful, wonderful way. I just as you're talking, I just realized what who you are you are your money balling screenwriting?
Steven Follows 17:11
Yeah, it's so funny, because that's come up a few times. And we thought about like, Okay, do we lean into that, or you know, that and ultimately, I think the really important thing to remember with this is that we are judging what's what script readers think a good script is, we're not saying what audiences do and not saying rainwork what we're in. And we're also not. There's no formula for it, you know, the more data I get into the more I appreciate the value and importance of human creativity and ingenuity. And so it's not like I can just generate a script now. So you're absolutely right, but have a very narrow thing. You know, this is the gatekeepers, you know, as you know, the people who get you in the room, you know, the get you place you win a competition or whatever, I'll give you validation to show what you can do. That's what we're focusing on this really narrow gatekeeper role.
Alex Ferrari 17:57
Right, exactly. So I mean, the difference between Moneyball is they were literally just looking at stats. So there is a different thing there, there was no creativity in involved. But this is a money balling of script readers and what will get what betters your chance of getting a screenplay through the gatekeeper, which is a massive Head Start above everybody else, if you don't, if you know this information, you've just changed your odds of writing something or creating something with your creativity and with your skill and your craft, to actually be able to break through the door much faster, and get more attention quicker, just based on this on this research. And as as I've skimming through the the, the report, I just came across that what matters most to script readers. And on the most important side, it is characterization plot, style, the voice of the of the writer, and then the things that matter the least theme hook originality format, which is opposite of what a lot of people talk about. A lot of people talk about, oh, it has to be completely original Oh, it has to have be perfect format. You've got to have a good hook. And the themes got to be really great structures down there as well. But they really care about characters. They care about plot and they care about style and the voice. So it's more of the almost the less of the, the the technical and more of the creative is what they're looking for, at least from just looking at it. Yeah, quick glance.
Steven Follows 19:34
No, no, I think you're absolutely right. And I think the important things to sum this up with is that if you get the technical stuff wrong, you can fail, but you can't win without the other stuff. So it's almost like the reason that you do the technical stuff is so that you don't get you know, so that you don't get thrown out. It's the foundation. The organism exactly is the foundation. Exactly. That's a great way of putting it. But if you're going to excel, if you're really going to make something incredible, then your voice as a writer is the most Important thing that people are after. And it's fascinating to see this in the data because I see this in other places as well. When you look at what movies are successful and things like that, it's you can't say that this is always the case in every place, but being good or working hard, come out very, very often, as amongst the number one things, and here is a writer, it's not about tricking them with a clever line, or like a good title or like it's formatted, you know, all beautifully. It's or, you know, or that it's so different just for the sake of being different. What we can see here, is it what matters is, can you write something? Can you can you do you have a voice? Do you have a lot of integrity, you know, the idea of a rang a really good spec script in Hollywood to get yourself noticed. They're not going to pick up your script, they're not going to make it. But the fact that you could write it a certain voice is what will open doors. And you see the same thing here. And because these are all spec scripts, you can see Actually, yeah, this is what you should be doing. Don't worry too much about how viable it actually is to be made tomorrow, you know, don't spend forever just focusing on the formatting. That's not to say it's not something But fundamentally, who are you What have you got to say, you know, how would you describe these events? Not what are these events, you know, and that's what these people want. And I love that because I think and I hope that's what writers want to do. They want to see the world. Think about it and express it. And I find that really pleasing and reassuring that that's what the script readers are after too.
Alex Ferrari 21:23
If you if you take a list of the Top 20 screenwriters who've worked in Hollywood, dead or alive, but let's say alive, I'm going to say that all of them have a very unique voice, you know, the Sorkin's the Shane Black's the Kaufman's, you know, these kind of that know, Christopher Nolan, these guys have very specific styles, and have a very unique voice. Sure, there's always going to be technicians always going to be craftsmen who could just get in there, knock out a script, be kind of, you know, straight down the middle. But the ones that stand out the ones that really, really that that we know the name of the writers off the top, like I say Sorkin everybody should know who Sorkin is. Everyone should know who Kaufman is, or black. You know, these are, these are screenwriters whose style is so significant Tarantino so significant that their last name is enough to to you know, create that. And I think people forget about the voice because they're always so caught up with trying to do something that's going to impress or what's hot now, or all this kind of stuff. And this, this obviously proves there's one thing that I find interesting is we're going to talk about genre next is that a lot of things are Oh, what's hot and what's not hot. There's certain things that just stay hot, and certain things that just don't stay hot for a long time. And and they stay consistent over time. Just sure they'll have a little peaks and valleys of horror is really hot right now, or this is really hot right now. But do you agree with that?
Steven Follows 23:00
Yeah, totally. And I couldn't agree more. I think, personally, right. What's interesting is that, because we are film fans, you know, we're cinephiles, we go and see movies. And then we are film professionals. We sometimes overthink the film professional side of things and ignore the film fans side of it, you know? And so sometimes you go through this big data process, you write it all up, and then you're like, Oh, yeah, I kind of knew that. But that's okay, because you've got validation. But I'll give you an example. You know, you're talking about genre. With all of those things that we talked about, we correlated the success of the overall script based on their scores, all these things, which exactly as you said, says, basically, the shorthand of this is how important each of these things and like you said, formatting comes out, as the least important across all genres. It's still it's not it is not irrelevant. But it's just not the most important thing. But what is the most important thing changes depending on different genres? So the ones you talked about the characterization of voice then the number one for most of the genres, but then if you think about a family film, right, so the most single most important thing for a family film is catharsis. Yes. Which makes perfect sense as a film fan, you know, I'm not sure I would have sitting there and guessed if I was before we did this work, I would have written it like this. But now I see it. I'm like, of course, because you need a family film to be safe. You need it to be something you can put the kids in front of the you can watch, and you need the journey. And, and it needs to end satisfactory, you know. I'll give you an example. So I there's a viral video from like, I don't know, five, six years ago. And what it is is Toy Story three had just come out on DVD and blu ray, and for a Christmas prank, a family had taken it to two kids and taken it and cut out the bit so the card the very ending so that what happens is the move that they're all going into the incinerator they're all about to die, they say their goodbyes, and then the credits roll, right. And they showed it to them that their mom right and they had a hidden camera, and she's watching it like a big fan of Toy Story seeing once he watches three, she thinks they're all going to their death and then the credits roll and then she's like What, what, and she looks like she's devastated. Like, not just sad, but like her world is falling apart. And like it goes on, it's very funny. And then they own up and they tell it what they did. But, but what's so funny about that is, is saying the same thing as this data, which is, you don't expect a family film to leave you hanging, it has to close up. But you think about a thriller, or a good drama, like a really good drama, maybe the characters have a resolution, maybe they don't, but the themes never resolved really, because you, these are questions about what it is to be a human being. And so it makes sense that, you know, you wouldn't necessarily use this data to go and craft the perfect plot for a family film. But if you've written the first few drafts, and you're like, Okay, how can I improve this? You go? Okay, well, is my catharsis, you know, how cathartic is this? How much does it actually close at the end of the journey? And whereas if you're doing some other genres, it becomes far less important adventure films, it becomes less important than that sense.
Alex Ferrari 25:55
Right? Like, if you l No, no, like, you look, if you if you look, if you listen to or you watch Free Willy, like, if if Willie doesn't get free at the end of that movie, they don't have for other movies.
Steven Follows 26:11
No, exactly. In needs closure, you know, and catharsis and closure are slightly different things, but they're in the same wheelhouse. And it makes such sense
Alex Ferrari 26:19
For a family film. But you don't need that for a horror movie. I mean, that the killer could get away and then that sequels. Yeah, it's just different by genre. But based on on the report, the advice per genre, which I find a little fascinating, but once you start thinking about it makes perfect sense. The genres that are scored the highest, I'm just gonna do the top three in the top and the top bottom three, the top is thriller, then goes animated goes adventure, which makes perfect sense because those films kind of cross over tastes, meaning that almost everybody can enjoy a good thriller. almost anybody can enjoy a good adventure film. almost anybody can enjoy a good animated film because you know what you're expecting with that. But then, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got comedy is the worst reviewed fantasy and sci fi. So then if you start thinking about I'm like, well, comedy, not everyone's gonna get certain jokes. And then if you don't like it, if you don't like fantasy, it's probably just it's a riskier. It's a riskier genre. Same thing for sci fi. If you're not a sci fi or fantasy fan, not everyone's going to enjoy it. Everyone's going to generally enjoy a really good thriller, or a really good adventure film, like Raiders of the Lost Ark. almost anybody could enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know, you don't have to be a fan of archaeology. Yeah. But you have to be a fan a fan of Lord of the Rings to enjoy Lord of the Rings.
Steven Follows 27:47
I couldn't. Yeah, I totally agree. And I think there are other things as well, when you when you think about it, like comedy is the only genre where you can really fail at like, No, no, if you've got a horror film, and it's not very scary. It's still a horror film. It's just a bad one, or a draw. Everything is drama. Like, as talking as drama. It's not very dramatic, but it's drama. But if we don't make jokes, it's not a comedy. So the answer can be no. And then for fantasy and sci fi, my theory on this one, which is just my theory of the same data that you've got in front of you, but my theory is that if you get some of the details wrong in a fantasy or sci fi, when you're writing the script, it's confusing. And humans don't mind mystery. mystery is intriguing. But confusion is, is feels horrible. Yes. And something's confusing. It's genuinely painful in an emotional sense. Whereas a thriller, if it's confusing, it doesn't matter as much as it's about the unknown fantasy, like you want to know the world. You know, I saw Fantastic Beasts, too. Not long ago, I won't spoil anything about JK Rowling's.
Alex Ferrari 28:48
I've never heard of her she could.
Steven Follows 28:51
I think she's amazing. But in this film is a bit confusing. But the my main point with this is that every now and then there's a situation that the characters are in, and then it turns out, there's a magic way of getting them out, like literally magic. And that's fine. But it's a bit of a, it's a bit of a frustrating as an audience, because you you feel disempowered to be able to figure out what's going on, because she can't explain the volume of stuff that she knows about that world. And so when you get a fantasy or sci fi wrong, you're not expanding enough for the audience. And so the ones that are bad tend to be quite bad, you know, and not very good sci fi, not very good fantasy, and not very good comedy, actually feel pretty shitty, whereas a not very good thriller, still a thriller. So my guess is that this is about whether you can fail at genre or leave people completely confused, or when you actually can just make them think it's average and fine. But yeah, who knows? We know one of the things we can't tell here, is that when there is no and we certainly don't have access to any objective measure of quality. So it could well be that over these 12,000 scripts that maybe the comedies were bad, you know, and but uh, maybe that or maybe the script readers were biased. I mean, I don't know I don't think so.
Alex Ferrari 29:57
It is just comedy is extremely difficult. It's, it's probably one of the most difficult things to write to direct to, to make a movie of, because I still remember airplane, when that the worst test screening ever in Paramount's history, the worst test reading ever. And the reason why they went back and analyzed why, because it was obviously a classic and one of the biggest hits Paramount ever had at the time. And I could still watch it now and piss myself because it's one of the best comedies ever. But don't get me started because all the lines are starting to come back in my head. So I don't want to go down the airplane road. But they figured that people at that time in history did not feel comfortable enough to admit that they liked it. So when they wrote it down on the cards, they just wrote down bad reviews because they didn't want to say, I really liked this lowbrow slapstick stuff. And that was fascinating to me. That's the
Steven Follows 30:57
same. It's the same with horror, though. Like horror has always been a genre where in the 80s and 90s people denied it. They're like Fangoria magazine in the UK aimed at like, fantasy and horror. They used to have a column that was entitled something like it's not a horror, but all of that. And it was people who promote movies that were like, it's not a horror. It's like a dark psychological thriller. And people will basically use all of these words to say it's not. And then that generation that grew up on those horror films actually grew up into positions of power. And when no, I like horror, and horror kind of exploded, and then people's became less ashamed of liking horror. But horror has the has the least connection when it comes to horror movies, the least connection between what critics and audiences say they think about it, and whether they make money or not, you know, if you make a lot of money with the drama and documentary, they need to be good by both audiences and critic standards. with horror, it's irrelevant. You know, the purge is made so much money, no, officially, no one likes it. You know, it's got terrible audience reviews, terrible ones, critics reviews, and it does just fine. And there are other horror films that are like, Oh, this is a work of art, and they just don't make very much money. And it's not that they have to be bad, it's that they're disconnected. So you're right, there's this everything we're looking at is a lens through a lens or a lens. And if the lens is, tell me what you think, well, then suddenly I'm thinking, well, who are you? How do I want to be seen, you know, when when you've got things like, these are anonymous script reports, in a sense that no one's gonna know who wrote them, you can actually say what you think you don't have to stand up there and defend it. You know, or if you're a critic, you're thinking, what do people think of me? What do they think they My name my photos next to this, you know, like, well, I don't like this schlocky horror. Of course, I like the really important foreign film or whatever. But when you look at what people pay to see or what they rent or whatever, you see a different story.
Alex Ferrari 32:43
Yeah, when you when Silence of the Lambs won, the Oscar was in nominated, and that during that time, it is still the first and only horror movie to ever win the Oscar, to my knowledge, at least. Because because they told everyone it wasn't a horror, it was a thriller. That's how you got away with it was it was a psychological thriller. You never once heard anyone call it a horror film, ever. But But when you watch it, it's an effin horn film. It's really what you want. Terrifying play. It is terrifying. And by the way, do you know the Hannibal Lecter is on screen for like, 12 minutes? Really? And the entire movie like 12 to 15 minutes it but all you can remember is him? In that movie? Yeah. It's fascinating. Now, one of the this is this is another bit of data that I just everyone always asks about, what is the key amount of pages? What's the number? What is the sweet spot for page count? Because I mean, we've all we've all seen the 200 page script, written by a first timer saying, This is so good that Hollywood is going to take notice. And professionals, we're going to go look at them and go, look, dude, it's just not going to work out for you. You need to stop. Well,
Steven Follows 34:03
it's like that joke of a producer picking up a long script and going I don't like it. It feels expensive.
Alex Ferrari 34:09
Exactly. It does. It's, it doesn't make financial sense. Even George Lucas had to break up Star Wars into three movies, because his first script was like 258. But I felt it's I'm looking at the numbers right now. Of what it's it's kind of where I was a couple surprises, though. I didn't because normally, I always thought it was like 90 to 95 was a good sweet spot. But it seems to be 95 to 99 is a good sweet spot, but then it jumps right to 105 to 109 and 110 to 140. Yeah,
Steven Follows 34:46
I wouldn't worry about that, you know, on any chart, there's going to be a little bumpiness you know, and so 95 to 99 seems to be ever, you know, marginally higher than 100 204. But I wouldn't worry about those kind of details. Because that is that's not you know, Significant in a data sense. But what is significant is on either end, you know, under about 85 pages, yeah, over about 130. And it falls off a cliff. And what, there is a pleasing bell curve around here. And like we said, 95 to 115 is about the highest. But ultimately, the biggest piece of news from this is, as long as it's not too long or too short, doesn't matter.
Alex Ferrari 35:24
You're right. So they're very, they're very close to very
Steven Follows 35:27
close, very close. And it's certainly not enough like that you should go and add in a couple of pages, and it will make a big difference to you. It depends what's on those pages, right? Except, I think, as short as you can be to get your get your whole thing across. But also, once you start crossing below 90 pages, it's not really it's less and less like a feature film, you know, right? And less than the edit and stuff. And we found that in a few different things where I had exactly the same as you, when I started this, I was like, right, I got some stuff I want to test, you know, talking about how I started doing all of this data stuff in the first place. I'm thinking right, I want to test whether there is a sweet spot for pages. And I also want to test if voiceover is a good or bad thing, because my theory has always been well, the theory I was educated on really, you know, was the voiceover is a bad thing when it comes right as my next thing. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like it's it's novels, right? It's a literary format. It's a way where you say what the character is thinking internally. But that's not how movies work movies a show, don't tell. So I'm thinking great, we'll be able to test that we'll be able to see if voiceover does home movies, because the argument against voiceover is that's a literary thing it's internal monologue. You should show this stuff if you have to say the character things you know a voiceover I was feeling sad at this point then you're not doing a good you're writing the counter argument is usually just good fellas
Alex Ferrari 36:48
were on No I'll throw out throw one even better Shawshank is a great example. It's like the best movie it's still my top two movies ever. It's like one of the greatest and it's wall to wall. Voiceover and Goodfellas is to him Goodfellas is also an amazing film. But Shawshank really you know because it's considered arguably one of the best movies ever made. At least by IMDb at least by IMDb ratings.
Steven Follows 37:16
Yeah, and by the way, for every every group, old young male female like this, this isn't a movie that's being swamped. Like the matrix has been swamped by younger male people. No, no, no. Children is universal. And let's remember it's a three hour brutal racist prison drama. It's not like
Alex Ferrari 37:32
written on it. And it's called the worst idol ever. The Shawshank Redemption. I don't understand two of those three words. Yeah, exactly. It's right VA I get but the rest of them like really? No, it's it's fascinating. And I don't want to go on a tangent on Shawshank because I can talk for hours about Shashank. But that movie is such an anomaly. And I always I've analyzed that movie a million times of Why? Why it is so why it's so loved and beloved. I always tell people if you don't like Shawshank you're dead inside. I'm sorry, I kind of talked to you. You something went wrong along the way. You You're dead inside, I'm sorry.
Steven Follows 38:12
But when I give, I can talk from time to time and when I use Shawshank as an example. I do say how many of you have seen it? And there's always like, sometimes it'd be one person if there's a room of like 50 people, and everyone else tends to them. And the main question is like how how have you not seen this movie? Like this is an essentially and what's funny is that the next movie they made the the Green Mile I have a three hour brutal racist prison. I don't know if I'm Stephen King, I love it. But anyway, so not this is not a tangent but my theory on Shawshank is that that movie is essentially, it's got a fun plot in the sense that it's got fun and
Alex Ferrari 38:50
fun. You're fun. Is that a word?
Steven Follows 38:52
No, sorry. No, no. But what I'm saying is that the twists, you know, are we we're we're in it for you. But the main reason that's that's distraction. I don't think that's the reason it's a successful film. I think that's fun. But I think that's what it gives people in their front of their mind to be distracted. The reason it's so successful is for three hours, it asks one basic question, which is can these two be friends, and then the most unfriendly people in the world? You know, one is a wrongly convicted quiet accountant, who's in an incredibly brutal place. The other guy is in prison. He's black in a place that's in a time that's incredibly racist. It's unfair. And throughout the whole movie, you're saying, Are they friends? Are they friends? Are they friends? And the final? final hour focus shop says, Yes, they are. And then your heart explodes because you're like, Oh, my God, they were friends. And that's what that movie does. It asks one question repeatedly, for three hours, and then gives you a satisfying answer. Now,
Alex Ferrari 39:44
I'm going to give you my theory, because now we're gonna, we're gonna do I'm sorry, audience, this is going to happen. So just settle in for a second because we're gonna we're gonna do this. I agree with that. I think that is one of the multi layers of this film. I always found it to be and I'm sorry to spoil alert for anyone who's not seen Shawshank Redemption, I'm going to talk a little bit about the ending. So please fast forward. But I always saw it as an as a allegory of our existence. And I'm going to go deep here, as our existence as human beings, because I feel that many of us feel like any refrain, that life has put us in boxes that we do not belong in, that we've been wrongly accused of, whether that be our life circumstances, our family life, our jobs, whatever it is, and then that the beating that he gets throughout the movie, and, you know, getting the ratings and all the other things that happened to him, his life doing that to us on a daily, weekly, monthly yearly basis, again, and again and again. And it is a life sentence just like him, it's a life sentence. So when he figures out a way to over not overpower but with his mind, break free, and that he has to go through, you know, three football fields worth of crap to get out of that. And when he's so finally exposed, it's almost like he's being birthed, again, at the end, he rips off his closing, and that he's been able to outsmart the thing that put him there. It is the ultimate cathartic feeling for us, like, Oh, my God, what if I could do that to my boss? What if I could do that to a family member, that that's been pounding you all these years, emotionally, verbally, or whatever, or, you know, whatever situation in life has been doing that to you. And that is why I feel that it is, it cuts through every genre, age, male, female, it doesn't matter. I remember watching that movie out, it was in 94, it was released. And that year, I'll never forget it. I was I was fresh out of high school. And my high school, you know, friends at the time, who we all thought john Claude Van Damme was a greatest actor of all time. We all said Holy cow, is that a great movie, it cut through even maturity level. And only after you get older, do you realize a lot of other levels of it, but even at that basic level it cut through. That's my interpretation.
Steven Follows 42:15
I love that that is such a good point. And you know, the interesting thing about read is that the Morgan Freeman character is that I can understand everybody identifying with the frame. But nobody is really identifying with read. And I read something a while ago that was talking about the TV show entourage. And it said, the reason the TV entourage works is not because men have a fantasy about being Vince, then it's not that they want to fuck movie stars, and they want to be rich, is that they want to be best friends with Vince. So they get to fuck movie stars. Like, they don't want the responsibility or the pressure or the expectation of being Vince, they want to be turtle. They want to be he you know,
Alex Ferrari 42:50
They want drama. Yeah.
Steven Follows 42:52
Yeah, exactly. That's what men want. They want that kind of access, access, but without the responsibility. And so everybody wants to have a friend like read, but nobody actually wants to be read. And because here's a guy that can get you everything, but you can still be quiet, Andy, you know what, I find that that's, uh, I like your theory on that one. We, um,
Alex Ferrari 43:10
I think I like your theory as well, I think the I think they're both valid. And they both work in the same way. It's just I think that that movie has so many layers and levels of things that are going on that it just it is it is as perfect of a film as I've ever seen. On a set.
Steven Follows 43:27
You know, and it proves to me that you like I'm joking about it being a brutal in a prison drawer. But it is, and it isn't like about that is that teaches you that there's no story that can't it's impossible for it to be something that can connect with people. And if you can have that movie that the static stream connecting with so many people in such an extreme way, and I think is possible. It's not that everything is possible with anything.
Alex Ferrari 43:47
No stories, good stories, it will cut through all of this if the story is exactly well executed and directed in the I mean, it's just amazing. But back to voiceover. Sorry, guys. Sorry. We went on Shark shake.
Steven Follows 44:00
You can come back now we finished it. Yeah, no. So So anyway, so one of my first theories I had I really wanted to test when I when we started on this data was voiceover and and is it correlate with bad scripts? And I can tell you now that the answer is it doesn't matter. It does it. If you have a huge amount, then obviously, it's a problem. But a huge amount of anything, you know, and there's a, I can assure you that a huge amount of exclamation marks don't help, you know, huge amount of anything doesn't help. But fundamentally, it doesn't matter. And so I've updated my understanding of this. And I now think that that I still believe that there is a loose correlation between voiceover and bad movies. But now I'm putting the blame on editors and producers who are doing hack jobs to quote unquote, save a movie, or to make it shorter or or to you know, whatever. You know, like Blade Runner.
Alex Ferrari 44:46
You were you were I was about to just cough up Blade Runner. I mean, yeah.
Steven Follows 44:52
And so that's my theory is now now is that actually writing? voiceover is fine. It's how you use it. It doesn't it's not a good thing. It's not a bad thing. It's a tool. You know, and you as an artist needs to think with that and what you paint matters. But it's not a bad thing. It's not something to. One of the things I hope I can do with this project is, if you are a writer who is currently being told to cut voice over you believe is important. And you're being told, because it's a fact of voiceover is bad. I can tell you for a fact, act. It's not. It's what you do with it.
Alex Ferrari 45:22
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Yeah, I know Robert McKee yells at people for using voiceover. But like everything, it's a tool, it can be used right or not?
Steven Follows 45:41
Well, so he might not be, he might not be wrong as well, that it's correlated with bad movies. But that's different to bad screenplays, you know, really important that we understand that because movies go through so many processes with so many people between the screenplay and the beat and the big screen. And that's why this data stuff is so interesting. We need to chop all these different stages down and analyze them separately, so that we're not confusing one thing and doing something else, you know, we're not just thinking I saw a bad movie with voiceover therefore, I'll never write it. No, no, don't do what that movie did that made it bad. It's not, you know, you're focusing on the wrong thing.
Alex Ferrari 46:14
Now, I love the next part I want to talk about and for everyone listening in a car with a child, this is the part where you might want to skip or pause and listen to privately we're going to talk about swearing in scripts. And that is, I just loved that there was somebody who counted how many shits there were in 12,000. Scripts? How many folks that were in 12,000 scripts and other words, and I just love that you are that person? Steven?
Steven Follows 46:43
I do. Well, can I just take the record? I did not read every script. Of course. There's one.
Alex Ferrari 46:47
No, no, obviously not used to be doing it. But that there was a there without that was that was one of the data points that we needed to discover. That was it, he can
Steven Follows 46:57
tell you that I built a machine into, you know, a little algorithm to discuss these, which means I'm one of the few people who can say I have built a buck machine.
Alex Ferrari 47:08
No, but like so the word that's most uses shit. swear word. Yeah, and followed quickly by fuck. And then the C word. I never like saying the C word. But the C word drops down to like, five, less than 10% of all scripts had this word because it's a harsh word. It's harsher than shitter. Fuck, but it's fascinating. Like, and then also in genre, which genre uses the most swear words? Comedy, Action and horror.
Steven Follows 47:39
And the thing is, I think they're all doing different things in the sense that action, it's about exclamations of like, surprise, I think horror. It's about you know, pain and, and frustration Where's comedy. It's, they're using it in a different way. And in another part of the report, we found that there's a strong correlation between sexual words, words to do with sex that are in comedy. So if you look at most words to do with, whether it's, you know, genitalia, or different sex, or whatever sexual acts, they're much more likely to be found in comedy. So people because they don't tend to thrillers don't tend to be fundamentally about sex, whereas comedies can be or are more likely to be. So it's interesting. They've all got different reasons for being, you know, on that top part of the script, top part of the chart
Alex Ferrari 48:22
that I'm looking at the report right now, Steven and I, I'm giggling because there's a graph and a graphic with like, fuck 63.3% fuck Kant 9%. It's like, and it's like throwing it. I'm like, Oh, my God, this is brilliant.
Steven Follows 48:41
You know what? The Venn diagram with three circles showing the overlap of that this caused me this graph caused me the biggest problem of all of the report. And as I said, as I said before, it's a lot of this song was a problem, because every time I sent notes to my graphic designer, it went to his spam folder, because all the words in the email, were the three worst words in the English language. And so, this was a problem for moderation, more than anything else, and I was trying to, you know, point out then this is academic. It's not like we're children, you know, but, um, but what was interesting is that there is a correlation. Earlier in the report, we looked at the correlation between the amount of swearing and the scores it got. And we found that actually, across all the films, as they got swearing, they got higher, higher and higher scores not insignificantly, apart from the most of the top 20% of you know, in the 20%, that I've got the most swearing us in it. They're the ones they didn't perform that well. But the ones that had some swearing or what we call a lot of swearing, so this is the sort of third and fourth, you know, fifth of all the scripts, they actually scored the highest and when we try to look into why this was obviously you should know how But across all the scripts, it was like this. And when we need to drill down to try and work out why we discovered a pattern where the swearing of the script was, the higher the score was for voice, which is one of the things that we can measure like we were talking about before with catharsis and things like that. So what's happening is that a lot of times script readers are correlating the use of swearing with how good the writers voices, or, you know, good writers swear a lot, we can't, we don't know the difference between the two, they both show up the same. But this is a really good example of this is true. And this is very useful, but at the same time, just putting more swear words in there is misreading the results. It just says the kinds of people who have the strong, strongest writing voice are more likely to wear than the ones that don't. I mean,
Alex Ferrari 50:46
It is actually quite fascinating. But again, you know, given Tarantino or Shane Black, the power of cursing, they use it as an art form. It's it's a paintbrush for them. They don't lean on it as a crutch. where a lot of screenwriters I find in scripts that I've read, lean on it as a crutch as like, I have nothing cool to say here. So I'm just gonna say the F word. You know, as opposed to something that really makes sense. You know, like, it's an art like when Tarantino curses, it's an art form?
Steven Follows 51:18
Yeah, well, yeah. And you say that he's writing voices coming out of that? You're absolutely right. And so yeah, kind of kind of interesting. I'm not sure this is there's a few things in here where I don't really want people to take this as literal advice to do tomorrow. It's more as a route to understand how things work. But yeah, if suddenly the, you know, spec script world becomes a lot scarier than I thought it's your fault.
Alex Ferrari 51:39
Yeah, it's your fault. And then age, age of characters, I found. Not surprising, but interesting, where basically 30s is the sweet spot. That's that? Well, that's
Steven Follows 51:54
your right, that's the most common and so we don't have individual data on the actual screenwriters. So I can't tell you like whether people who are over 60 write characters that are over 60, I'd love to, but I think that's a bit like we'd have that, you know, people have to give us that data. And it's just a bit too much private data. But what we do know is across all our writers, the average age is about 3132. And so unsurprisingly, the most common age for characters is in their 30s. But what you find is if you look at the age of the characters, and then you look at how often they speak, you find that as characters get older, they speak less, which is just typical of like someone in their early 30s, or late 30s, or late 20s, thinking, the older they get, yeah, the less relevant they are, the less, you know, they drive the story, which I thought was kind of fun. And also the idea that, you know, there are things in here that I think one of the things that good writer will always be thinking about, is how will this show on screen? How will people see this? So for example, the most common final digit in an age was characters was zero. So the characters were 2030 4050 that makes sense, right? But then the next most common was 525 3540. But after that, it was eight. So 2838, you know, 48. And I think that's because the writers think that when you write somebody 28 you're saying something about their character. You know, they are older, but maybe they've got regrets. They've got time to try to achieve things, you know, people midlife crisis, you know, maybe hits people around 38, or whatever. And so there's information that the writers are trying to convey that is probably never going to be shown on screen. You know, if the characters are having a midlife crisis, then you have to show them saying it living in driving a new car, whatever it is, but just saying their age won't do it. So it's kind of interesting about as that one of those things as a writer is, are you conveying that information in a way that will make it through to the big screen and into the minds of your audience?
Alex Ferrari 53:46
Well, I mean, we've we've talked a lot about this report, and believe it or not, everyone, there is a lot more information in this report than what we've discussed that we haven't given away all the goodies. And are you giving this away? Are you doing it a Pay As You Can what is going on with this?
Steven Follows 54:00
Now we're giving it away, actually, and the last report, I did a whole report, I did it as a pay what you want, because it costs it took a lot of time to put together the horror report. And I thought, if I can make a sustaining business out of people paying for these reports that I can then put the money into the next report, that would be great. And so that was a minimum of $1 and anything else more you wanted. This time around. We're doing it entirely for free, because we figured that what we really want to do here screencraft and I got together to help screenwriters, they've given us loads of that. And they've given me access in various ways to their data. But it's fundamentally something that you really want doing not as a commercial thing and they're not paying me and you know, what it is just to help people. It might make it a little harder for the people who really could get some. So it's gonna be a free download, but time you listen. Really free if you go to Steven follows calm as s t e PHMF, ll o Ws, you'll be able to find it and download the whole thing as a PDF for free And I do want to say a big thank you to the people who bought the horror report in the past, whether you paid $1, whether you pay $20, whether you paid $50. Thank you, because some of the things we had to do for this report, we had to pay for services or like the graphic designer or the eye level costs, but they their costs. And the money that people paid donating for the horror report went into this one. So the fact that is free is thanks to the people who chose anything last time, but also especially the people who chose to give more than the minimum and love that, you know, the community can give what they can everyone gives what they want to give and what they think it will help them. And yet, together, we can all move ourselves forward, then that's a that's a happy outcome.
Alex Ferrari 55:42
And we are going to put links to to the report and to all of Stephens insane work in the show notes, as well. And then we are also going to talk I might have you back for the whole report, honestly. Yeah, I might have you back for the horror report. Because the horror report, let's just just tease everybody listening. It went through how many films, all of them. So basically, every horror film ever created. You actually
Steven Follows 56:15
I think he's ever released ever released in US cinemas ever so I think it's top 10,000 films. So it's not like if you made a feature with your mates, and no one saw it, it's ones that made it to some form of distribution. At some point throughout the last 100 years. Yeah, I just spent a year and a half looking at them in every possible way. And it was really enjoyable. You know, funnily enough, I'm not actually much of a horror fan. I don't really watch horror films. It's not what I want as a fan. But as a, as someone who wants to understand the industry, it was really exciting because, as I said, there's there's the lowest correlation between the quality of the film and the success, which immediately suggests the question, Well, what does matter, and also because it's the most accessible genre for low budget filmmakers, and it can, in theory, you could be the next paranormal activity or next Blair Witch, whereas you're not going to be the next Jurassic Park. So it's an accessible genre that's fun to make, that actually has, you can affect it more than just get good. And so for me, that was like, Okay, I can do something here, I can help people who want to make horror films, by helping them show what kind of things but you're right, it's like 200 pages, it took a year and a half. It's gonna It's a whole new podcast, I think
Alex Ferrari 57:26
we're gonna we're gonna have you back seat. And we're going to talk about the whole report, because I think that's going to be extremely beneficial to, to the tribe. And I just want to read it to because it's, it sounds fascinating, you know. So, Steven, I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today or a filmmaker?
Steven Follows 57:48
I'd say it's, there's two things which sound like they're the opposite, but they're not one is is about you, which is, you know, just get good, you know, and they get good, really, really slowly. And it's really, really hard. You just keep working at it. And you keep writing and writing. And everyone says Write, write, write. And actually, that is the right thing to do. You just keep producing the work. And so that's a sort of inward note. But then the second thing is you got to get out there and you've got to meet people, not because you're going to meet the next hobby ones in or have a studio boss and a lift, God that has a completely different meaning nowadays.
Alex Ferrari 58:21
It does it does scratch out, yes, yes.
Steven Follows 58:25
You're not because you're going to meet the next studio boss in a left pitch them and then and then she's going to hire you, that might happen. But that's not the reason you go out and meet people is because you meet people who are in the same position as you. And they're on the same pub journey. And, and, you know, everyone says networking, networking is its people, it's people standing in the corner of a industry event, clinging on to their drink, hating it, standing next to somebody else. Hey, I'm Steven, I hate this. And so when I was going, Hey, I'm Alex, I think there's two Oh, cool. You know, and then talking, that's what networking is. And the more you can do that, the more you'll meet people who are in the same position as you but they're a producer, or director or a writer, whatever you need. Someone who's been there before who can help you. Or there's someone who can work for you or work, you know, you can bring them on your team. And you just you keep adding you keep turning up. And you look at the people who are successful. They are very talented, but they've also turned up a huge amount. And the most of the people that come in at the same time as you the first year you're in film, loads of people coming in the same year. Most of those people are lazy. Most of them are flaky, most of them have got other things to do. And that's great, like good luck to them. It's great that they leave in the industry to do other things that make them happy. And if they haven't got the stamina for it, it's better they find out now. But the more years you keep turning up the key producing work, keep showing it to people keep talking to people, you just get good by turning up because people will see you they give you advice, you see patterns. And then very quickly, you realize that the person that you met at that party five years ago, they're now actually got a film that did well and they're looking for another script and they know you and suddenly seems a bit easier. So after like 567 years, maybe 10 years depending on where you are and what you do. And suddenly, things almost become easier out of nowhere. But what's really happened is it took you 10 years without any feedback of success to build those roots. And the last thing I say is that when I was a kid, I am British and I grew up in Britain, when I'm watching one of these comedies in the 90s, everybody seemed to be on this comedy TV shows, everybody seemed to be in each other's shows. And I always used to think, how do I break into that circle? How do I bring it full circle? And now as an adult, and as someone who understands the industry, I realize you don't break into their circle? You make your own circle? Yes. And do it when nobody else is anybody else. And everybody else is unemployed has never done anything isn't good. Yeah. And you connect your work together. And then suddenly, one day you wake up and you realize you're in a circle, and you're in your own club, and no one can break in really, like, it's not that you're pushing them away. It's just given the first choice. Why would you not work with these people that you've worked with, for 10 years, who also were there for you when there was no money and no fame and they still showed up course, you're going to hire them first, which means there's no space for anyone to break in. But there should be people making their own circle in another room somewhere. And in the future, they will be the people that were in the same position you are now. And I think that's really important to realize is that you all of the work is done before the light gets shine on you, you know, get shone on you. And you have to work hard when no one's watching, because eventually that does pay off. It just isn't sexy. It isn't fun. It isn't easy. It doesn't pay. And it's it's not the sexy kind of montage you see in a movie if people just writing and then being angry and then suddenly being happy. And then they've got it. And then it's the next morning. It's far less sexy than that.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:34
That's so great, great advice. And I've had I've answered, I've asked that question hundreds of times on the show. That was that's the first time that's ever been answered that way. So it's a really great piece of advice. Oh, thank you. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
Steven Follows 1:01:52
Ah, interesting. I read a lot. And I read a lot of nonfiction to try to understand different people's worlds. And I'd say I had to say the one but I'd say one that is incredibly powerful that really ticked a lot of boxes was creativity, Inc.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:06
Oh, what a great book. Oh,
Steven Follows 1:02:08
Such a great book. It's so nice to have an entertaining story with with a person's life story. But also it's a business book. And it's a book about how to be a creative, creative person. Yes. But the other thing, just I'm going to cheat and give you a second book is entirely different. There's a book called the Golden theme. And it's a short book, and it's by a story theorists called Brian McDonald. And he also wrote invisible ink and a few others. He is a genius and is totally, I wouldn't say underappreciated, because lots of people know how good he is. But he's, I don't understand why he's not, you know, bigger than Mickey or, you know, talking more on I just, his stuff is amazing. And the golden theme is a fairly short little book, it's not sort of whole book like an invisible ink is a whole book about screenwriting. The Golden theme is about one idea that he's seen throughout many different forms, in the history of stories and art and things like that, that there is one theme that seems to be seems to come up a lot and the work that's really successful. And it's this idea that we're all the same. And he talks about it, and he doesn't, he doesn't even make it a long book, he doesn't need to, he makes it gives some examples, talks about it, and says that when that comes up, it tends to be really powerful. And when soon as you read this, you're like, yeah, I can see it. And you and you walk around the world going, Oh, my God is there. Oh, my God is there. And then you realize you can put it into your work. And so yeah, anything written by Brian McDonald, but specifically golden theme, it was out of print for a while, but I think it's come back into print. And if anyone if brilliant will then get it, read it. It's it'll take you an hour to read it. And it will transform your writing, I think.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Yeah, it's actually I'm on Amazon right now as we speak. So it's been a mess. It's been put in my cart, sir. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Steven Follows 1:03:52
Well, obviously, the only honest answer is I don't know yet. But I won't give you that one. I think I think I can. Okay, so I wouldn't say it took me a long time to get to the same answer. Everyone always told me. So I used to read lots of books about internet startups and things like that, because I was because I always thought there's a strong correlation between running a production company or being an independent producer or direct director and having a startup, it's a very similar model. It's just you don't have the bit where you turn it into a multi trillion pound enterprise, and you get to be floating on the stock market. But the first few bits are very similar. And they all say things like he talked to serial investors in Silicon Valley. And they always say, we're investing in the people, not the product. And when there's one investor, when one creator, we're less keen to invest, but when there's a team of two or three people, then it really matters. You know, that's, you know, a team of two or three great people who work together. That's the most investable combination. And so you hear that but you think, Well, yeah, but how can I find my kind of partnerships or whatever. And so you kind of forget it, and but then when I look back on the things that have really mattered, it is partnerships and I've ended up working with lots of different people and some people I've worked with once. And that's been fine. And other times, I've wanted to work people again and again, and for a small number of people who I have ongoing work with where it's in a limited company, like an actual commercial business, or whether it's someone I just I've got a shared lexicon with. And looking at the people that really I work with and have ongoing relationships with, I can see how they bring the best out in me, I bring the best out, and then they catch the worst of me and I catch the worst of them. And and as we were Alex and I were talking about beforehand, it's about sometimes there are things that I hate to I think it's just the worst thing in the world. And for someone else, it's the best thing they could possibly do. And like we you know, you and I are talking about you loving, promotion and marketing and me, I can't stand it can't do it. And yet with the film, data, stuff, this stuff is not a sweat. For me, it's hard work, but it's not impossible. Whereas for other people, it can be hard to imagine what it is. And if you find someone who you truly understand you share a worldview, you share a view of how the world should be, but your interests and desires are fundamentally opposed. That's a really good model. So I'd say don't try and find people who want to do what you're doing. Find people who believe what you believe, and then do a little project with them. And if that works, do another one, do another one. And you don't have to, you know, meet somebody and propose to them, you can just keep working with them. And then you'll find the people who keep showing up. And that is the most wonderful supportive thing where you have someone who gets you to work with you catch the worst of you, like unhinge, you know, unclip you so you can run to the best of you. And it's just immense fun. So, yeah, be open to that and try and find those people as hard as that might sound.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:40
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Steven Follows 1:06:43
Oh, Jesus, I think Shawshank Redemption we talked about that is, um, you know, I wish I wish I had the balls to say, you know, Jurassic Park, for the fallen kingdom and the fallen kingdom to whatever it was called. I don't I think inside out is an amazing model about just what it is to be human. And I still I've watched that movie so many times, I still don't know how they did it. And I just in a story basis, I just don't understand what that is. And I also think I think what a movie called I can't remember the name now. I think it won the Oscar. And it's about kind of our complete mind. Like, it's an Austrian film about the secret police in the 80s. And hold on my worst in the lives of others. That's That's why I got married to my wife. Okay. Same here. Same. Remember what I said about finding a partner who understands the shares your worldview, but has different skills? Yes, he can remember like, you know, names and stuff, and the lives of others. Like, again, another movie where you watch it, and you're just like, how, what, what, that's amazing. How did you do? How did you do that? And yeah, it's so clear. Like, it's just great work on every level. Yeah, the movies that seem to really move me.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:01
And where can people find you and your amazing work, sir.
Steven Follows 1:08:05
So all my works is stevenfollows.com. Occasionally I do I don't tend to do work, publish in other places, just time more than the US. But some of the work I've done with Bruce Nash, who runs the numbers is on the AFM website. I think there's copies of it on my site as well. And I would actually, I'm gonna use this opportunity. If you've spent the last hour, hour and a half, maybe 10 minutes with Alex, they've been editing and listening to me and Alex, I know you're already on listen to his podcast. I know you've got one or two amazing questions for me to research. I know that there's some stuff are like, is that always the case? When does that work? Was this I don't care how stupid it sounds how everyone tells you No one knows. Maybe you maybe this is your question. Maybe no one can know. But I, I would love to have any question you can send me to research because the best stuff I've ever looked at, is when people have said, You know what, I probably not meant to do this, or, you know, everyone always says this. And it suggests something I never thought of I go and look at and come back. And it's really pleasing because I can actually help. And I, you know, this is me, I'm not going to I'm not going to reply with one ad a question go away. You know, even the the questions which sound the most kind of strange or straightforward, are speaking to a wider truth. So, go to my site, go on the contact page. So stephenfollows.com, go to contact page, send me fill in the form, it comes straight to me it goes to my inbox, I will happily respond to everything as if I have the answer. I sent you the link if I think it's impossible, I'll say so. But probably I say that's a great question. I'll put it on my list. And then one day, when I have the data at a time, I'll look at it and it'll become an article. Not only will you get closure, but also so many other people have shared a guarantee you share your question, and it'd be really nice to be able to help so if you guys can help me go on my site send me questions, ideas, things I should research in the film industry. And I'd really appreciate that.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:54
Oh, well, Pete where what you wish for sir. That's all I'm gonna say at that for that right now. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it
Steven Follows 1:10:02
Put a message that Alex sent me. I'm from I'm part of the tribe.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
I'm part of ifh tribe. Yeah, I've done this before. And I've warned people not to do something stuff like this, because they get inundated with emails and conference. So I'm curious to see what will happen. But, of course, thank you so much for being so generous, not only with your time today, but your constant work in helping filmmakers and screenwriters. And people in the business try to succeed. So I truly from the bottom of my heart, I truly appreciate all the hard work you do. And you do an immense amount of hard work, you know, almost selfless in many ways to, to help the industry. So thank you again, for that and for being on the show, sir.
Steven Follows 1:10:46
Thank you so much. Thank you for your time, and I'm not gonna I'm too British to start talking about all the great work you do, but likewise to you. But also thanks for having the time to chat about these things. This is how we get the word out there. This is how we realize we are all the same. And we all have the same challenges. So if I can be part of this, I feel honored. So thanks again.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:04
I do want to thank Steven for coming on the show and sharing his ridiculous information, amazing information about his new report. And if you want to get links to read that report and other stuff that Steven's doing, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/324. I'll also have links to his amazing crowdfunding for filmmakers course on Udemy. So definitely check that out. And if you haven't already, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave the show a good review on iTunes. It really really helps us out a lot. And if you'd like what we're doing at indie film hustle and you're a fan of what I do, please share this with every filmmaker every friend every associate in the business you can spread this information far and wide. I want this info to get out to as many filmmakers screenwriters out there as humanly possible. Thanks again for listening guys. And as always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
- Judging Screenplays By Their Coverage Report
- Stephen Follows – Official Site
- Crowdfunding for Filmmakers
- Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Story) Book- Buy It on Amazon