Day 1,083: How To Write A Blockbuster – Part I


I’ve been spending my days and nights (mostly nights) on board the good ship Southern Pearl practicing the ancient art of writing. I’ve been writing my blog (of course) which will one day become my book (it’s now pushing 750,000 words, so it’ll have to be edited down somewhat – James Joyce’s Ulysses is only 250,000 words). I’ve been writing Programme Bibles for TV shows you may never see and writing film scripts the names of which you may never see in backlit marquees. I don’t mind, I just enjoy writing. And then inflicting said writing on my family and friends.

Writing, especially fiction writing, appeals to my love of two things: puzzles and logistics. Since I was a kid I’ve loved puzzles. It’ll come as no great shock to anyone that my favourite video games when I was growing up were the point n’ click adventures of Golden-Era LucasArts.

When writing a screenplay, the puzzle revolves around how you get your characters from the set-up to the dénouement without invalidating the title. This is were logistics come in, and why writing fiction seems to me very closely related with what I’m doing with The Odyssey Expedition: I’ve got to think of clever, speedy, interesting, but overall logical ways of getting from point A to point B to point C and so on.

For most of my stories I have a series of hooks, which, while they are awesome ideas for individual scenes, have to lead naturally from one to the other. You give a lousy reason for going from big scene to the next, you find yourself in the territory of Episode 1, Transformers 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 or Indy 4: you just end up pissing off the audience.

Figuring out these links, for me, the most fun part of writing. They might come in the middle of the night or sitting on the toilet or while riding on the top of a lorry through the badlands of Northern Kenya. The thing is that once you make the connection, once you run through all the usual pitfalls in your head and it still makes sense, it just seems so bloody obvious in hindsight. Of course that’s how they escape! Of course that’s what makes the plane crash! Of course that’s why the baddie left that clue! D’oh!

It’s like a whodunit in which only you can work out the solution.

Sadly, Hollywood seems stuck in an ultra-conservative glut at the moment, with all the remakes, reboots, sequels, adaptations floating around I’m amazed when we get a single original concept for a film squeezing through each year. The only big one from last year was Inception.

Some of the greatest films of all time: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, North By Northwest, All About Eve, The Apartment, Midnight Cowboy, Star Wars, Alien, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Memento and Crank were NOT adapted from something else, they were original ideas specifically created for a specific medium: film. Original ideas seem in short supply in Hollywood today, which is why American Television is running rings around the silver screen.

So I reckon there’s no better time for you to have a crack at writing a blockbuster. I’m sure you’ve got ideas floating around your noggin and you’ve got time in your life to read my ramblings so you can’t be that busy! There’s no reason why, with a bit of help, you can’t knock out something resembling a Hollywood film from back when they were good (ie. the Twentieth Century).

The thing about film scripts, and why writing them is a much better idea than writing a book (if you’re a lazy procrastinating sod like me), is that you don’t ever really sell a script, you only option it. If it’s a smokin’ hot script, you could get, say $200,000 just for the option rights. But here’s the best bit: if the studio doesn’t make the film within two years (say) the option rights revert back to you.

So then you can option the same script again for another $200,000 to another studio. There are millionaires living in Hollywood who have had no script of theirs ever made into a movie. Seriously.

Because I’m such a great chum, here are some tips and strategy that I’ve gleaned from reading various books on scriptwriting, attending scriptwriting courses and watching thousands of films. You’d pay $500 to go to a seminar to be told exactly what I’m going to tell you now, for free. Think of it as a Christmas present for sticking with The Odyssey Expedition blog over all these years.

If I manage to inspire you to write a film that makes a billion at the box office, don’t forget to mention me in your Oscar acceptance speech.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Alan

    I think you are on the right track regarding an Odyssey board game or a playstation version…I’m 66 so I only know board games,but trying to get around the world in the shortest possible time with cards listing various hazards you have encountered..go to jail etc ! You deserve success and I’m sure you will get it for yourself,and a percentage of sales could still go to Water aid !! Well Done ! Ive been following you daily since you started from Isla Margarita ,Venezuela !!Best Wishes Alan

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