An Open Letter to the Hollywood CEO or… ‘Why your franchise needs a real BIBLE.’
Bigtime CEO I met last week: “I know all about the bible. We’ve done the bible. We’ve paid half a million dollars for the bible. You know what I learned about the bible? It doesn’t work.”
The story bible, that elusive Hollywood invention, that famous ghost, haunting your big brand IP… Ah, yes, the bible.
You have the IP. You paid a fortune to acquire it. You got a stack of comics, books, radio plays, whatever, sitting on your desk. It has value. You know it has value. People love (or once loved) this IP but now, nobody has the vision to see what you see; a BILLION DOLLARS just sitting there, waiting for someone to pull the gold from the mine but then they all start asking…
“Does your franchise have a bible?”
“You don’t have a bible?”
“You gotta get you one of those bibles!”
What is it? How to get one? Everybody says you need one, and luckily they know a transmedia guy who makes bibles, so you call some famous transmedia producer and he quotes you mid six figures to make you a real life bible… Stop!
Transmedia is wonderful. Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm… these companies do VERY well with transmedia but none of that matters if people don’t care about your STORY. If they don’t love the MOVIE.
Paul Dini. Bruce W. Timm. Mitch Brian.
If you haven’t read BATMAN: Series Writer’s Bible, you better google that stuff. Seriously. This is what a bible should be. This is what a document, handed to other writers in the event of Paul, Bruce, and Mitch’s untimely death, looks like. This is the bible you can give to a studio executive, newly promoted to oversee your IP and feel comfortable bringing them up to speed.
See also LOST. Those guys are very smart. They mapped out seasons with great care. The leaked LOST bible is another great example.
Also see DAVID SIMON’s brilliant; THE WIRE, season three, four and five letters to HBO. Very well written.
See the trend here?
They’re all writers.
Look, paying a million dollars for an overpriced photoshop cut and paste job, putting pictures in a three ring binder, that’s cool. You wanna know what’s really cool? A billion dollars.
What’s the story? The bible isn’t a picture book, it’s a story book. It’s a map for the film story, the character’s story, the sequel story, the spin-off story, all things story. Can’t write a story without a writer. The bible must be written by the writers.
See, the WRITER needs to build out the entire world for your IP. This is not the job of a Transmedia Producer. Transmendia Producers produce transmedia. I’ve done their job, it’s not easy work, it takes tremendous creativity but it’s not story WRITING.
Of COURSE you’ve been burned by transmedia bibles. Of COURSE they took you for a ride and left you with a bunch of pretty pictures. Of COURSE it doesn’t add up to much, in short “It doesn’t work.”
Now, lemme talk to the writers for a second:
“Yeah, it’s like that.”
So the above mentioned superstar showrunners didn’t get there overnight but they did get there. They have the ability to map out a season of television, maybe not every episode but they know where it’s going.
It’s no small wonder we’re in the second golden age of television. All our best people flock to a medium with greater creative control and season long character development, who wouldn’t? But if you’re working Disney, Lucasfilm, Marvel or any one of the hundred other companies looking to duplicate that success, you can’t hope to succeed if you can’t serve as a showrunner for their feature film franchise property.
These companies put up big bucks. They take a massive gamble. When they hire you to ‘Break’ their valuable IP, they need more than a six page treatment, they need a STORY BIBLE. They don’t need a book full of pictures, they need a real writer to break real villains, real heroes, real storylines. If they can’t put this bible on the desk of a suit or on the phone of a teenager and hear “Cool Story Bro,” then you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
OK, back to the suits now:
Look, writers will tell you anything they think you want to hear. Writers can promise the world and some, not all, but some under deliver. I should know, I spent a dozen years repping writers, many of whom didn’t know what they were doing. Despite making millions, many haven’t worked since because they don’t know what they’re doing.
“How can I tell if I’m being ripped off?”
Now, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. The best way to tell is to ask for the sample bible. You wouldn’t hire a plumber without recommendations or reviews. You wouldn’t go to a doctor without a practice…
Ask to see their bible.
Read it. Look it over. Ask them, ask yourself the hard questions your financiers will ask.
Does it feel like a movie?
No? That’s not the writer for you.
Look, the job is changing. The old days of hear a pitch, hire a writer, get a lousy first draft, fire the writer, hear another pitch, pay more to hire a better writer… and so on, those days are gone. Can you afford to spend MILLIONS of dollars on your IP before knowing if it has value?
Feige is a boss. He runs it like a boss. The man has a multi phase plan for world domination. He works with them writers what got the best words. Do you?
Kennedy is a boss. She does it like a boss. This woman runs a multi-billion dollar empire and I promise her bible isn’t a book full of pretty pictures.
Who is this new writer? This ‘magic bullet’ writer capable of breaking IP and building story worlds to mine my IP gold?
The new writer is a gamer. The new writer reads comics. The new writer understands pop culture, able to BREAK your valuable IP, turning your stack of comics, novels, whatever, from ‘untapped gold mine’ into actual gold. If your writer can’t provide an example of that ability, if they can’t put something in front of you that makes you JEALOUS you aren’t the one producing THAT movie…
Well, you can take a chance if you want. You can give the writer a break, cross your fingers and hope for the best but you may just spend a million dollars and get a three ring binder with a stack of pretty pictures.
@futurePratt is a Los Angeles creative producer. He’s building an army of hard working superstars willing to go the extra mile to create billion dollar IP for international audiences. Yeah, I got your story bible right here. Better get you some.