Pile of BooksThat was the message for budding screenwriters at today’s London Book Fair seminar on writing for Hollywood. Andy Briggs, a British screenwriter who’s worked for Paramount and is currently rebooting the Tarzan and King Kong franchises, said US agents he’d spoken to during his most recent trip to Los Angeles advised him to avoid drama. These days drama is seen as being the purview of television, which does it so much better than movies, he said.

Rob Kraitt, an agent at venerable London literary agency AP Watt, said that it’s become much harder for British agents to sell books as movies to the studios. AP Watt — whose clients include Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stared at Goats), Lyn Barber (An Education) and Giles Foden (The Last King of Scotland) — works with CAA and Rabineau Wachter Sanford Gillett in Los Angeles putting projects together.

The more you can do to help the sale, the better, added Briggs, who pointed out that screenwriters are converting unsold screenplays such as 30 Days of Night into graphic novels. You must do anything you can to help executives see the finished movie, he stressed.

Kraitt added, “What’s changed over the past few years is that studios are looking for sure-fire hits, properties which already have an audience built in.”

What this means is that nobody’s interested in anything that is not high concept. And it’s not just Hollywood that is being cautious. European financiers are only looking for high-concept movies too. “In Europe it may not be high budget, but it’s still high concept,” said Briggs, who recently worked on Forever Man with Stan Lee for The Robert Evans Company. Questioned as to what he meant by “high concept” – the term is not as familiar over here as it is in the States – Briggs grinned and said, “Whorishly commercial.”

Briggs, who is working with the estate of original King Kong director Merian C Cooper on prequel Kong: King of Skull Island, said it seems as if sometimes the industry is putting up its own barriers to success. Take sales agents’ insistence that they will only put money into your film providing a certain actor is attached, for example. Both panellists argued these lists of who’s bankable or not have become a fetish. “There are only two British male stars who are bankable,” said Kraitt. “And they are Clive Owen and Daniel Craig.”