Q&A: Old Movies and Books as Antecedents

Q: In Selling Your Story In 60 Seconds, you repeatedly stress the value of including antecedents previously successful movies or novels that give agents, editors and producers a better sense of your story. Since people are now watching films from all eras by online streaming and rental DVD, I’d like to use a less recent film, a classic screwball romantic comedy, for example, as an antecedent in marketing my screenplay. Is this too risky? Is Hollywood taking into account this new home viewing data about audience preferences?

A: When you describe your screenplay or novel to others – particularly during a pitch – antecedents are valuable tools for conveying its genre, tone, style and potential market (and its budget if it’s a screenplay). If a classic screwball comedy is truly a classic, and will be recognizable to potential buyers (Bringing Up Baby and Some Like It Hot probably; Arsenic and Old Lace and His Girl Friday not so much), then go ahead and use it. But include another antecedent from the last five years or so as well – one that was also a big commercial success.