Back from holiday, I’ve been thinking about a massive underpublicised reason why far too many writers don’t sell.

If you’re a writer, then you want to sell your script. And of course that means audience appeal.

Writers for film and TV often try hard to appeal to as large an audience as possible, but if you do this wrong you can kill your chances entirely. The worst place to be is the position known as being “on the bridge.”

Let me explain what this means.

First, I need to help you define your audience in finance and distribution terms. While there are many audiences for different genres – when it comes to money there are essentially just two markets: mainstream and other!

Mainstream essentially means multiplex (for cinema) or prime-time prime channel (for TV).

Anything else is what used to be called “arthouse” – although the industry shies away from the term nowadays, so for arthouse you’ll read “specialist”, “independent” or “niche”.

Means the same thing. It means movies that get shown in small independent cinemas (and occasionally on a small screen in a multiplex) and any TV that doesn’t appear on prime evening slots on the main networks.

In Britain, mainstream TV means BBC1 or ITV mid-evening. Any other time or place, 4pm or 11pm or 3am, or BBC2, Channel 4, cable or satellite, it’s all indie/specialist/niche.

Now the problem is that the two don’t mix. A script that has a bit of mainstream and a bit of indie but doesn’t hack it in either market will fail, however brilliant the writing. It’s stuck on the bridge between the two markets with nowhere to go.

I know – I’ve been there and done it and I can tell you, it’s the fastest way not to sell your script.

So, what to do?

If you are writing for the multiplexes or prime TV slots, you have to know what they need for their audiences – big characters that will attract big stars, large themes, broad emotions, special effects, etc.

But if you are not, then you are writing for independent/specialist film or TV, and so you have to understand what they need too. And that doesn’t mean just writing a mainstream that’s not good enough for the mainstream!! The indie market has very specific needs of its own that you need to know off by heart.

Talk to friends.

What is it that they look for in a particular movie or TV programme?

Read the listings, newspapers, reviews, publicity articles.

What values do they highlight? What seems to be important in relation to each project?

Read the scripts, go to the movies, watch the TV programmes.

What is the audience switching on for?

Too many writers seem to think that indie/low-budget stories are simply stories that they couldn’t sell to the big boys. This could hardly be further from the truth.

You’ll notice that indie audiences look for films and TV with a very special flavour. Often more abrasive, in-your-face. They want edgier themes, unusual styles, riskier ideas. Or they may respond to comedy coming from an unexpected place. Characters will be quirkier, more acutely observed and unusual. Indie movie audiences care less about star actors, but they do look for star directors, so you need to think what kind of story that implies.

Now go and look at your own script.

How does it measure up? Are you stuck on the bridge? Are there some tweaks you could give it, some sharpening of the ideas, twists in the setting, more edge to the characters…?

Often the difference between a script that sells and one that doesn’t comes down to this kind of focusing and polish.

Either way – get off that bridge!