Why plays don’t make good movies.

Since I announced I was dipping my toe into the shark-filled movie waters a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten a lot of emails from screenwriters and playwrights asking me to consider adding their script to my slate.  My basket of scripts to read that sits right near my desk is overflowing with stuff that has piqued my interest.

But one thing that concerned me a bit was the number of emails I got from playwrights who said, “I wrote a play. It’d be a great movie!”


But most likely not.

Saying a play would make a great movie is like saying a tennis player would be a great baseball player.  Sure, tennis and baseball are both sports.  Sure, both sports involve swinging something and hitting a ball.  Maybe, there’s some crossover.

But how a tennis player is made is much different than how a baseball player is made.

Plays weren’t designed to be seen on a screen.  They were meant to be experienced live.  They were crafted for that in-your-face-the-actors-just-might-spit-on-you for a few hours, whether the playwright knows it or not.

For example, plays tend to take place in very few locations.  That’s partly a practical issue (it’s overly complicated and super expensive to have multiple sets), but also less moving parts allows the audience to focus on what plays are about . . . people.

Movies, on the other hand, go all over the map, literally . . . especially the big juggernauts.  Movie audiences crave action.  They buy that $12 – $20 ticket for a different rush than the people who buy a $120 – $200 ticket for a Broadway play.

Their different forms communicate differently, so when you forge one into the other, something is going to get lost in the translation.

Just like a tennis player might make a fine baseball player with a ton of training (translated to our world, that means a new writer), but he probably won’t ever go to the hall of fame.

Think August: Osage County, Doubt, Proof . . . all some of the greatest plays that we’ve produced in the last decade or so.  All made movies.  And all fine jobs.  But no where near as successful as the plays.

All of those plays won the Tony Award.  Yet none of them won the Academy Award.  In fact, none were even nominated.

In fact, of all the Tony Award Winning Plays since 1960, only two have gone on to win Best Picture (Amadeus and A Man For All Seasons).

Only SEVEN (including the two above) have even been nominated.

And six of those seven were prior to 1985 (shows you what modern movie audiences want to see, doesn’t it?)

So if you’re a writer or producer with a play, then work on that play.  And if you want to write or produce a movie, start over with something new.  You’ll have a much better chance of success.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.