Movie Sequel Making 101

Before making a movie sequel, what’s the first question I should ask?

Who is your target audience? How old were they when the prequels came out? What was the economy like back then (if there’s a noticeable difference)? Also consider whose money they will be spending. In other words, be aware that your target audience may have had a burning reason to see the first movie that is now obsolete.

Back in the day, movies had the option of going straight to video, which meant in order to rent them, you needed access to a car and/or someone with a driver’s license. You could stumble across them at the video store or by channel surfing, but otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be aware that they even existed. You could buy them, but again, before online shopping, this was trickier. Also, in such cases as say, “The Neverending Story,” and “The Karate Kid,” the target audience tended to mature faster than the sequels could be released, as did the young cast members. Even Macaulay Culkin couldn’t escape the python of puberty, and so the third installment of “Home Alone” featured a preteen.

Now, of course, enjoying a recent movie from the comfort of your own home is easier than ever, so there is much less incentive for people to bundle up, get into the car and actually go out and see a movie in the theater. However, if you are making what can be termed a Hot to Trot sequel, and the franchise/series is insanely popular at the moment, you probably don’t have to worry. Ask yourself: Will my target audience skip school/call in sick at work in order to see this? If the answer is yes, you’re golden.

My sequel is part of a series based on a set of popular books, but there’s only three! I’m going to need to come up with an entirely new movie idea soon.

Don’t you hate when authors refuse to take into consideration the difficulties of making money from a potential franchise? Consider asking the author (if he or she is still alive) to write more sequels. Or split the last book into two movies. Also consider suggesting they write a prequel, but this may have its own set of problems.

I want to ask Actor X to be in my sequel, but he just won an Oscar, and all the critics have anointed him the Next Big Thing. He’ll probably laugh in my face.

Don’t be so sure! Oscar winners have a record of following up their prestige piece with something more popular with a less discriminating audience. If you’re having trouble mustering up your courage, think of these two words. “Boat Trip.”

How about adding some celebrity cameos to my sequel?

Good idea but in moderation. Celebrities tend to have a short shelf life. Also, there’s the risk that they will get involved in a scandal, which may not be good publicity for your movie. You may have to cut the cameo or add some kind of follow-up joke. Whether you decide to err on the side of taste depends on the ego of the celebrity, unless they are heading for jail.

How about adding an icon from a former generation to my sequel cast? Maybe so-and-so, if they are still alive?

OK, but keep in mind that if your target audience is younger (or much younger), they a) won’t recognize the icon, b) may do so for the wrong reasons (“Hey, that’s the guy in the cereal commercial!”) and likely c) won’t care one way or the other. If the icon is recognizable by their parents or grandparents, that may be good for a chuckle, but the odds are low, they’ll venture out to the theater for someone who’s only in a few scenes.

Do remember that this individual will likely be singled out by critics if the movie bombs as an object of pity. Critics will say things like, “The only person I felt sorry for was So-and-So having to appear in this mess.” They will be able to walk away unscathed, considered a victim of temporary poor judgment, whereas you yourself might not be so lucky.

Speaking of generation gaps, what about the Nostalgia Factor?

Well, say your sequel is based on a TV show that was popular 20 or more years ago. You’ll have to gamble on the possibility that parents will just make their kids wait until they can stream it. Or that the kids will properly understand the magic of the original, which, let’s face it, kids tend not to. Keep in mind, unless you can get the younger crowd to beg and throw tantrums in order to go see the movie when it’s released, the Nostalgia Factor will only carry you so far.

Any other words of wisdom?

Yes. Keep in mind that the one factor you can’t control is history. If you put in a plot about world domination, plane hijacking, bombs, etc. you can’t guarantee that Something Similar in Real Life won’t coincide with your opening weekend. You will look as if you have incredibly poor taste if this happens, whereas it’s really only a unfortunate coincidence.

What about a kidnapping plot? Would that work?

That’s a safer bet. Of course, someone famous could get kidnapped around opening weekend, but it’s not likely. In the case of a truly tragic coincidence (tragic for your box office figures, that is), it may be better to delay the movie. Sometimes life really does take precedence over art.

Good luck!