20. Allan Quatermain

This character is the hero of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines and its sequels. The whole series spans 50 years of Quatermain’s life, from the ages of 18 to 68. At the beginning of the original novel King Solomon’s Mines, he has just turned 55, so the novels clearly jump back and forth in time. His one true skill is his marksmanship, where he has no equal.

The novels are full of action, adventure, and are often considered the first of the Lost World genre. The character was also a template for Indiana Jones.

If there was ever a single character most ripe for the cinematic picking, Quatermain would be him. While he has been adapted for television and film—played by the likes of Richard Chamberlain, John Colicos, Sean Connery, Cedric Hardwicke, Patrick Swayze, and Stewart Granger—it’s been well over a decade since the character has been notably deployed.

These 20 picks are just from the literary properties found within the public domain. And there are many, many more beyond what we’ve listed.

Films and television characters are also available—most of Charlie Chaplin’s films (including his iconic Tramp character) are in the public domain. Night of the Living Dead was never technically under U.S. copyright, due to an editing-room mistake that removed the film’s copyright label along with its original Night of the Flesh-Eaters title. Because of this, flesh-eating zombies became a genre in later years that is wide open for the taking. Even the characters of that original film could be used for a contemporary installment.

Other properties that aren’t applicable to copyright—thus readily available for you to “adapt”—including those found in various religious bibles and doctrines, Norse mythology, Greek mythology, and Chinese mythology to name a few.

William Shakespeare’s stories and characters are also all available to adapt, twist, and turn to your liking, allowing you to name drop them as your intellectual property.

Historical figures like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Pat Garret, and an endless barrage of more were featured in the dime novels of the Wild West. All of which are open for your own creative interpretation.

Not every script that you write has to incorporate intellectual property. We all know that Hollywood is in need of original stories and screenwriters can help Hollywood in that respect by doing their best to conjure them. But when it comes down to reality, having a script or two based on intellectual property that you have the right to use, increases your chances of getting your original interpretation of that property noticed—and maybe purchased and produced.

When we interviewed Jason Fuchs, the writer behind Pan, he told the story of being in a studio meeting for another screenplay. They asked him, “If you could write anything next, what would it be?”  He quickly mentioned Peter Pan. He had no script written, just an idea that he had floating around in his head for years. He had pitched it to other studios to no avail. When he pitched it to this executive, she quickly said, “Oh, we’ll do that.”

Fuchs stated, “A script that I pitched at the beginning of summer 2013, was suddenly beginning principal photography in the last week of April, 2014.”

And this happened largely in part because the material was based on one of the most renowned and recognizable intellectual properties—Peter Pan.

So continue to write your original ideas, but consider taking some time to explore some of those properties in the public domain. Perhaps you can create a hybrid of originality mixed in with a story and character that audiences—and those in Hollywood—are already familiar with. MM

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This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraftScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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