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5 Reasons You Should Write a Sports Biopic Like 'Clipped'

June 11, 2024
7 min read time

Clipped is a sports drama that’s been causing quite a buzz. 

Created by Gina Welch and based on the ESPN 30 for 30 podcasts The Sterling Affairs, the miniseries premiered last week on FX on Hulu. It focuses on the downfall of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA after racist comments from him were made available to the public. The series also follows coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers’ championship pursuit as all of the drama and controversy caused by their owner is transpiring.   

Sports biopics have always been popular in the screenwriting marketplace, but there have been more and more like Clipped that have focused on a behind-the-scenes scandal (Foxcatcher; I, Tonya) in recent years. This aligns with a trend towards darker content in general and more complicated and challenging biopics.

Traditionally an inspirational genre, even sports biopics follow the above trends: Clipped is a great example of a modern approach to a sports biopic, and there’ll be more films and TV shows like it in the future.

Below are five reasons you should consider writing a sports biopic like Clipped.

People Love Sports Content

It’s been estimated that “57% of Americans watch sports at least once a week” and the percentage is even higher in other countries (in Latin America it’s a whopping 90%!). It’s also been estimated that “85% of internet users say they regularly watch at least one sport online or on TV.” So, globally speaking, sports are a content powerhouse eclipsing pretty much all other forms of entertainment. 

Although this doesn’t necessarily carry over to narrative films and TV series about sports, it’s not a stretch to assume that with people loving sports so much, they’d likewise love most things sports-related. The fact that Hollywood keeps producing films, TV series, and documentaries about sports would lead you to believe there is a definite interest. No doubt, this helped a series like Clipped get greenlit.

Read More: Sports Action: How to Write That Game Winning Play

People Love a Juicy Scandal

In addition to loving sports, people love a juicy scandal: reflected by the persistence of tabloid publications and programs in our cultural landscape (including controversial “clickbait” articles on the internet). Although this isn’t one of the most commendable traits of human society, it’s an undeniable one and it carries over into everything from politics to celebrity comments leading to the latest controversy.

However, just because your script uses a real-life scandal, doesn’t mean there isn’t any social value. For example, the primary scandal focused on in Clipped (Donald Sterling’s racist remarks being recorded and leaked to the public) can potentially open up a dialogue about race and privilege. Many scandals involving public figures allow us to look at our shortcomings as a society (just like any topical subject matter you’re tackling).

Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers on the basketball court in 'Clipped'

A Perfect Mix of Conflict and Competition

One of the most important elements to have in a sellable script is conflict. Regardless of the genre, the more conflict you have in your script, the more opportunities there are for compelling and dramatic situations. When dealing with a real-life scandal or controversy like Clipped does, you’ll have no shortage of conflict in your script. 

And if it’s also a sports drama, you have the element of a competition or contest: another thing people respond to when reading a script or watching a film or TV series. It’s the same reason so many of us are drawn to sports. The anticipation and excitement over seeing who wins is intoxicating: it’s the promise of an extreme high if your team wins or disappointment if they lose. The drama that occurs during a sporting event is arguably the greatest drama of all.

By its very nature, a sports biopic—especially one with a lot of behind-the-scenes drama—is a perfect mix of conflict and competition. For example, in Clipped in addition to the Donald Sterling scandal (involving both his racist comments and an extramarital affair), there’s the basketball plotline in which coach Doc Drivers and the Clippers are striving to win a championship amid all of the controversy. On and off the court, there’s plenty of drama playing out.

Read More: How to Build Tension and Suspense in Screenplays

Lots of Dueling Personalities

Clipped also features a strong cast of characters: all of which have dueling personalities. The Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and coach Doc Drivers are the main focus, but there’s also Shelly Sterling (Donald Sterling’s wife and Clippers’ co-owner), V. Stiviano (the younger woman Donald Sterling is having an affair with and who records his comments) and the various players on the Clippers. A sports team in itself has lots of dueling personalities and competing agendas (just like any group of people forced to work together).

Sports biopics like Clipped offer many strong roles for actors and, as I’ve written about in past articles, many scripts get sold and produced based on the attachment of bankable talent. And the more strong roles you have in your script, the more actors will want to play them. Talent agents are well aware of this and if they read a script with a lot of great roles in it, they’ll see it as something they can package (i.e., attach multiple clients they represent to a project).

Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers and Ed O'Neill as Donald Sterling fighting in the Clippers locker room in 'Clipped'

It’s an Established Marketplace Trend

Although traditionally inspirational stories like King Richard still get produced, in recent years it’s been the sports biopics involving scandals that have been particularly hot in the screenwriting marketplace. From I, Tonya to Clipped, these stories have been selling and getting produced, so it’s an established marketplace trend.

Whether you’re an aspiring or veteran screenwriter, it benefits you to be able to adapt to the latest marketplace trends. Not only will it increase your chances of success in the film and television industry, it can lead to you growing as a writer and help you stay in screenwriting shape. 

So even if you’ve never written a sports biopic like Clipped, maybe it’s time to open yourself up to the idea and expand your craft!

Read More: 4 Things ‘The Acolyte’ Can Teach You About Screenwriting

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