Thanks for stopping by the GWN blog. For something a little different, Ann Kimbrough is here to talk about scripts!
It probably comes up wherever screenwriters gather, be it a coffee house or a top-secret bunker for testing high concepts. It’s the perennial screenwriting question – What Sells Scripts?
First, there’s the answer that we all hate: Good Writing. It’s right up there with “we know it when we see it.” I like an answer that actually tells you something you can take and use – even if it hurts. So, here are a few painful words that I’ve heard from producers. Some of these are more about what doesn’t sell scripts, but play along and see which will help you write a script that producers love.
NAGGING SCRIPTS. Don’t send out your screenplay if you have a nagging feeling about any part of the script. One Hollywood producer said, “If you know there’s a weakness in your script, you’ve gotta fix that weakness.” According to him, most writers don’t.
I know what he’s talking about. I’ve had that nagging feeling about a scene. And it’s never gonna be one of those easy to fix problems. No… it’ll be a page-one rewrite. Sigh. Why is good advice so hard to take? I hate good advice, but I run with it.
DERIVATIVE SCRIPTS. I believe this trend came about after everyone said to write screenplays that are like something successful, but with a twist. “You should rip out everything in your script that you’ve seen before,” said one producer. Everything? Hold onto your laptops, he wasn’t the only one. A veteran screenwriter/producer said, “Only the originals are successful. The copies – no. You gotta get there first.”
Holy McKee! Forget the page-one rewrite, now I’m reworking my concept. Of course, there’s a fine line in there somewhere. If you’re breaking into the world of working screenwriter, you will need to write scripts that honor produced films. The trick is being aware of how you are making it different, better. Derivative means same, boring. If you can answer how your script is interesting, you’re on the right track.
GO WITH THE FLOW. This is the advice from top Hollywood screenwriters and one drilled into my head by Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU. He believes that half of screenwriting is the writer’s ability to write a good script, and half — maybe more than half — is the ability to take notes, play the game and deal with human issues.
Wow. Doesn’t the industry know that I spend my days with a laptop, a copy of “Save the Cat” and a zillion mochachinos? I could be lacking a few social skills. But I have learned that if producers like you, they will want to work with you.
DEAL KILLERS. One producing team spelled it out very clearly. “Several things are real deal killers,” they said. “Poor story structure, poor characterization or a writer that is tone deaf to budget.”
That’s good news, even though slightly offensive to the hearing impaired. We can do this one. (We can do all of them, frankly.) Think fewer locations, fewer actors, fewer explosions.
Quick reference for budgets: $60mil and above is the stuff of tent poles and A-list screenwriters. $40mil to $60mil is a lonely area for most films, as it requires financing help. That means your script will need the go-ahead from a village of decision makers. $40mil down to micro-budget is a thriving market. Entry-level work can be found at the $5mil and below range, with the majority of scripts going directly to Netflix or similar. Some do earn a theatrical release. It’s a great area to find work, as the producers are accessible with multiple projects and they pay. At the very least, this is where you can get your first screen credit.
Some other semi-deal killers are scripts that start slow, backstory, voice-over, long third acts and cookie-cutter characters. “I invest in good parts,” one producer said. I’m sure good parts help him attract good actors.
GOOD TITLES SELL. In a world where everything is moving fast and no one has time to listen, this makes a lot of sense. Come up with a title like “Legally Blonde” and you’ll have instant impact. Give them something that is easy to remember, plus shows the story and it’s a pitch in a title. Hard to do? Definitely, but it is worth your time. No matter the budget level, it takes more than one person to make the decision to option your script. If the person you pitch can turn around and pitch a title that interests another decision maker, you’ve made their life easier. Easy makes you look good.
FIRST TEN PAGES. We’ve all heard that very few scripts are read from page one to the end. Sometimes they’ll give you 30 pages, but in reality you only have around ten. It seems rather harsh, but it’s a time issue thing. It’s like a scene from “The Godfather”: It’s not personal, it’s business. Don’t fight it, just embrace it. Your first ten pages need to deliver on your concept. Period. If a producer is reading your script based on a pitch, it’s because they like the concept. If they are reading your script because your mother dated their uncle, you might want to deliver on the concept in five pages or less.
Is your head spinning yet? I recommend a mochachino, and taking the time to filter all the above through your own creative process and elevate your screenplay. A market is out there waiting for you!
Cindy here again!
Thanks for being here Ann. Great advice. At least I know have the good title part down. For some of my scripts anyway. 🙂