Is Your Script Really Ready For The Market?
by Lenore Wright
For months (or perhaps years) you've channeled passion and energy into finishing your screenplay. You've poured your heart and soul into your characters and their conflicts. You've proofread and spell-checked. You've given it to friends or colleagues whose opinion you respect. And they loved it.
But is your script ready?
Look at it one last time and ask yourself this vital question:
DOES MY SCRIPT SMELL LIKE A MOVIE?
Believe me, producers, agents, directors, stars and film executives know a movie when they've read one. They can smell it. They might not be able to describe why a script smells like a movie, it just does.
My simple six-point checklist will help you develop your own sense of smell. Here it is:
If your script answers the following who-what-where-when-why-how questions; then it probably is ready for market.
1. THE WHO QUESTION - WHO IS THE MOVIE ABOUT?>
This is the first question film professionals will ask. There is only one right answer; the movie had better be about the star's character. Movies usually focus on one character - a hero who must overcome difficult (sometimes impossible) obstacles to pursue what he wants. The audience must be very involved with this hero and his (or her) challenge. If you don't know which of your characters is the star of your movie; then your script is not ready for the Hollywood marketplace. Who is your target audience for this movie? That is the second who question moviemakers will ask as they read your script. Know your target audience. Many movies cross-over to several audience markets, but your script must be able to attract at least one defined movie market.
What are movie markets? Date movies. Chick flicks. Male appeal (action-adventure, disaster). Slackers. Urban audiences. Art house audiences. You can invent you own movie market, just be sure you have one for your script.
2. THE WHAT QUESTION: WHAT GENRE?
Movie writing is genre story telling. Movies are promoted as comedies, dramas, action movies, and so on. Know the genre of your movie. The major ones are: comedy, drama, action, adventure, crime, fantasy, horror, thriller, suspense, war story, mystery, sci-fi, teen comedy, and family movies. Your movie might combine two genres (a romantic-thriller); but if you need three or more genres to describe your script, you need to rethink your story.
Find out what other movies have been made in your genre - the successful ones and the failures. This kind of thinking will help you capitalize on the genre of your movie more successfully. Imagine a poster for your movie. In your mind, put together a trailer to advertise your movie. If you can't do this, ask yourself - why not.
3. THE WHERE QUESTION: YOUR UNIQUE WORLD
A successful movie script should give the reader a distinct (and unique) sense of place - the world of the movie. Art directors, scenic designers, movie directors and cinematographers contribute immensely to the look of a movie. But well-written scripts put their characters in a specific and unique place created by the screenwriters with words.
Insider Tip: Read the scripts of these movies: Manhattan, Norma Rae, Star Wars and Crocodile Dundee. The writers created the unique world of their movie on the page through description, dialogue, sights and sounds, scene choices and choices of location.
4. THE WHEN QUESTION
Is the time period (ERA) of your story established upfront? Cameron Crowe's award winning script for Almost Famous sets up the 1969-America-era quickly and succinctly in a few touching pages. Does the time period of your movie remain consistent throughout the story? Does it enhance or illuminate your story?
Is the time frame of your story clear? If you've written a sweeping epic that covers the Russian Revolution, you must clue us in. If your story depicts one day in the life of a pizza joint in Harlem, don't build an expectation that we're going to explore beyond the borders of your story.
5. THE HOW QUESTION
Movies create their own story-telling rhythm through action, camera techniques, use of music and sound effects, the dialogue and the juxtaposition of scenes. The agents, producers, directors and film executives reading your script - if they are experienced professionals - will have at least a rudimentary ability to sense the rhythm of your movie.
Does the length of your scenes and their positioning support the rhythm of your story? Do your action scenes punctuate or at least illuminate the decisions of your star. Do your descriptions propel us deeper into the story or distract us? Have you used all available tools (not just talk) to let us get close to your hero - action, dialogue, description, sounds, images, humor, gesture.
6. THE WHY QUESTION - TWO PARTS
Why do we care about the main characters in this movie? Why would a director or star spend a year of their lives preparing and making this movie? Why would a movie studio commit tens of millions of dollars to make and promote this movie? And the most important question of all - Why would someone pay $9 to see this movie?
In selling a screenplay, answering the why question is perhaps the most important consideration, though probably the most ephemeral. Why will someone buy your screenplay? Because your script SMELLS like a movie. If you can answer this checklist of questions satisfactorily then your script is ready to go to market.
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About Lenore Wright:
Lenore has over 15 years experience selling scripts and movie pitches to major production houses in Los Angeles and New York including Columbia, Universal, MCM-TV, ABC and CBS. She is the author of the book, How To Break Into The Screenwriting Business
© Lenore Wright, 2002