I just got through another big push of scripts. There were a handful of recommends, but overall many of them were dismal. When writing, just get the words down on the page. Get through that first draft. But, then rewrite. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
As you get closer to the time you’re going to send your script out, you should be able to put on your “business hat” and evaluate the script from the reader’s perspective. You must be able to divorce yourself on some level from what you’ve written and look at it from the reader’s perspective – at least enough to see if you’ve hit all of the major components. That was part of my impetus for starting this blog – you can find all of the essential elements here, and if your script isn’t hitting the essential elements, then don’t send it out. Rewrite more before you do. You will thank yourself later on.
Looking at material from the reader’s perspective involves several main elements, all of which I go into more in these blog articles, but absolutely critical are the following:
Defined protagonist with proper introduction
The likability of your characters
Hitting the first 5 pages hard
Hitting story hard
Subject matter worthy of a movie (i.e., millions of dollars and millions of viewers)
Upping the stakes
Budget and subject matter
Quality of B stories
Hitting the genre conventions
Am I laughing and crying?
Who is going to go see this story in the theatre and how much are they going to pay to do it
I am reading many scripts that just don’t have the right dramatic, cinematic premise, and beyond that they are very poorly executed. If you don’t have a premise that is fundamentally cinematic, then you must work twice as hard to execute it in a way that is compelling. For example, an action thriller will likely be more fundamentally cinematic than a very small indie character drama with little or no plotting. In the thriller, at least the scenes should be weaving some kind of basic thrilling story. However, in the character drama, it is the characters and their choices that will drive the plot – so if the basic character isn’t warranting of this level of interest from the reader, then that script will have an incredibly difficult time getting off the ground.
You could look at it this way – part of your job is trying to outsmart me, the reader. Your job is to keep me interested enough to turn the page – which means every single page, scene or sequence had better have very clean beats and be damned interesting – and you want to dangle enough of a carrot that I want to reach for it. If you dangle the carrot and I reach for it, I will keep reading. If I don’t see any carrot to reach for, then I will be bored and wondering what the hell is going on.
My Main Gripes: Don’t Fall Victim!
The Sooner the Better
Story starts with the inciting incident. ON PAGE 5. My main gripe in this last pass of scripts is that many of them don’t get into the meat of story until around page 40. Page 40 is already almost an HOUR into your movie. Look, no movie is going to get made that has nothing happening in terms of story for an hour, and NO reader is going to invest enough in that story to care. You need to be hitting story hard by page 5. If you don’t have a whole world thoroughly painted by page 5, you’re already up shit creek. No, no, no. NO.
Subject Matter and Dramatic Premise
You need to find subject matter that is fundamentally dramatic. I took the time to post something on The 36 Dramatic Situations because SO many of the scripts I’m reading – in particular small precious little indie character dramas – don’t have ANY dramatic situation at all. You need to choose one or more of these situations and work on a story with some fundamental dramatic conflict at its heart. If you think you have an idea for a movie that doesn’t clearly speak to one of these dramatic situations, then it’s likely you don’t have a story. In this last pass, I read many, many scripts that didn’t have a story. The scripts began with a very loose notion of a light dramatic premise but never crafted anything beyond that. Story must be carefully crafted around a protagonist who undergoes a journey within a dramatic situation, and then that story must be carefully, painstakingly built around your Six Beats. If you’re not doing that, then you likely don’t have enough story to justify a feature screenplay.
Hero: Think Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie
I’m not a huge one for clichés, but really, this one I think serves the point. We are making MOVIES here. Or, writing the blueprint for one, anyway. Your protagonist must be LIKABLE. I have to want to watch that person. If you are writing a story about a consummate loser who makes loser choices and makes me want to rip my hair out because I am so annoyed, why would anyone want to watch that movie? There is an adage that we should be writing characters for A list actors, and now I understand why. Brad Pitt would never, ever in a million years be interested in that part. Brad Pitt plays really interesting and quirky characters. So, write something that at the end of the day an A list star would WANT to play! If you look at your script and think that Brad or Angelina wouldn’t be interested, then on some level you haven’t done your homework – because great stars want great roles. Write great roles. GREAT ones. If your characters are simply mediocre, then there likely isn’t enough in the script to support the journey.