I was speaking with a client recently who, unnecessarily insecure, joked that I might read her draft and then think it was complete crap and needed to be scrapped completely. But I already knew this wouldn’t be a problem because when she told me the title, I laughed. It’s a super high-concept broad comedy.
The laugh is gold. The laugh lets us both know there is something real there.
Writing is rewriting. It’s a well-worn cliché, and yet is the absolute truth. No writer sits down and squeezes out a shooting draft of a screenplay in a few hours or days. I won’t believe it. There might be that one in a million confluence of events in a writer’s life where they apply years of life experience and world view to a project they write rather quickly, but I would argue that without all of the years that went into passively constructing the material, it would never have come to fruition.
So, no first draft of anything is going to be stellar. It will need work. Hours and hours of rewriting.
But the key in this is the concept. And any script that has at its core a strong concept – a universally resonant emotional story – deserves your blood, sweat and tears. Why? Because without it, the script isn’t going to get to where it needs to be to have its full impact on a reader.
There are projects I’ve read and genuinely wonder why a writer decided to spend so much time working on the script – because, in my personal opinion, the concept wasn’t strong enough to warrant someone spending all that time writing it. Movies are big money projects. A feature film isn’t a poem, it isn’t a folk song, it isn’t a painting. It is a really specific larger-than-life medium that should, in its best form, reflect back to us something about the human experience that is relatable but just far away enough from daily life that we’re in wonder of it. It’s big money, big people, big time, big energy.
So, then, little – well, little doesn’t generally mean feature film. It can if it is executed in a way that elevates it to visual art, but that is the exception and not the rule.
To my mind, any project that doesn’t have some immediate, compelling and universal spark will likely fall into the no-concept category. I especially feel this way about any project that entails a lot of people sitting around chatting in one location (um, why didn’t you write a play?) or projects where the sort-of protagonist floats through their own life, steeped in apathy with no life or death stakes, and things sort of unfold around him but nothing ever really happens.
Concept is king. Go for the laugh. Go for the gasp. Go for the, “Oh my fucking god. Holy shit! No way!” When you get the physiological response coupled with the holy shit, you know you’re golden.