Film Producers. Friends or Foes?

If you’re a screenwriter looking for a producer, you must think like a producer. They’re more likely to be your friend that way.

Imagine the life of the film producer who’s looking for new screenplays. Know that 99% (and I’m being generous) of the film scripts submitted are unproduceable for one reason or another. That is why they hire script readers to sort through their “junk mail”.

Think of their mind-set before anyone has read the first word of your script. They are gatekeepers that either pass or recommend your movie script. As a writer, know that your first audience is the reader and you must wow them. Let them experience your story world. Titillate them, move them. Make them feel something.

Think laterally about why people go to the movies. The clue is in the title. They want to be moved! They also want to be entertained, informed, and escape from their everyday lives for a few hours, to experience other cultures and events they know little about, to appear culturally savvy… the list goes on. The upshot is that these are the reasons a film producer want your screenplay. They exist to service a marketplace and so should you, no matter how niche.

Most producers initially request a logline of your screenplay and a short synopsis prior to reading the full script. Some want treatments. Loglines were developed decades ago when television programming execs needed a succinct 1-2 line summary of the program for scheduling and ratings purposes. Today, loglines are a powerful selling tool used to get your movie script read.

Some film executives will not tell you that they don’t read entire movie scripts. They use loglines, synopses and script coverage entirely to market the script, raise finance and attach talent.

Screenwriters only concentrate on creating a blueprint for a film. Producers do so much more. Understand their world and the  business obstacles they face. A psychologist once told me that conflict arises because most people see issues from their own point of view, rather than the other person’s. That’s why psychologists recommend role reversal exercises. Most producers try to be helpful. Some are snakes.

What turns them off, the most? A lack of compelling and interesting ideas! It’s downright BORING!

When pitching to a film producer, you are entering a verbal agreement to give them a great story. Make sure your screenplay delivers the goods. If your concept is boring, ditch it. If there are structural problems, they can be fixed.  Do it before you submit the film script.

Avoid homilies like “next summer’s blockbuster” and “destined to be a hit”. Think who might watch your film outside your immediate circle. Just because something happened to you, or is a true story, it doesn’t automatically make it interesting to read or a great film.

Think of the process as dating. You see hundreds of online profiles of various men and women looking for their “soul mate”. You see hundreds of pictures and a blurb beneath each one. You skip through most of them. A few catch your eye as “hopefuls” and one or two as potential marriage material. Lucky you. You now have choices.

What prompted you to make your decisions? Something about their profile evoked an emotional response in you. Is it chemistry? Is it love? You felt something that you didn’t with the others. You might even receive messages from others wanting to go on a date. Luckier you. Producers receive thousands of script requests each year. They need a filtering mechanism. They can’t consider every request.

Okay, so you’ve got your shortlist of marriage hopefuls and agree to go on a date at the local coffee shop, during the day, where many people are around (in case they are a stalker). You shower, groom yourself, wear something appropriate (desperation is not a sweet smelling perfume) and go on a date. Why? Because you want to make a good impression. You want to make a connection with that person.

Hey, if you’re gonna spend the rest of your life with them, you need to be sure you click! So you have a few flaws. You either get them fixed if you can or live with them. All you can do is be yourself and be the best you can. See the parallels between screenwriters and film producers?

Some dates don’t go well, but you can’t quite pinpoint what went wrong. They were polite and attractive, financially and emotionally mature, considerate, they like similar things to you, but somehow things weren’t quite right. There was no spark, no connection. Don’t worry too much. It’s not you. It’s not them. It happens. You’re still a good person. There are no laws of attraction. All you can do is narrow down the variables as best you can until you find the right movie producer.

The studio system is geared towards highly profitable tent pole or “event” movies, or smaller films that can be made “for a price”. Despite the vicious jungle that typifies Hollywood, know that there is room for every good story with an audience. The journey may be long and fraught with danger, but a good story finds a home.

There is no point complaining about the movie studio system. Chances are you’re not powerful enough to change it anyway. The rules are very different in countries with government sponsored film grant/ loan programs. There are no real stakes and they are often designed to support local screenwriters by keeping them off welfare. There is no assumption that the script may get produced, let alone distributed. If it does, it’s mainly for the festival circuit. The taxpayers who fund these programs are not shareholders who can vote for producers and have a say in which projects get green lit. However, if you’re jiggy with these people who fund film producers, use them.

Government funded films tend to be skewed towards highly personal stories, local parochial stories, auteurs,  arthouse, or simply the nepotistic practices of the administrators of such government programmes. Generally, they fail to make a return on their “investment” because the stories are too small and don’t have widespread appeal.

I recently read that one such fund in the UK was complaining that weren’t receiving sufficient quality submissions, hence their under performing slate at the box office. If your date doesn’t return your calls, it means they didn’t enjoy the experience. Here I go again with the metaphors.

So there you have it. Most producers are your friends and screenwriters are theirs!

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