Every day creative executives are asked whether they’ve read any great film scripts recently. A staggering majority (over 90%) respond in the negative, hence their reluctance to read scripts from unrepresented screenwriters.
Newer writers are advised to develop their most commercial idea and get produced before starting on their small, intimate movie.
What makes certain movie scripts good and stand out from the pile?
A high concept screenplay will generally sell better than a low concept one – an interesting situation that can be summed up on one sentence and can sustain a movie.
A hook will also entice buyers. It can be a unique take on a familiar situation (fresh but familiar), a mystery or unanswered question.
What does the movie poster look like? Can it sum up the theme, tone, genre and feel of the movie? Will it attract an audience?
Ensure there is a predominant genre. Sure there can be overlap into others, but audiences expect a main genre, as do executives. These are action, comedy, thriller and drama.
When writing a spec screenplay, consider why are you writing it and why would someone watch the movie? Do you want to generate buzz for yourself as a screenwriter, or do you want to get it sold? Obviously the most common answer is both, but business reality dictates one or the other.
Avoid simple binary answers such as they need to survive. How about they need to escape to survive but face repercussions from their previous actions when they return home? What is the better of two evils?
Skew the morality of your characters. Add some positive traits such as kindness to your villains and negative ones to your good guys.
Make the stakes relatable to your audiences. Create big universal stakes and themes. Movies are after all, an emotional purchase.
Put the character in a dilemma, where they are forced to make a decision between several bad choices. What do they desperately want and need?
Open big to hook your audience. Remember, a reader is your first audience.
Get your audience invested in your characters in the first ten pages and set up the relevant journey. Be consistent. Set up and pay off.
Create large obstacles rather than inconveniences.
Let the plot develop organically rather than in a contrived or inexplicable manner.
Begin a secondary tension before the precious one has been resolved. Keep several bubbling at once, but not too many so you don’t overwhelm your audience.
Think about how your story unfolds. Is the next story beat an expected one, or have you created an element of surprise?
Make the ending satisfying and inevitable, but not entirely predictable. Audiences shouldn’t feel cheated.
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