Is Your Story Movie Worthy?

There is more to screenwriting than a great screenplay. Does it service a need in the film or TV industry?

There is ample discussion about whether your story concept is actually a feature length movie or better served in another format. Moreover, there is subsequent discussion about whether your novel, short story, blog, poem or other literary form is movie worthy, or adaptable into a movie.

Your screenplay must be big enough for a movie

There are a few issues for screenwriters to consider:

How big is the story idea? Is its universal theme/ premise global enough to sustain a movie-sized audience over a 90 minute time frame? Even smaller festival type films must find their audience. Smaller, more intimate character-driven stories may be more suitable to VOD, cable or terrestrial TV rather than the cinema.

Is your story entertaining? This is the key reason audiences flock to the movies. You need to give audience a reason to leave their homes and buy a movie ticket. If it is more informative, it may be a TV documentary. Dramatic stories do better on TV.

Are there larger than life scenes? Car chases, people falling out of airplanes, thrills and spills that can be enjoyed more on the big screen?

Is there a grand story argument? Do you have a complete story to tell, or are you filming a bunch of scenes and editing them into 90 minutes? A novel can meander from one scene to another, but a film demands a much tighter format. Each scene must progress the story.

If you are exploring multiple intertwining themes, your concept may be more suited to a novel or TV series. Movies can typically sustain one key thematic component that is explored by all the characters.

What is the story scope of the main character? Is their change more internal than external? Can this character arc be displayed on screen rather than verbalized? A novel relies on more subtle, internally nuanced character growth because readers spend more time with the characters. While there is certainly internal growth in movies, it is derived from the main character pursuing an ostensible goal, overcoming external and internal conflict. This may not always be the case with other literary forms. Poems, for instance, are rely more on the expression of feelings rather than motion.

Do the character drive the main action? Are they active protagonists with their choices and decisions affecting the outcome of the story? If you are exploring a theme more than character, your story may not be a movie.

What is the timeline of your story? Movies need a shorter timeline. If it is a multi-generational epic, it may be more suited to a TV series or novel, where more main characters and their stories can be more closely monitored.

If the minutiae of the journey is more important than the outcome, your story may be a novel. Movies need a more definite end point.

Is your story contained within a three act structure? Does it have a set up, main action and satisfying resolution? Even open-ended movies must build up to a logical end. You cannot rely on sequels being made of movies. You also can’t rely on the movie series being screened/watched in order.

TV series rely on cliffhangers before commercial breaks and at the end of an episode to keep audiences coming back.

Movies are generally watched in a single pass compared to books. Books can be more complex because they are often read in chunks rather than in a single pass.

Novels can be richer, use more locations, more characters because they don’t need to be filmed. They can also be more poetic, metaphorical and philosophical. Movies rely on the audience understanding the story through what they see and hear.

The lines between film and TV are being blurred. TV is becoming more cinematic, produced with bigger budgets and bolder stories being told, rather than insipid stories being told based on the whim of advertisers.

While these distinctions are gross separators, it is worthwhile understanding why certain concepts make good movies.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Great article. I guess the one thing I would add is that if the story is too big to properly fit into a two hour block, then the idea is probably a TV mini-series 🙂

    It’s definitely food for thought about a movie having one major theme… I’m wrestling with my script at the moment, and I’m beginning to realise that I’ve packed about three different movies into the one story. Thanks for the article mate 🙂

    1. thanks for reading. how many mini-series are being made lately? is your story a mini-series or three different movies? how easily is one story an extension of the previous one? thanks for reading. JG

      1. You are right. Not so many mini-series lately, which is unfortunate. But, like any genre, if you make something good… “they will come” 🙂
        My scripts overall story is a single movie concept, but within that, there were so many ideas that I wanted to explore, and I tried to explore all of them. But, the only one that resonated with my reading team, was the overall idea. I meant that I should take those ideas, and write other scripts on those themes.
        Loving your blog mate 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to reply 🙂

  2. Larry says:

    I enjoyed reading your screenplay information. I’m in the process of interviewing screenplay writes to
    write s screenplay on my late
    Mother’s life which was quite unique.
    I was suggested to contact a few screenplay
    writers who are not members of the WGA because their fees could be less and more negotiable vs hiring WGA screenplay writer where I believe the minimum is approx
    $37,500. In your opinion what is a resonable fee to discuss with a non WGA screenplay writer? Please send me information when you can. Thank You Larry

    1. Thanks for reaching out. How long is a piece of string? It really depends on the budget of your film. Some producers offer writers 3-5% of the production budget. I’ve heard of cases as low as $3000-$5000 but this was was $50k films. Typical figures I hear are around $10k as a bare minimum. Don’t insult writers by offering $1000 either. Don’t rationalize a low fee by claiming that the director needs to be paid scale, but writers don’t. However, if it’s a no budget film and most of budget goes to equipment etc. the writer may be more amenable to a low fee.

      Here’s a link to the low budget WGA agreements you might find helpful. The writers fee is around $12k for budgets up to $200k.

      Also understand screenwriting is more complex than producers often think. A slight tinker or endless rewrites take time. I hope this helps somewhat.



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