Screenwriting is such a personal pursuit for screenwriters. Opening our hearts and minds and exposing our innermost thoughts to the scrutiny of audiences. Apart from a structurally sound story, what makes on screenplay resonate with one film producer or script reader more than another?
All movie producers have the same inbuilt emotions and should track a character arc in much the same way. Right? Not quite.
Emotions Are Not Hard Wired
Psychologists and neuroscientists have stated that most of our complex emotions are created based on our life experiences and subsequent learned neural pathways. As such, our emotional responses can also be unlearned and modified. Apart from a few basic physiological responses still controlled by our lizard brains and biochemical stimuli to keep us safe, fed and alive, emotions are far more under our control than we think.
Put another way, the emotions that influence our filmic tastes are neither innate, nor fixed. Personal tastes are largely dictated by social environments and life experiences. They are also fluid, so a script reader may like a movie script in the first reading, but respond differently it after a subsequent reading further down the track.
In the case of film producers, the emotional processes dictating what screenplays they like, are significantly based on market parameters. Their ‘tastes’ are driven by what types of stories recently performed well at the box office. That said, audience box office can’t always be predicted with surgical precision. Even a functional and well-structured screenplay can’t guarantee a successful movie.
Therefore, film producers must also rely on their instinct regarding an engaging screenplay based on their combined life experiences.
Every film producer has their own perception of the story world, the morality of the characters and an interest/ or disinterest in the thematic material based on their life experiences. A life experience doesn’t need to be first hand or even physical . It can be second or third hand, or purely fantastical. Either way, a screenplay needs to have some relevance to past, present or future life events.
Film producer connection is similar. They select the material to read based on their current interest and values. For instance, are they interested in political scandals, female protagonists or a specific genre at this point in time?
Interest in a screenplay has a deeper meaning than what they like. Screenwriters should ask themselves the underlying experiences these producers have had to engage with certain types of stories. Using these examples, do they have a vested interest in politics? Did they run for office? Did they win or lose? What were the circumstances of them leaving office? Drilling deeper, writers should also ask if these life experiences brought pleasure or pain to them? Are they confronting or avoiding an underlying trauma?
It’s convenient, but foolish to dismiss film producers as dispassionate business people who only want to produce films that perform exceptionally well at the box office. Although business considerations are important, few movie producers will invest years of their time shepherding a screenplay through its development stages and eventually into production and distribution. Most producers want to see a solid story on the screen.
This relates to the overall feelings evoked in a screenplay. This needn’t always be a well defined judgment of good or bad, but rather a gut feeling that screenplay has affected the script reader in a profound way. Even if there are issues with a movie script, a lingering feeling or sense that a screenplay can make a good film, will bond with an audience.
If you have access to imdb or read Rotten Tomatoes, examine the reviews of several films. Rather than simply looking at the average score, look at the range. Then read the comments of the highest and lowest ratings to see how they responded to various elements of a movie.
Once a story selection is made, a film producer (or their script readers) track the characters and plot. A significant part of their engagement mechanism relies on movie producers anticipating and guessing what comes next? This in turn activates their emotions such as happiness, sadness, excitement and fear.
The guesswork is part of our neuroplasticity mechanisms- the ability for our neurons to create , modify and store memories via fact-based (logic) and perceived (emotion-based) data. The engagement process involves comparing the anticipation of story outcomes with their guesses.