This has got to be the most important thing any aspiring TV or film writer will read all week. Well, it made this TVWriter™ minion’s day anyway:
by the Staff of Scriptshark
Q: What do producers like in a spec script from someone who is unproven?
Analyst: It depends on the level of producer in question. A low level producer, who is most likely working in the genre space, is likely to be looking for a project that’s in a marketable genre, with a reasonable budget, a premise that’s high-concept enough to be clear on a poster, and juicy roles for actors. One very specific casting trick that’s often used on this level is writing in a strong role for an older actor which is peppered throughout the script but only takes place in one location (this allows for stunt casting, where a name actor works only a few days on the film but still seems like they’re in a prominent role).
On the higher studio level, the level of writing has a much higher expectation. Writers are paid a lot more and the expectation is higher by the same degree of difference. A phrase you’ll often hear is “an original voice”. It’s tough to fully understand what that means unless you’ve worked as an assistant to a producer (or produced yourself). It comes from the numbing process of reading thousands of screenplays, the majority of which blend together. It’s like being a movie buff, where you’ve seen so many films that it’s extremely tough for one to surprise you, and when it does, you recapture that feeling of discovery that took you to the movies in the first place. There are plenty of good writers, but great writers have a distinctive voice to their writing that is theirs alone. At the studio level the script has to be so knockout good that it can go out, get the town talking (everyone’s emailing everyone else saying “have you read this?”) and ideally sell in a competitive situation between several studios.
Q: What makes a great script? The elements that make the one that rises above the rest?
Analyst: The “original voice” part mentioned above is very important, because nothing makes a reader tune out faster than reading a scene they’ve gone through a hundred times and watching it play out exactly the same way it always does. Another critical component is the quality and consistency of high conflict and opposition. It seems obvious, but many scripts have low conflict or generic conflict, and don’t truly put their hero through hell, with antagonism that truly tests them to their core. Looking at the recent Mad Max film released this year, it’s a film that seems tough to string out to feature length in theory (it’s essentially one long car chase, with almost no breaks or down time). The reason it works so well is because it’s always crystal clear what the goal is and why there’s opposition to it (we understand why everything is happening and what the stakes are) and the danger is extremely “real” (at each confrontation it seems genuinely plausible that our heroes may be overcome, because the antagonists are truly fearsome). An original script with a compellingly high level of conflict and opposition will always stand out from the rest.