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Are You Writing the Right Screenplay?

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Most aspiring screenwriters don’t stop to think about what they want a script to accomplish before they start writing it. They get an idea and dive in. And then, very often, they’re disappointed later – when they get stuck halfway through and can’t finish it, or when the script doesn’t get managers interested in working with them, or when it doesn’t entice producers.

When you’re a repped writer, your agent or manager will want you to run your ideas past them before you start writing. They’ll give you input – including vetoing some ideas, offering notes to improve others – because they want you to write something they can sell. And that means really thinking about each potential project and vetting it before you start writing. Because if you spend all your time writing something they can’t sell, you’re wasting their time as well as yours.

What do you want your screenplay to accomplish for you?

Now. Maybe you’re in the “pre-representation” phase of your career. Or simply not concerned with selling a script. (There are other possible script-goals.) Even so, you will save yourself disappointment and heartache by:

1. Figuring out what the purpose of writing a particular script is, and
2. Vetting and honing the project to make sure it can actually fulfill that purpose before you invest your time, blood, sweat, and tears into it.

That’s what a (good) rep would help you do. But what if you don’t have representation right now? Be your own rep. Take yourself through that vetting process. Or team up with a friend and help each other evaluate projects.

What are some possible reasons to write a screenplay?

  • Maybe it’s a learning exercise
  • Or it’s adding a writing sample to your portfolio
  • You want to get repped
  • To produce it independently
  • To option or sell it to a producer / production company

If you can identify what you want the screenplay to accomplish, you can appraise it against that goal. For example:

If it’s a learning exercise:

  • What are you trying to learn?
  • How does this project target that skill?
  • Does this project set you up for a successful learning experience by letting you focus on that one area? (Likely by making sure all other aspects of the project are very sturdy and straightforward.)

For any project you intend others to eventually read and evaluate in some capacity:

  • Is the concept fresh but familiar?
  • Is the story based around a difficult challenge or problem that will take the whole movie to solve?
  • Is the story a transformative experience for at least one character? (Otherwise, why tell it?)
  • Are the stakes high and/or personal? (Otherwise why will we care?)

If you’re trying to sell, produce, or – to some degree – get repped:

  • Who is the target audience for this movie?
  • Is this story something they want to see on a screen?
  • What sets it apart from others that have come before?

If you’re trying to sell your screenplay, also consider:

  • Who are your target buyers?
  • Does this project fit within their general parameters?
  • Is it pitchable?

If you’re trying to produce your movie independently, perhaps also consider:

  • Do you have a budget cap?
  • Do you have existing resources to work around?
  • Will you fund the movie yourself? If not, is anyone financing this sort of project?

If you’re trying to get repped:

  • Does this project match your brand and/or voice?
  • Does it add to and complement your existing portfolio?
  • Would you want to write other projects like this?

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The point I hope you’ll take away is: think about what you want to achieve, and whether your next screenplay will help you get there.

Use your (probably limited) writing time wisely. Because even if you execute a script beautifully, if it’s not aimed at the right target you still may not get the outcome you’re hoping for. As a writer, you’re always sort of the CEO of your own little company. It’s not too early to start thinking about your business with intention and taking the time to “rep yourself”.

ADVANCE YOUR STORY

Write your best screenplay yet. Sign up to get a weekly dose of screenwriting info sent straight to your inbox, plus special resources created just for subscribers.

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