The entertainment industry around the globe is awash in feature film scripts and television pilots, and breaking through the noise is exceedingly difficult. It requires a level of creativity and craft-control to reach the top 15% of all writers; anything below that is the dark sea of mediocrity.
And we’ve all been there.
No one can coach you on creativity (plus the old maxim there’s no accounting for taste has never been more accurate), however, you can get your craft rock-solid. Here are four points to help you on that journey.
I can’t recall exactly where I came across this extra-important Four Points (so forgive me for the lack of attribution), they’re important to read, digest, then re-read, and then run a dozen scripts of movies you love or don’t even know of through a grinder to test that they all have these four elements.
1 – IS THERE A REAL HOOK
The most common error one will see in the crucial First Ten Pages of a script is that there’s no hook or the hook wasn’t strong enough. A hook is a unique premise that grabs hold of the reader and compels them to continue reading your work. It’s not just a premise — it’s a grab ’em by the throat premise (as Billy Wilder would always say). A commercial premise; even the small, indie film has to have this element because you won’t command any investment if that’s not apparent early on.
2 – DO I CARE?
Writing sins are sequential, so number one funnels right into number two. Your premise might be singular and ignite the reader’s imagination, but is it constructed in a way that makes us care?
3 – DOES THE WRITER UNDERSTAND THE CRAFT?
Is your screenplay free of typos, grammatical problems, and formatted to industry standards? If not (why the hell isn’t it?!) then that’s a HUGE red flag and the person reading your script is now suspicious. If the writer can’t be bothered to correct these minor problems, can the reader count on you to come through with a rewrite? Can he or she even depend on you to deliver on your premise? See, the specter of suspicion is so easy to raise and hard to exorcise. Readers want proof that you can follow through, and an error-filled screenplay indicates that you can’t or, even worse, just won’t be bothered. You’re trying to trigger a $50m to $100m spend based on your written work. Do you now get a sense of the gravity at stake?
4 – DOES THE WRITER UNDERSTAND THE INDUSTRY?
How many pages is your script? A reader knows immediately once they open up your PDF. Is the act structure right? He or she (more likely she, too) will know in the Crucial First Ten pages. Does your title page have the expected information? Not enough info? Adding things to attempt to make your screenplay appear more professional? There are dozens of details an amateur writer can get wrong if they don’t take the time to know how the industry works and what a pro’s script looks like; aesthetics are important! A writer that doesn’t understand the industry means a tremendous amount of extra work for an executive, and they inherently don’t like to read (but they want to be told a good story), so you’re erecting an unnecessary barrier for them to enjoy your script.