Thursday, December 9, 2010


A checklist for your screenplay:

1. Clearly defined genre. Horror, comedy, western, thriller, etc. Do we know what it is? BTW, drama is a tough sell, as are period pieces or bio pics.

2. Marketable concept. Typically referred to as a "high concept" -- a unique hook. Can we SEE the movie poster? Easily think of a tag line?

3. Is there a clear protagonist? Ensemble pieces are a hard sell. Is the protagonist's flaw evident the first 5 pages? Can we turn to the last 5 pages and see the character's arc -- how the protagonist has changed after going through the trail of your story?

4. Is there a clear antagonist? Not "fate" but a person (you can personify a force -- greed, fear, etc. -- but should be a character in your script). Does the antagonist in some way mirror your protagonist?

5. Does the central emotional response from your genre come through to a reader? If it's a comedy, are we laughing? If it's a thriller, are we on the edge of our seat? If it's horror, did you scare the shit out of us? If not, rewrite.

6. Budget. Two ways to go here: (1) Write big -- big expensive film = better pay day for the writer, though they'd likely replace you if you're new; or (2) go modest budget and you can shop it down the producer food chain and get an actual screen credit. Better usually to think big and rewrite to small.

7. Page count. 115 is the new 120. 95-100 is better for a comedy/horror/thriller -- what you should be writing as a newbie.

8. What's unique? Don't retread something we've seen... but, flipside, can't go too far off the beaten path. Better to take something existing and do your new take.

9. A CLEAR GOAL for the protagonist. Stakes should be high and we should know what your protagonist WANTS.

E.g. TAKEN. Protag wants to find his daughter. Stakes are life and death (her friend is made a drug addict/dies).

500 DAYS OF SUMMER scrambled the chronology of a standard rom com (but stayed within the traditional beats) and had a down ending. Something familiar; something new.

SOURCE CODE. GROUNDHOG DAY-style loop as a thriller. ALL YOU NEED IS KILL. GROUNDHOG DAY-style loop done as sci fi actioner. THE DAYS BEFORE. GROUNDHOG DAY-style loop done as sci fi actioner.

Even something like MALL COP. DIE HARD in a shopping mall with a mall cop protagonist played for laughs. We get it. We got it and went. (All the laughs in the movie were in the trailer unfortunately. But... it made a bundle.)

So ask yourself, "Is it a movie?"

Would you plop down $12 or even $1 at Red Box to watch the film version of this screenplay?

Feel free to post your logline here and tell us why it's a movie, or add to this list of factors to consider.


  1. Did Ron Aberdeen guest write this column?

  2. Ha. Ron's done a number of posts on his blog. This information is "out there" if you read enough books, visit boards, and was something I provided to my online workshop. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Also if you want to get your name out there you can write a simple story with something new. Have the film use and take place in settings you and a director have access to everyday. You live in an apartment and he lives in a house. You work in an office that you can access at night. Write the story with those locations with a few exteriors that aren't complicated. Make the film on a shoestring budget and go to festivals and you then spread your name to eventually get the big film sold.