September 3, 2013

Does Your Script Meet The Criteria for a Greenlight?

In what stage of the screenwriting process are you? Are you right at the beginning, wildly jotting down an idea on a napkin, or are you finishing up your final (hopefully) rewrite? Regardless of where you are, have you, or are you considering whether or not your screenplay is has the elements financiers are looking for? MovieMaker Magazine has provided a list of script criteria commonly desired by investors, offered so you can potentially avoid writing a great, but unsellable screenplay.

Now, I always pause a little bit when I see lists like this, because not everybody wants to cater their art to the tastes of others. But, this list is just good practice, especially if you've just started screenwriting. Let me mention, there are no hard and fast rules for -- anything really, but especially for creative endeavors like writing scripts, but I've selected a few suggestions from MovieMaker's article that I think will help you make your screenplays better, as well as more appealing toward buyers.

Know Your Genre

Again, no hard and fast rules, but there are definitely cinematic conventions that audiences are used to watching, and therefore expect to see on the screen. Investors aren't known to be huge risk-takers, so they tend to shy away from scripts that defy conventions, even if they do so successfully! Even if you're wanting to produce your own script, learning what's typical in your genre will arm you with the knowledge to either follow the rules or break them skillfully. MovieMaker says:

Investors aren’t looking to give you money—they’re looking to make it. So they want to know that you’ve got something marketable, something audiences want to see. Different genres have clearly defined fan bases and proven track records. Investors know what to expect with specific genres, both in terms of the story and audience appeal.

The Three Cs

script

"Character, challenge, and change." Those are the Three Cs. In my opinion, this is one of the most important aspects of storytelling, because you're dealing with something that will guide your audience through the narrative on a psychological and emotional level. If the viewer doesn't make a connection to your character(s), then they won't make one with your film.

An audience must know with whom they are going to spend the next two hours—whose mind they are going to enter. Therefore it is necessary to set up who the protagonist is, what he or she must overcome and in the end show how the challenge has changed the character. All too often a writer will play the plot and not the characters. But it is the characters that audiences relate to, root for and connect with; it is the characters that serve as our surrogates and our guides into the world we enter.

"Castability"

This is one of those considerations I dream of making; does my screenplay have "castability?" This is something buyers will definitely be looking for in your script, but the point MovieMaker brings up is a good one whether or not you're looking to get it bought: if your story is engaging and interesting, and the characters you've written are complex and multi-dimensional, then actors will want to play in your movie.

What gives a script “castability?” It can be one or many things—a compelling story, rich and multi-dimensional characters, fabulous dialogue or even just one amazing scene packed with emotion and intensity. Different things will appeal to different actors, but the better developed each character is, the better the chance an actor will want to play it. One thing to do is to think about a specific actor you admire and what kinds of roles he or she might be itching to play.

To read the full list, check out the MovieMaker Magazine article here.

What do you think of the list? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Script Criteria Checklist -- MovieMaker Magazine

Your Comment

13 Comments

Good read. I completely agree...

September 3, 2013 at 2:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I'm currently a week away from principal photography and STILL writing my...uhh, what draft was it again?.... And that's after a 2nd writer jumped on board. Long story short, all of said rewrites worked towards accomplishing MM's list. They quite honestly handed their readers the holy grail of commercially appealing script approach.

I was unsure about moving Forward with a certain draft of the script as I felt it was moving into cookie cutter land... You know, the 'just like every other xyz film' until my old producing mentor set me straight. Embrace the hell out of genre and play within the lines. All the greats do it, it's all about what you do between those lines. It's much like painters that 'break the rules' and paint abstract because they're ooohhhhhh so artsy... Yet they dont have the control and discipline to draw still life or paint realistic photos that the ordinary person can criticize. Learn genre, master it and you can make a film that pushes it so far that it seems entirely original. blade runner, anyone?

Castability is another great point. We had a tentative pass from an individual that felt the script was too misogynistic for their client.... Until a savvy producer on the project explained that every gender ends up killed or bound in a HORROR movie. But besides the gender politics the actress had a point, her character just didn't do enough to warrant interest, and in this case she was right, she was an accessory. So we rewrote a more rounded character with intent and cause.

Tone is a massive hurdle. Writing a black comedy? Don't make it too dark or its not funny, but don't make it too funny or its not dark... Shudder... Tow the line carefully Nd you can come out in the clear, but how many of us can finesse said genre and tone like Todd Solondz?

Here's a pro tip. Don't write on an IPad. I'm working in another city and only brought an iPad for script changes. What a dumb move. Lol

September 3, 2013 at 2:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

A writer, IMO, can't be truly objective about his own work. - "I wrote this. Therefore it is great!".
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A far more compelling criterion would be to compare own scripts with the already produced work of high caliber. "Is this as good as ... "Godfather"? "As good as it gets"? "Bridesmaids"? "The Descendants"? Yes? No? Just pick a script in your genre and rate it.".
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OK, mine rom-com is slightly better than "Something's got to give". I give Nancy Myers a 7. I give myself an 8. And my best script a "10". So, maybe it is ready to be green lit.

September 3, 2013 at 6:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I can't take your comment serious because you put Bridesmaids in the same sentence as The Godfather. You lost me after that.

September 5, 2013 at 6:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gregory Hooker

Hate to burst the bubble of the title of this article but no film gets green lit based just on script, but maybe that's not what is being said here.

As an ex-development person I've seen many scripts which were definitely not ready go into green light for other reasons. Casting, financial schedule, merchandising and tie in deals are often bigger things when it comes to making the cascade of contracts fall into place to get to first day of principal photography. Agreed that a great script will kick pay or play deals into run with the right cast but again even then the script can be quite flawed at that point. There is always this idea kicking around the partners and players that "We'll fix the script before we shoot". Hence the terrible gamut of rewrites and multiple writers one gets beforehand, often making the script lose what was interesting about it in the first place, an individual's point of view.

September 4, 2013 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jPS

A more detailed checklist of what readers in Hollywood look out for is in this article here. I submitted this, partly altered by me and others along the way and was published in a UK magazine called Scriptwriter.

http://www.jengovey.co.uk/screenwriters_friend/script_readers_checklist....

September 4, 2013 at 1:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jPS

That's a good list, thanks for posting it.

September 5, 2013 at 6:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Artemis Jaen

I would quibble with a few "technical" points there but I think it's an excellent summary. However, I'll point out that the various criteria listed there have to be derived more or less subconsciously. In other words, you don't write according to the criteria. The criteria have to satisfied because the script gets there naturally.
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Thanks for the link (, Jonathan?). I will forward it to others.

September 4, 2013 at 6:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

One related question is: what do you do if you have a script that reads well, has plenty of stuff that pokes you in the brain going on, compelling but off-beam subject and a bizarre twist at the end, but that otherwise doesn't really fit the standard model for a script? Do you keep beating on it until it fits a perfect 'Save the Cat' pattern, or leave it be?

The thing I'm thinking here is that a low-to-no budget indie that's trying to look and feel like a Hollywood production has a pretty much zero chance of getting anywhere. What seems to work are quirky films that Hollywood would never have made. The interesting question here is, can you make a quirky brainpoking movie from a more conventionally structured script? Is it better to *not* beat too hard on the script so it still has some teeth left? Since there is such a slight chance of any indie hitting, is it actually a better bet to go for broke and eschew convention?

I'm not advocating avoiding rewriting -- far from it, this is probably way harder to pull off anyway, and there are plenty of things that can be wrong with a script that any script would benefit from having fixed.

PS: I would not recommend taking this to the extreme of making a zombie movie without any gore, where the zombie virus is passed on by the vector of libertarianism. Tried that, seemed like a good idea at the time, but... ;-)

September 5, 2013 at 7:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Artemis Jaen

Artemis, I wouldn't want anyone to write to formula in indy or Hollywood mode, it's just that Hollywood has a different set of pressures applied to it. Funding lower budgeted movies means you can take greater risks if the money people think you have a chance of standing out in an over filled marketplace but often you find investors that think the Hollywood mode should be applied there to and that's a real struggle. It's just that a lot of investors do not understand story. If you ever find one who does they are pure gold.

September 5, 2013 at 11:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jPS

DLD, I agree. It's a readers checklist not a writers. But if you can take a step away from your own work (hard I know) and read it like you were a Hollywood reader then I think it can serve.

Jonathon

September 5, 2013 at 11:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jPS

As an author I've also devcosired book trailers as a way of introducing my latest book at talks but also on my website as an additional resource with the notes and playscripts etc and how- the- book- was -written -articles. My publisher IP Kidz developed the book trailer for Plato the Platytpus Plumber(part-time) and obviously it is easier to create a trailer for a picture book. The challenge is not to use too much, so the readers will actually visit the bookBut with our YA novel f2m;the boy within' because the gender transitioning subject was potentially controversial, Ryan Kennedy , my co-author who is also an IT expert in his day job, used text and graphics based content rather than photos. Getting wit into a short book trailer is also important. He did it. My next challenge is to learn the technical side

March 18, 2014 at 3:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Wondering about such stupidities is exactly why Hollywood movies are so bad and look all the same. A true artist just do things.

July 25, 2014 at 3:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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