Learning how to define the premise of a movie or TV show is a critical skill when you write, pitch or even just talk about projects. But it's not as easy as you'd think.
Film and television are all about communication. You want the audience to understand the purpose and drive behind what you're doing. Even before that, you want executives and buyers to believe in the premise enough to purchase it. But here's the hard part: You can't JUST communicate the premise.
You have to communicate a premise so well that people need more.
Luckily we're here to help you get a handle on this. And the first really basic step forward?
Recognizing that the premise should excite you enough that you can't wait to get to writing, or better yet, to get to the theater to see this finished product!
But before we get into all that, I need to take you through the basics of the premise, get the definition, and look at a few examples.
Super basics to start: the premise of a screenplay for a movie or TV show is the driving force behind why everything happens on screen. This refers to the motive or goal of the story.
And remember... stories are all built around goals. So the premise is really the beating heart of your story.
Take a look at the infographic below, which gives you some ways yo structure your premise when you're speaking about your movie or TV show.
When would I use a screenplay premise?
You use the premise in pitches or to write your loglines or even in treatments or other documents you're sending out to sell. If you have an elevator pitch, you want to describe the premise as fast and alluring as you can to generate interest in the project.
How do you define the premise of a story?
Another way to approach the concept ties closely in with the genre of your work.
If you're familiar with Blake Snyder, then you must know the concept of the "Promise of the premise."
Audiences come to the movies and turn on their tv for entertainment. They choose what to watch based on a premise that seems enticing to them.
In our Beat Sheet, we explain that the premise must define why anyone would ever want to read or watch your work.
"Why would butts be in seats to watch your movie? What are those trailer moments that draw the crowds? This is where it shines! But I think we do need a series of scenes that really give people those trailer moments. If you went to an action movie, you'd want to see huge set pieces. If you went to rom-com, you want to see people falling in love. And if you went to a horror movie, you want the kills."
So if you're defining the premise of your screenplay, first clue us in on the genre of the story. Once we have the genre, we have a list of expectations. Then pick the highlights of your synopsis, what are the moments in which the premise shines?
Let's take a look at a few examples to get it right.
Premise Examples in Movies and TV
Okay, first things first, we don't have *official* premises for the following movies and TV shows, but I did my best to describe them for you so you can take notes. These will be pretty close to loglines. But the idea here is that you can get at understanding what makes these stories tick. And it'll help you recognize what makes your story tick. Or what doesn't...
A high school teacher stricken in cancer has to resort to cooking meth to pay for his ongoing medical payments. But when he discovers being a drug kingpin might be his secret talent, he starts down a spiral that puts his life and the lives of his friends and family in grave danger, but at least it pays well.
A mockumentary about the Dunphy and Pritchett family living in and around Los Angeles and all the drama laughs, and heart that goes into incorporating new people into your extended circle.
An emotional drama following an African American man coming to grips with his homosexuality and falling in love with his childhood sweetheart. Told in three parts, we follow him as a boy, a teen, and finally, a man trying to define who he is on the inside and out.
Get Him to the Greek:
A music executive who recently broke up with his girlfriend has 48 hours to get a fading rock star from his home in London to Los Angeles where he has to convince him to put on a show that might save his life. Along the way, each of them has to come to terms with their failings while getting into hilarious antics as the rocker's life creates stress and chaos around the executive.
What's next? Learn to write a noisy logline!
I love writing screenplays. And I hope, if you're reading this, you love writing too. Writing helps me put my complex character emotions onto the page and lets me talk about the things I care about while telling a story. But sometimes my stories are so complex, that it's nearly impossible to get a pitch together, let alone distill it all down into one sentence.
Click the link to learn more!