Ever Heard of a "Stack Buster" Screenplay?

'Adaptation'Credit: New Line Cinema
You're going to want to write a "stack buster."

I was talking to a development executive last week. They were bemoaning the giant stack of screenplays they had to read over the weekend. I was trying to find a way to ask them to check out my latest script.

It was a back-and-forth that happens to every screenwriter at some point in their lives. At a certain moment, I knew I wasn't going to be able to send him my script, so I instead asked him how he would decide on what to read first. He told me he always started with the shortest scripts, unless there was a real "stack buster."

It was right about then that I learned a brand new term for my screenwriting glossary

Do you know what a stack buster is? I had to stop the conversation right then and ask. 

What's a "stack buster" screenplay? 

Basically, a stack buster is a screenplay that has a logline or pitch from the agent that is so fun, so interesting, and so good that people prioritize reading it right away.

These scripts skip the line.

The truth is, execs have so much to read. Especially after the pandemic, where so many writers (including myself) cranked out screenplays. Many times, it might take them a month to read a spec an agent or manager sends to them. Other times, they push it down the ladder to an inner and just read the coverage. But a stack buster script gets their attention right away. 

The reason this happens is that when you work at a specific company, you generally get sent many scripts in the same genre and tone. As an executive, you get bored. I remember when I was working in development, everyone sent us so many of the same bland family dramas. But then one day someone sent us a script about a family of serial killers, and I read it right away. It cut through all the noise. It had the things we liked about families, but a genre swirl that felt commercial. 

How can you write a stack buster? 

This is a little trickier. We have a whole book dedicated to writing a screenplay. Check it out.

Aside from that, I think you need to focus on your ideation. Are you tackling your most interesting and boldest idea? Are you forming your loglines so that they seem noisy and exciting to read the project? And more important than all of that, are you writing the idea for the movie you're dying to see? Execs can feel if you're just phoning in the emotions. They see that all the time. 

Are your characters unique? People we've never seen in these situations before? How do they stand out? What do they believe in? 

The truth is, you don't need to have something crazy happening in your script, you just have to have something you believe in. Your belief and talent can transcend the stack. But a little bit of action and unexpected character work can go a very long way. 

Go get writing.      

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2 Comments

I think this used to be called, "high concept". : )

May 2, 2022 at 8:50AM

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Grant Vetters
Director
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I think the difference is, a high concept doesn't always elicit an instant read.

May 3, 2022 at 8:34AM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
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