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Marketable Screenplays: what is the “hook”?

Ashley Scott Meyers has a great article up at the moment about how he can tell if a feature script is marketable or not, just from the logline. He gives a few reasons for scribes’ work not being marketable (make sure you read the article to find out), but put simply, he says the concept – the seed of the story, if you like – just doesn’t work, which adversely affects a script’s chances in the marketplace.

I completely agree with Meyers. Over the years I’ve seen countless scripts – feature, TV, shorts, web series, you name it – that fail to identify their audience, thus are not marketable. The failure of scribes to take concept on board, *how* it works and *who* might be interested in what they’re writing is quite staggering. After all, without a potential audience – niche OR mass – we might as well be shouting into the wind.

Yet whenever I ask individual scribes whether their script is marketable, the answer is always a resounding “Yes.” Of course it is. No one sets out to write a script that will not appeal to an audience. However, when I push said scribe for WHY their script is marketable, I frequently get one of six replies, which are:

… Instinct drives me. “Knowing” instinctively whether something is good and will appeal to a certain audience won’t cut it I’m afraid. Why? Because what’s “good” (or not) is entirely subjective. As William Goldman famously said: “No one knows anything”. If you want to know whether your script idea appeals to an audience beyond yourself, you need to actively find out.

… There’s been nothing like it before. Uh oh. As I’ve said before copious times, originality is overrated; there’s lots of reasons why producers are looking for the “same, but different” – and despite what you might think, audiences do too. That’s not to say original ideas are not welcome, but if you can get your original idea into that “pre-sold” notion, then all the better.

… It’s better than (perceived tired franchise or perceived crap movie). Whatever you might think of what’s already out there in the marketplace, fact is, it’s sold – and not just to the producers who made it, but to sales agents and then to Joe Public. So if you think your idea will sell just because it’s “better”, you may well be in for a disappointment.

… It’s got good emotion / good action / good roles / (insert something here). Subjectivity aside, these are all a good start, sure – but it doesn’t mean straight away your script’s concept is “marketable”; it could just mean your script has some good writing in. That may make it a good SAMPLE, but not automatically a good sales bet.

And probably the favourite:

… I can see the trailer/ individual scenes in my head. Great. But I’d wager most see the trailer or individual scenes in their head – and whilst this is a good start, why would this mean your concept is marketable? You might as well say the dream or nightmare you had last night would make a good movie. We writers make stuff up; that’s what we do. Just “seeing” the trailer doesn’t make something “so”; it’s not a short cut to good market research.

So what is the answer – What makes a script’s concept marketable?

Well lots of people have lots of ideas – don’t forget Goldman. But here’s my twopenceworth on what makes a script’s concept marketable: THE HOOK. 

The Hook is that *thing* that makes us understand what the story is about from a marketing perspective, ie.

Deviation – “trapped in the car with a madman”

or even

Lockout – “Die Hard in space”.

Not to be confused with plot or character motivation, The Hook is that thing that SELLS US the idea and GRABS the potential viewer, either from the poster or the DVD cover, making us want to watch (or not, as the case may be).

Can you reduce YOUR script down to its “Hook” and sell the idea in this way?

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1 thought on “Marketable Screenplays: what is the “hook”?”

  1. “Inner City vs Outer Space” – Attack the Block

    That’s the one that always makes me think “He nailed it right from the start”. It completely sells the film, and looks great on a DVD cover. Perfect logline, perfect film marketing.

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