1) Have a “Pitchable” Idea
Have a great idea that’s easily “pitchable.” I call this “the two line pitch”, the pitch that, should you find yourself in a lift with Harvey Weinstein can trip off your tongue as coolly as a French person shrugs. The ones where your pitchee knows immediately what kind of film it is and who it’s for. Practice it.
At Salt, my two all-time favourites, and the ones the international distributors loved as well, were:
“An Irish village is attacked by bloodsucking aliens; the villagers discover the creatures are allergic to alcohol and the only way to stay alive is to get drunk.” (Grabbers)
“A Muslim discovers he’s adopted and Jewish.” (The Infidel)
2) Choose a Genre and Stick to It!
Don’t try and be clever. Don’t create a new genre. Don’t attempt a crossover genre. “Modern day fairytale” is not a genre; “road movie” is not a genre, it’s a formula. Look at Netflix, Amazon, Filmflex et al and familiarise yourself with accepted genres. Is “road movie” there? No, it isn’t.
Don’t be angry about the fact that everyone along the line will be pigeonholing your film, it’s how they will sell it on to the next person. If you tell me it’s completely new/original/unique…I don’t want it because I can’t sell it to them. More at my blog about all this stuff.
3) Master Your Genre
Love your genre and study it, HARD. Don’t write a horror because someone’s told you they are more likely to get made if you don’t watch horror, we’ll see you coming a mile off because your script won’t work.
If horror IS your genre, become an uber geek. Impress me.
Equally any genre. Don’t be a snob about other genres. I don’t know anyone in the industry who is a snob about other genres. A good movie is a good movie; a movie that makes money is a rarity and we collectively applauded Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie and all wished we’d made it.
4) Study Your Art
Watch a lot of movies. Watch all the movies you can, especially those in your budget and genre. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. You need to know how to do it right and to become an expert in how they can go wrong. Every good filmmaker I know watches shitloads of movies, of all genres and of all qualities. It’s called research, it’s my job and it’s your job too. I remain gobsmacked at how often I find myself lecturing to a room of film students who don’t watch movies. Not only don’t watch them but often haven’t even heard of them. You guessed it: more about my blog about this!
5) It’s Not OK To Be Ignorant About Budget
Have an idea about budget. It’s tricky yes but you’re not an idiot. If it’s set in space with monsters and a Death Star, you know it’s going to be expensive. If it is, write a blockbuster aimed at a wide young audience, not a drama about an intergalactic paraplegic novelist suffering existential angst. Think about set pieces, number of locations and characters, the period. Again, study other comparable films.
6) Get to Know Your Audience
Think about this hard, really hard because I need you to be realistic. Who would go out and pay to see your movie? If your protagonist is a pregnant teenager shooting up smack on a council estate, your movie is not for teens, and don’t keep insisting that it is. Go to your local multiplex and have a look see what the majority of teens are watching. It isn’t The Selfish Giant.
If you know what your audience wants, you know how to deliver them what they want but in a way that surprises them. That’s what they want. And because that’s what they want, that’s what I want, that is exactly what I want. And that’s what will make you a good screenwriter and maybe even a produced one. MORE: Your Audience: Who Is Your Script FOR?
BIO: After 20 years in film sales, marketing, development and production at Summit Entertainment, Polygram and most recently Salt, Samantha Horley is now a freelance development consultant helping filmmakers focus on the commercial viability of their project with a view to giving it the best chance of being made and being seen. In 2010 she founded The Vipers Nest to support rising British filmmaking talent, which you can JOIN HERE. Follow @SamanthaHorley on Twitter & visit HER BLOG.