Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
Your screenplay's concept is incredibly important to its saleability.
Many agents and studio bosses go as far as to say:
'Concept is King'
You can sell a script through great screenwriting: protagonists we root for, antagonists we hate, sparkling dialogue, an engaging story that immerses us in its world, significant (often huge) stakes, heaps of conflict and drama, maybe some misdirection and twists too.
Often great writing inherently has a great concept but it's not always the case.
The catch is that for the majority of novice screenwriters, for your screenplay to be requested, the agent or prodco has to like its concept (as explained by your logline or query letter). If they don't, they're not going to request it and see your great writing!
Don't just submit to agencies and prodcos though. Also submit to the Nicholl and Austin screenwriting competitions (the two standout gems in the otherwise largely questionable screenwriting contest world). A high placing in either will lead to some industry interest and reads.
Another 'in' is via industry professionals who recommend your script, and 'Recommend' or 'Consider' scores from reputable script coverage services.
Your screenplay can sell with good (though not great) writing provided it has an outstanding and original concept. Hollywood has hundreds examples of such sales. When a studio or prodco buys such a spec, they have a seasoned screenwriter polish (best case) or rewrite it (worst case).
A great example is Michael Bay's 2006 smash The Island. The original script was written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen. I have not read the original. The concept was so liked in Hollywood that it triggered a bidding way. Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks came out on top with a $1m bid. Dreamworks then engaged the tier one screenwriting team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to polish/rewrite the script.
This happens a lot in Hollywood. It's somewhat saddening for the original screenwriter but the door to Hollywood has been opened and they'll land a fat paycheck, they'll also likely land a tier one agent and everyone will take their subsequent work seriously - increasing greatly the chance of future sales.
Outstanding and original screenplay concepts are not easy to come up with but they're an achievable goal provided you:
Aim for great writing combined with a great concept.
That's the killer combo agents and prodcos love.
The Academy's Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting has a wealth of excellent screenwriting advice on its website and Facebook page including:
Originality is next on our list of the criteria Academy Nicholl readers consider while judging a screenplay.
Inherently, originality seems obvious. Does the script explore unusual stories, introduce fresh and vibrant characters who speak in their own voices and take us to places we've never visited before? But originality can be much more than its obvious components.
Stories that might seem familiar on the surface can made original through their characters and dialogue, in their arenas and settings and by introducing moments of true feeling, whether silly, serious or fantastic. Originality can also surface through the use of alternative structures, the mingling of past and present, the swirling of dreams and reality and in voyages to fantastic realms built entirely from the imagination or on a foundation from the world we know.
Since one could argue that genre screenplays are intrinsically unoriginal because they are, by definition, formulaic, we ask our readers to consider several aspects for all genre scripts. Within the confines of the genre, does the script feature original characters, dialogue, arenas and settings, etc.? Does the screenplay twist or tweak the strictures of the genre in any way? Does the script fulfill the requirements of the genre - in other words, is a romantic comedy romantic and funny, a thriller thrilling, a horror script scary, etc.?
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