Updated: Dec 23, 2019
... if someone had been living in a cave for the whole century, isolated from the world.
One day, the hermit decides to re-emerge into the world carrying only, an old torn satchel. For the past 60 years, he has been working on an invention and now he is finally eager to share his brilliance with the world. He walks into the middle of time square and addresses the crowd: Now, he says, I will finally become rich and famous !!! - whereupon he digs his hands deep into his old satchel and triumphantly reveals: a toaster!!!
If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a professional screenplay reader for studios, this little intro serves as an adequate analogy. That is what it is like to read most of the screenplays that I have read. One screenplay after the other offers little in terms of freshness and originality.
Unfortunately, those two things are the only things producers look for.
Most spec scripts, in fact, offer little else but a definition of a genre. Let me explain:
...a mystery story. What ´s the concept? - a killer is on the loose and the protagonist, a detective, have to investigate the crimes and find the killer.
Is this a story? is it even a Logline? - No, it's not. It is a definition of a whole genre. Every mystery story is like that. It is like saying that my ghost story is about a ghost that haunts an old house. Isn't that what all ghost stories are about? Why would a studio be satisfied with reading a story that only, barely, defines the genre and does nothing more? If they wanted to know what the genre is, they could save a lot of time and then just Wikipedia, it.
This story could be brilliantly written but the concept is painfully boring and seen a million times before. No matter how good it is, It would leave us with no choice but to give the screenwriter a rejection slip.
If you spend 3 months writing a screenplay, stop right now and allocate at least one month or more, trying to come up with a novel, original and a strong concept. Give us a concept we haven´t quite seen, before.
I am not talking about minor changes here. Putting a parrot on the detective's shoulder, won´t do it. I am talking about your core concept.
If you are writing a mystery, for instance, give us a mystery we haven't seen before. Be creative with as many elements as you can. If your detective is a police officer or a private dick, or a reporter, forget it. Give us unlikely characters. And what about the murder? don´t give us another gang killing or the rich old aunt being poisoned. Come up with a way of murdering someone, we have n´t seen before. And how about the investigation? A neighbor saw a strange man entering the house right? A cigarette butt was found in the ashtray, right? - Come up with something better. And how about your ending, your moment of truth? Let me guess. It was the wife all along, right? or the killer had actually blackmailed someone who then took her revenge? - please. Give us a solution we haven´t seen before.
You´re not sure what we haven´t seen before? - read some mystery novels. As many as you can.
The problems with spec writers. today. is that they don´t read, anymore. How can you write anything good if you haven´t read anything? Would you trust a blind hairdresser to cut your hair, knowing very well, that he has never seen a hairdo before? - I hope your answer to this question is, no.
And likewise, I would never trust a screenwriter who doesn't know his own genre inside and out.
...That you want to write a thriller screenplay. You have read all the most important thrillers ever written, seen the most important thrillers in movie history, you know what has been done before and what has yet to be written. Do you think you could then, write a better thriller? - one that I haven´t read before? I think the answer is, Yes.
If you have any screenwriting questions, that require a professional answer, click on the free signup button on top of this blog page to receive free lessons, newsletters and shoot me a mail with your questions.
Happy writing !!!