Let’s cut to the chase – as long as movies are made, producers will need fresh original stories.
You’ve got an idea for a movie. In this video I’m going to explain exactly what you need to do to sell it. Since we rarely ever see the screenwriter, or read the scripts of the movies we watch, there tends to be this unnecessary mystery surrounding that aspect of the film industry.
Where movie ideas come from, or how screenplays are chosen, or how to get your idea through the door and it’s led to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what producers actually need and why amateurs and dreamers tend to think of it a little bit like a lottery.
If I could just get my idea into James Cameron’s hands, he’d love me and shower me with instant fame and fortune, but long-term, struggling writers tend to think of it a little bit the same way. If I could only master the story formula, or find that tip, or secret trick that’ll swing the doors open and land me an agent and ignite my magical screenwriting career.
Well, to turn that dream into a reality let’s pull back the curtain and see how this really works. Selling your movie idea ultimately involves two basic steps.
- Number one – turn your idea into a production ready screenplay.
- Number two – get that screenplay into the hands of its ideal producer.
Now, that may sound terribly obvious, but in truth it’s really not. Look closely at those words. It’s not just a screenplay, it’s a ‘production ready’ screenplay and it’s not just a producer it’s your project ‘ideal producer’.
See, our goal ultimately is to make a movie and movies aren’t just an idea. They’re a carefully crafted story, rich and complex, and compelling enough to engage an audience’s imagination for about two hours.
Since we can’t shoot an idea, someone has to turn that idea into a screenplay that costs time and money. Remember – the screenplay is not our ultimate goal. Screenplays only exist to be turned into a film.
It’s not just a story, it’s also the blueprint for the production process, a very pragmatic working document that will guide and be used by a whole bunch of creative people, the actors and the director and the crew.
Unfortunately, most people who teach screenwriting are only teaching from the writers perspective. They invent formulas and theories and techniques by deconstructing existing movies.
They literally take a film, pull it apart to see the mechanics of how it worked and then tell you to replicate those mechanics but there’s something everyone seems to be overlooking. Steps 1 and 2 are intertwined.
Screenplays will only sell if you connect them with the people who want to make the movie. If you write a flawless formulaic Hollywood epic, it’s unusable by an independent producer in Sydney or Paris or Louisiana, or a thousand other places where movies are now made.
By the same token, if you write a bold experimental risky, non-traditional story, no matter how brilliant it is, a producer in Hollywood who makes hundred million dollar event films cannot use it.
For any producer of any kind of film, if your spec script is not production ready it’s almost impossible to sell, because it comes with a huge script development expense. It’s not enough to just slap together a screenplay.
It’s not even enough to write a production ready screenplay. The key to the deal is to marry both steps. So if you’re serious about selling your movie idea, seeing it made into a film, not just writing it and letting it rot on the bookshelf, it’s essential to understand who you’re trying to connect with.
That person is the producer. The producer is basically the overseer of a film object, like the project manager at the highest level, and they’re ultimately responsible for everything.
The producers job is to find or develop the story, assemble the team and the resources to make the film, gather the budget by getting investors, oversee the production to make sure we don’t run out of money halfway through, make sales and distribution deals to get the investors their money back, and see it all the way through until the money comes in.
We’re talking about hundreds of moving parts for every project, and because movies are such a big job that often takes years to complete, sometimes with no guarantee of sales at all, most producers will have multiple projects in various stages of this process at any given time, which means one simple thing.
I hope you’ll always remember, producers are always juggling and that’s good news for you. Producers are always on the lookout for new material, because they’re always meeting new actors or directors or investors or sales and distribution people, trying to figure out which people fit with which projects.
If they know a director and a name actor who’ve always wanted to work together, I’ll try to find a project that suits their creative sensibilities. If they meet an investor who wants to make a quick buck or win an award or shoot in a specific state or country, they’ll try to develop a project to satisfy those business ambitions.
It can happen the other way around. Maybe they’ll find a project and they’ll love it. They’ll get passionate about it, maybe a project like yours. They’ll option it so that they can exclusively go out and try to assemble all those elements and resources to make it happen, but here’s the problem.
To juggle effectively they have to be very protective of their time, since 99% of all projects will always be unusable to them. What tends to happen, even though they’re always on the lookout for material, they tend to put up a little bit of a wall around themselves, particularly with writers.
So how do you break through that? How do you connect with your project’s ideal producer? The real answer, even though you’re not going to want to hear it, is that you should immediately distrust anyone who claims to have the answer, because the truth is it depends entirely on you, your project and the producer you’re trying to connect with.
There is no one single answer. There can’t be and here’s why. Just as every writer in the world is unique, every producer is unique – we come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and personalities. We have different creative sensibilities and different business ambitions, and different preferences in how we like to connect with people.
We also have different resources available to us at any given time. About the only thing that we all have in common is that we’re all constantly juggling. So the bottom line is this – to really sell your movie idea you can’t treat it like a lottery.
You don’t just want a producer or some famous producer that’s inaccessible to you. You want the producer that’s perfect for this project. While every situation is intrinsically unique, there are two steps that are required in every situation.
- Number one – turn your idea into a production ready screenplay.
- Number two – get it into the hands of its ideal producer.
Now if this all seems a little bit impossible or easier said than done, stick with me throughout this series. I’ve reverse engineered the entire process and we’re going to start at the end and work our way back to the beginning, so that you can see exactly how to achieve these two steps.
In the next video I’ll show you how to grab your ideal producer’s attention in just 15 seconds. Plus I’ll introduce a breakthrough strategy that leads directly to the deal, so subscribe to this channel, subscribe to our newsletter, like and share this video, if you can and we’ll see you next time on the Producers Perspective.
In this video I’m going to show you how to grab a producer’s attention in 15 seconds, plus I’ll introduce a breakthrough follow-up strategy that leads directly to the deal.
To truly reverse-engineer the complete screenwriting process we need to start at the end and your end goal is to connect your project with its ideal producer. But how?
Producers will always tell you they’re not looking for material, they can’t read your screenplay, even though the truth is, unless we’re busy for the next 5 years with a guaranteed production slate, we’re always looking.
The problem is a properly written feature-length screenplay takes about two hours to read and 99% of them are unusable by any given producer. The fact is producers need to put that little wall up around themselves. It’s part of the juggling act. Without it we would be overwhelmed by submissions and never get any other work done.
So the unspoken reality is that producers need writers to break through that wall. Fortunately, there is a way, a shortcut to help us filter through all the noise. It’s called the logline. Loglines evolved out of an old Hollywood cliché that goes ‘pitch me your movie in 25 words or less’.
It’s a sentence or two, usually just one, that conveys the heart of the project. Now writers tend to hate the logline. They think I can’t possibly condense my complex story into a single sentence, or my story isn’t about the concept, it’s about the execution, or with only one sentence you’re judging the story or me too quickly.
But this resistance just demonstrates the gap, an awareness of what producers actually need. To understand why producers tend to love the logline, look at it from our side of the table. Log lines save us time. We know instantly when a project is not right for us.
They spark our imagination. Done well, we can see a whole movie from a single sentence. They demonstrate a marketing angle this helps us sell the project, one of the producers key responsibilities, and they reveal the writer’s skill level. We can spot talent instantly, all of which makes the logline an extraordinary opportunity for writers.
To help you understand what a logline is and how to create one effectively, let’s first look at what it’s not. A logline is not a tagline, the blurb on a movie poster ‘this time it’s personal’. Don’t try to sell us the film. We’re the ones who would be making the film with you!
Producers need to know what your story is about. If you submit a tagline, we pretty much know your project’s not ready. A logline is also not a teaser, a partial concept that’s missing the meat of the story – ‘two cops face ultimate corruption. Will they survive with their souls?’
Again, we need to know what the movies about and this tells us nothing, except that we can safely pass on this project. It’s also not about your whole story. Don’t try to cram your entire story into one giant run-on sentence. That just tells us that your screenplay is going to be bloated and unfocused too.
Instead, your logline is a single sentence that captures the essence of your story’s plot and ignites your readers imagination. The logline’s purpose is not to tell the story. The loglines purpose is to grab their attention, let them know there’s a compelling story here and encourage them to follow up and that’s all.
Now, as with all creativity, there’s no one formula that’s going to work for every idea but almost every logline should include an intriguing character in a compelling situation that implies a rich story.
Now, after reading and analyzing about 20,000 log lines, I’ve discovered that there’s a secret ingredient that makes the most effective log lines work and that is the compelling promise. As I explained in the Missing Ingredient, every word you write is a promise that sparks the reader’s imagination, as they try to anticipate where you’re going to go next.
There are two kinds of promises.
- Direct promises, where you literally make a promise.
- Implied promises, where the words you use create expectations within the other person.
If you create a log line that implies a compelling story, you engage their creativity. The compelling promise is a hook that taps into our natural human curiosity. They have to follow up to see if you’ve achieved or exceeded what they imagined.
Now think about this for a second. You can literally open any door in 15 seconds with the right logline and this is how you break through that wall. As I was building the marketing phase of fast screenplay, the very end of the screenwriting process, I discovered a breakthrough strategy that leads from this hook directly to the deal.
I call it the ‘promise progression’. We spend about five weeks on this in the system but here’s the gist of it. , your logline makes a compelling promise which hooks them and makes them need to know more. They ask to see your synopsis to find out what your story is about and see where you’ve taken the idea.
Your synopsis then not only pays off the expectations your logline put in their imagination, it also makes or implies its own compelling promise, that takes it to the next level, which your screenplay then pays off by building an effective promise progression.
Your screenplay becomes a must read and then if your screenplay exceeds their expectations and their imagination, you become a writer they must know, even if they can’t do anything with your project right now. The secret of breaking through that wall then is this – ignite their imagination and then deliver more than they imagined.
Now, your full promise progression will include your title, your query letters, your pitches, all your marketing materials. It will be customized for individual agents and producers and production companies, whoever you’re trying to send it to, but the key to understand is that it all starts with the logline.
The best part is that there’s even a dead simple way to know when you’ve mastered your logline. When you test it out on people. all you need to hear are four simple words;
Wow! Tell me more!
That’s why the logline may be the most important sentence you’ll ever write. Before you start sending loglines out into the world, I want to give you three tips or warnings from the producers perspective:
Number one – take the time to craft an extraordinary logline. Most loglines destroy the writers chance of even getting a read. Your log line reveals your skill level, so we can instantly rule out a poorly written log line or a log line that doesn’t convey a story clearly or powerfully. If the log line is weak, there’s little chance that the much longer screenplay will be written at a pro level.
Number two – always create the logline after the screenplay is done. Most writers make the mistake of writing their log line first, but you need to know the compelling promise your screenplay actually delivers so you can design a log line that sparks a promise progression that will exceed their expectations.
Number three – never send out a logline without a screenplay ready. Remember, producers are always juggling, so if we spot a project that engages our imagination when you’re very excited and think ‘if this project is what I imagined it to be, I know exactly what to do with that’, we assume that it’s ready and we follow up.
Now if it turns up that project is not ready, we may miss an opportunity entirely. It can be very frustrating. We won’t consider the writer to be a professional, so for all these reasons, this is why I like to say you only get one sentence to make a first impression.
In fact, you know what? Don’t send your log lines anywhere until you watch the next video in this series, because to really sell your projects you need to avoid the mistake almost every writer makes. They send their project to the wrong producers.
In the next video I’m going to explain the real secret to the deal, the one common denominator for every project that sells. Plus, I’ll introduce a skill I’ve never seen written or talked about anywhere before. In fact, I only discovered it once I started looking for screenplays and examining screenwriting from the producers perspective.
I’ll explain the skill and I’ll show you exactly how to achieve it, so subscribe to this channel, subscribe to our newsletter, please like and share this video, if you can and take action today to make your dreams a reality. Stick with me throughout the series and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time.