Thursday, October 11, 2012

Screenplay Structure format

You've asked for it, here it is.  I found this in my files so I'm not sure where I got it from, could be a workshop I attended years ago, but I do use it when brainstorming a new idea.  It really helps to get the idea out of your head and onto the page.

Screenplay Story Structure


This is a suggested structure, with all your story points and illustrations already woven. You may use it as is, or adapt it.

The step titles and explanatory text present elements of conventional story structure that you may already be familiar with.

Each step may represent a scene, or more than one scene.

Add, Delete, or Move steps as necessary for your particular story.

You may delete the title, explanatory text and instructions in each step, once you understand them. However, it's advisable to print the Story Treatment report with this text first, before deleting it. You may want to keep the text (except for these instructions) in your reports to refer to when writing.

For simplicity's sake, the Main Character is also the Protagonist, making him/her a hero character. This need not be the case with all stories. Similarly, the Impact Character is also the Guardian.

Step #1 - Set-Up the Normal World

--Open with a visual image and event that sets the place, tone, circumstances, and theme of the film.

Step #2 - Introduce Main Character

--Present the Protagonist/Main Character in an occupation or activity that best defines him/her.

Step #3 - Main Character Goal

--Show the Main Character's personal goal and any obstacles to it.

--Dramatize any relevant backstory.

Step #4 - Inciting Incident

--An event or decision that sets the plot in motion, and tells the audience what the story will be about.

Step #5 - Introduce Love Interest/Partner/Relative

--Present the character whose ideas/methods conflict with those of the Main Character, but who has an influence on him/her throughout the story.

Step #6 - Central Question Raised

--Resolving the problem or situation presented here (based on the Inciting Incident) would bring the story to an end. An Antagonist character, directly opposed to the goal, is introduced.

Step #7 - Subplot Set-Up

--Main Character and partner disagree over their basic nature/way of doing things.

Step #8 - Subplot Set-Up

--Main Character and partner disagreement escalates into conflict.

Step #9 - Plot Point 1

--Event that turns the Normal World upside-down, propels the story in a new direction, raises the stakes, and defines the specific plot goal.

Step #10 - Reflection/Doubt

--Something happens to cause the Protagonist/Main Character to doubt his/her ability to achieve the story goal.

Step #11 - Rising Action

--Protagonist/Main Character feels compelled to make decisions/take action toward the story goal.

Step #12 - Raising The Stakes

--The Antagonist causes an event or decision which makes the goal harder to reach, and more dangerous for the Protagonist/Main Character.

Step #13 - Rising Action

--Protagonist/Main Character pursues the goal with increased vigor.

Step #14 - Rising Action

--Protagonist/Main Character escapes Antagonist's clutches.

Step #15 - Subplot Point 1

--Partner character goes out on a limb for Main Character, bringing them closer together and changing their relationship.

Step #16 - Rising Action

--Antagonist steps up opposition to the goal.

Step #17 - Subplot Reflection/Doubt
--Main Character holds back from the relationship with the Partner character.

Step #18 - Rising Action
--Antagonist goes after Protagonist/Main Character.

Step #19 - Subplot Development
--Partner character's actions cause a setback in the relationship with the Main Character.

Step #20 - Subplot Development
--Main Character mends rift with Partner character.

Step #21 - Rising Action
--Protagonist/Main Character seeks to bypass Antagonist.

Step #22 - Subplot Development
--Partner character makes effort to help Main Character.

Step #23 - Subplot Development
--Main Character's interest captured by another competing character, to dismay of Partner character.

Step #24 - Subplot Development
--Main Character and Partner character work together as a true team.

Step #25 - Subplot Raising The Stakes
--Main Character and Partner character relationship tested/questioned by other character trying to drive a wedge between them.

Step #26 - Rising Action
--Antagonist presses the issue.

Step #27 - Subplot Development
--Partner character proves worthiness to Main Character.

Step #28 - Raising The Stakes
--The Antagonist causes an event or decision which makes the goal seem impossible to reach, and makes disaster likely for the Protagonist/Main Character if he/she tries.

Step #29 - Subplot Development
--Main Character and Partner character relationship is comfortable, running smoothly now.

Step #30 - Subplot Point 2
--The ultimate test of the relationship. How far will Main Character and Partner character go to commit to each other...?

Step #31 - Subplot Reflection/Doubt
--Both Main Character and Partner character worry that their relationship will not work out.

Step #32 - Lowest of the Low
--Protagonist/Main Character is running out of time or options now. Achievement of plot goal seems impossible.

Step #33 - Plot Point 2
--Event that again propels the story in a new direction, speeds up the action, and asks the Central Question again. Protagonist/Main Character finds new sense of purpose.

Step #34 - Reflection/Doubt
--Main Character gathers strength and resources for the final push for the goal.

Step #35 - Rising Action
--The Antagonist marshals all his/her forces against the Protagonist/Main Character.

Step #36 - Rising Action
--It's "kill or be killed" now for the Protagonist/Main Character, who is tested to his/her limits by the Antagonist.

Step #37 - Plot Climax/Subplot Climax
--In a final struggle, the Protagonist/Main Character defeats the Antagonist to achieve the plot goal (or not), goes out on a limb for the Partner character, and answers the Central Question set up earlier.

Step #38 - Plot Resolution/Subplot Resolution
--Loose ends are tied up. Characters start to get on with their lives, now that order has been restored.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Entering Screenplay Competitions

The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Entering Screenplay Competitions

Most people think the #1 mistake writers make when entering screenplay competitions is poor writing. I think that is closer to #2. The #1 mistake is submitting a script that is not marketable which also means interesting. In the movie industry it’s CONCEPT, CONCEPT, CONCEPT. A great concept will beat out a better written low concept script in most cases. The thing is that all scripts are rewritten at some point so the concept has to be great before you even get to that point.

The main reason people enter contests is to get noticed. The production companies who request to read the contest winners are looking for marketable material first, good writing second. What attracts them to want to read your concept is an interesting title and logline of the concept. They won’t know if it’s written well until after they have requested to read it. If you don’t have a great title and great logline hence great concept, they probably will never find out how great a writer you are. In contests, if your writing is great but the concept is not marketable, you may final but you probably won’t win. Even to garner the attention of an agent you need a marketable concept. For the Nicholls Fellowship competition, you definitely need both. Many dramas do win but I guarantee these aren’t your average dramas, there’s something definitely special about them. Just look at the winners that have been made into movies over the years.

In order to create a win-win situation, write a very good marketable script that you are passionate about! Save the low concept passion projects for after you have an established career and have made a name for yourself. When you get to that point, you can basically write what you want.

These are just my opinions so take what you can use and disregard what you can't. This works for me and I must be doing something right if I've won a screenplay competition and had 3 other entries make it to the finals. The thing is don't beat yourself up if you don't think your idea is high concept or totally marketable. This comes with practice. Plus, the industry is very subjective! No one knows what they want until they see it.

For more information regarding how to make your concept great, check out my book, The #1 Secret to Sell Your Screenplay to Hollywood.

Write right and write on!

Monday, July 16, 2012

7 Steps to Create a Sellable TV Pilot

You know how when you're trying to find a particular file on your computer and but can't find it even when using the "search" feature but then instead of finding what you were looking for you find something even better that you don't even remember saving?  That's the story regarding this blog post. I don't know the source, probably was some notes from a class I took years ago so I can't give full credit but I hope it helps anyone out there stuck in developing a TV pilot or a screenplay.

Write right and write on!


7 Steps to Create a Sellable TV Pilot

Step 1: Watch and Read... A Lot

If you don't like to watch television, then hopefully you have the common sense not to write for TV. Because when you're a scriptwriter, it pays to watch a lot of television. Here are some tips on what to watch and what to look for when you're watching:

1. Don't just limit yourself to one genre or format. Watch a wide variety of shows.

Watch the ones at the top of the Nielsen ratings and the ones that aren't doing so hot.

Watch shows that have won writing Emmys.

Watch 30 minute shows and 60 minute shows.

Watch reality shows and see if a story line (yes there are story lines even in "reality" shows) that you can tweak into a funny sitcom.

2. Take notes on your reactions at first. Write down what you liked and disliked as a viewer: when were you bored, when did you laugh, when did you lose interest and start flipping through a magazine. What happened right before a commercial break, and were you itching to find out what happened next.

3. Once you've got a feel for what works for you as a viewer, try to get your hands on a couple of scripts. The ideal situation is to be able to read a script and then watch the episode, so try to find a series that's out on DVD. You can get free scripts online at the following websites:

Daily Script

Simply Scripts

Drews Scriptarama

4. Read the script, and then watch the episodes with the script at your side. Learn how what is written on the page translates to the screen.

Step 2: Pick a Genre

There are some rules that are true of any television show, but each genre also has its own conventions. Once you know what genre you want to write in, it's time to study that genre in depth.

1. Do your research. If your genre requires special knowledge, start studying. For example, if you really want to write police procedurals, it's a good idea to have a passing acquaintance with police regulations.

2. You need to know what's out there if you're going to stand out from the crowd. Start a list of shows that are in the same genre as yours. Try to watch as many of them as you can.

3. Figure out how your idea stands out from the crowd. How is it different from the shows already on the market? You need to be able to express this in a succinct sentence or two at the most, which is called a logline.

Your logline needs to differentiate you from all of the other shows on the market. It should be brief, to the point, and it should stress what's special about your show.

For example, if you want to write a show about crime scene investigators, you'll need to show agents and producers that it's different from the popular CSI franchise. This difference should be completely clear in your logline.

By developing your logline first, you have a chance to hone your idea and make it as unique and compelling as possible without going completely overboard. If you can't clearly state what makes your show special, how can you expect someone to buy it?

Step 3: Outline Your Plot

Telling a satisfying story in a single television episode is a lot more difficult than it looks. Not only are you limited by time, but you're also required to write scenes in acts that allow for commercials.

1. Get some ideas about the standard act structure for your genre. If everyone on air is using a four act structure and you want to use three, why? Rules can be broken, but you ought to have a good reason for doing it.

2. Some shows such as sitcoms don't follow a rigid act structure. So again, the key is to understand what is being done.

3. Once you've settled on a structure, outline your story.

Choose a format that works best for you: index cards, spiral bound notebooks, computer, crayon, whatever.

Write down the basic actions that will happen in each act.

Determine where the commercial breaks will lie and make sure that the action leading into the commercial is compelling enough to make viewers stay tuned.

Step 4: Develop Your Characters

A good character can really make or break a TV show, and some of the best shows have the most memorable characters. Tony Soprano. Raymond. Carrie Bradshaw. Make the most of your characters to add depth to your show.

1. You'll need lead characters, who will appear in almost every episode; supporting characters, who appear sporadically; and guest characters who reappear rarely if at all. Obviously, it makes the most sense to spend the bulk of your time developing the leads since they'll carry the show.

2. Take the time to develop a history. Leads should have some kind of history or backstory that helps to drive their actions and shapes who they are.

3. Keep a list of mannerisms, favorite phrases, and other details. Catchphrases can be very powerful tools when developing a character.

4. Although you might spend days or even weeks working on a character background, that doesn't mean that you need to cram all of that information into the script. The idea is to let small details leak out gradually. Think about it like getting to know a person in real life. If you learned everything about them in the first day, wouldn't you get a little bored?

Step 5: Write

A lot of people talk about wanting to be writers but never put their pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Don't let all of your hard work go to waste. Sit down and write.   I once met a girl at a networking event who said she was a screenwriter but when I asked how many scripts she had written, she was like, "Well, I haven't really written any scripts yet!"  Huh?  To make matters worst she had been "doing" it for almost 5 years!  That's not being a screenwriter.  Even if you haven't sold anything, you still should have written something to completion before you should say you're a screenwriter.  Duh!  But I've gone off topic...back to business.

1. Decide how often you want to write and then stick to your schedule. Whether your goal is to write every day or twice a week or to finish five pages no matter how long it takes, get it done.

2. There will be days that you don't want to write. The writers who make it in big this business are the ones who write anyway.

3. Writer's block is a reality you'll have to deal with. If a scene isn't working, put in a placeholder to remind you to go back and finish it later, and move on to another scene. The goal is to keep working; don't let a problem in page two keep you from moving on indefinitely.

Step 6: Use the Right Format

Script formatting software is available and makes the process as easy as possible, but of course there's a cost associated with most programs. You can also hand-format. Whatever you do, make sure that you follow the conventions. Otherwise, you reduce your chances of success.

1. If you really plan to pursue screenwriting as a career, formatting software is worth the investment. The most popular programs include:

Celtx free software

Final Draft

Movie Magic Screenwriter

There are many other programs that use word macros but still present a professional looking script.  When I first started writing scripts more than 10 years ago, I purchased one for just $30 and used that thing for years.  Even had my first option of a script I wrote using a $30 program.  Now I use final draft but aside from the bells and whistles, it's not all that much better than the $30 program I used to use. (I don't remember the name so please don't email me asking what it is.)

2. If you're determined to format by hand, you'll need a scriptwriting format book or website. You can find a lot of resources online these days. The rules are too long to list here, but here's a sample of what you'll need to do:

Scenes are numbered and start with what's called a slugline: the location and time of day.

Scenes start with FADE IN:

Character names are capitalized.

Dialogue is capitalized and double spaced.

I say this to say DO NOT DO IT!  Please don't try to format by hand.  Give up a month's worth of Starbucks and invest in a cheap program.  They have so many these days that you shouldn't have to torture yourself like that.  Drop the coffee and buy a software program!

Step 6: Revise Until Your Head Spins

By all means, celebrate when you finish the first draft of your script. You deserve it; you've made it a lot further than most people ever do. Unfortunately, this is also where the real work of revision begins.

1. First, you'll need to focus on the big stuff.

Does the plot make logical sense?

Does tension increase as the plot moves forward?

Is there a satisfying resolution?

Are the technical details accurate? Look them up; you need to know for sure.

Is it the right length?

Do your commercial breaks hit at the right place page wise?

2. Now it's time to fine tune.

Tighten your dialogue.

Make sure every word counts. Cut out the excess.

Proofread for typos and grammatical mistakes.

3. For help with revisions, why not join a critique group or writer's group. Other writers can help point out problems and potential solutions that you're just too close to your work to see clearly.   Be sure to choose a group with positive, supporting people.  I've been apart of a group that only wanted to tear people down one verb at a time. 

Good luck and never stop believing in the dream.

Write right and write on!

Monday, May 28, 2012

May Featured Screenwriter: Michael Elliot

Featured Screenwriter: Michael Elliot

Produced Movies: MTV’s Hip Hopera Carmen, Like Mike, Brown Sugar, Just Wright

Michael Elliot, CEO of Michael Eliot Media, has spent a lifetime beating the odds. Twenty-seven years ago, he was a high school dropout and homeless. Today, having written films that have generated over $115 million in box office revenue and having won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture, Michael Elliot is one of the most accomplished African-American screenwriters in Hollywood.

Michael’s career began in 1988 when he published Krush Magazine – the first publication ever devoted to covering the burgeoning world of hip-hop music exclusively. Month’s later, other hip-hop publications would follow his lead, including The Source magazine.

Shortly thereafter, Michael set his sights on television. With just $300, Michael launched “Krush Rap” – a locally aired music video program that was eventually syndicated in 21 markets. The weekly television series aired for two years, and generated over $500,000 in advertising dollars.

Next, Michael turned his attention to the book-publishing world. He authored, designed and self-published the hip-hop guidebook, The Unsigned Rappers’ Guide to Getting a Record Deal. Within one year, the book yielded twelve times his investment.

Impressed with his track record in 1992, Michael caught the interest of the owners of The Source Magazine. Recognizing his ability to “make things happen,” the owners offered Michael a position as Director of Special Projects.

While at The Source, Michael continued to explore unchartered waters. Radio was next. Michael was offered his own 2-hour weekly hip-hop show on one of Philadelphia’s top-rated radio stations, and thus began a weekly commute from New York back to his hometown, where he moonlighted as an on-air radio personality. However, the commute would be a short one. Impressed with Michael’s radio performance, New York’s famed hip-hop station, Hot 97, wanted in. Michael quickly made the transition from the country’s number four market to the country’s number one. And his voice was now being heard by millions of New Yorkers. As such, Michael was simultaneously succeeding and ascending at the goals of his day job — taking The Source magazine to new heights, and at DJing. But before long, not even Hot 97 could contain him…

Sony Worldwide Networks had just partnered with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons to launch a 2-hour nationally syndicated hip-hop countdown show. Michael was chosen to host and co-produce the weekly radio show, “Street Heat”. For the next two years, Michael would work for The Source and Sony Worldwide Networks, hosting and co-producing what would become the most successful radio show of its kind, expanding its listeners into 42 markets, including Guam and St. Martin.

In 1995, Michael resigned from The Source and returned to Philadelphia. There, he would make plans to make his wildest dreams come true. Michael wanted to make movies, and where else would he do that? Hollywood.

Michael became aware of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ interest to establish a film and television arm of his highly successful hip-hop label, Bad Boy Records. After meeting with Diddy about the future mogul’s plans, Michael relocated to Southern California in the fall of 1996, and was appointed President of Bad Boy Films.

Unfortunately, Michael’s tenure with Bad Boy Films would be short-lived. Four months into the job, Diddy’s friend and biggest star, The Notorious B.I.G., was murdered. Forty-eight hours later, Bad Boy Films was dissolved, and Michael was unemployed. But failure was not an option. Neither was returning to the East Coast without succeeding in this new arena.

Armed with a computer, a book on screenwriting, and a Blockbuster Card, Michael began teaching himself to write screenplays. Approximately 13 months later – without the help of an agent or manager – Michael sold his first screenplay Seven Days to 20th Century Fox.

Upon reading of his successes in Hollywood, Michael’s former employer, The Source magazine contacted him with a handsome offer to return. The hip-hop publication had been working unsuccessfully with the William Morris Agency to get their awards show to appear on network television. After every network in Hollywood (including UPN), had passed on a proposal to do a special with The Source, Source owners turned to the one person they knew had the ability to “make things happen.” Michael accepted the challenge, and as President of Source Entertainment struck an unprecedented deal for a special on UPN, within a month of taking his position. As also the show’s Executive Producer, Michael’s “Source Hip-Hop Music Awards” (1999 and 2000) set new rating records for the struggling network and generated more than $15 million in revenue. However, after violence broke out during the ‘2000’ airing of the show, Michael resigned to focus on his screenwriting and producing career. That decision proved to be a good one.

In less than one year of returning to the film business, Michael had 3 consecutive films ‘green lit’. These included the critically-acclaimed MTV’s Hip-Hopera: Carmen, which Michael scripted and executive produced, launching feature film careers for Mos Def, Bow Wow, Joy Bryant and of course, Beyonce Knowles.

In addition, Michael wrote the film Brown Sugar, a hip-hop love story that was made for $8 million. The film earned $11 million during its’ first weekend of release. On less than 1,000 screens, Brown Sugar grossed nearly four times its’ cost to produce at the domestic box office.

Michael also wrote the family film Like Mike, which starred Bow Wow. Like Mike earned over $62 million at the box office. The film’s success on the home market prompted the making of Like Mike 2, four years after the original’s theatrical run, in July 2006.

In 2009, Michael’s screenplay Just Wright was filmed in New York, marking Michael’s fifth produced credit in 12 years. The romantic comedy stars Queen Latifah, Paula Patton and Common, and was released in theaters May 14, 2010 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Made for just $12 million, Just Wright earned the total amount spent to produce it within 8 days of its initial release. And it did so from just 1,800 theaters – a mere 40% of the average theater count of a typical ‘wide’ release film. In 2011, Just Wright was nominated for four NAACP Image Awards, including Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture, which was presented to Michael on the stage of The Shrine Auditorium.

Over his 14-year screenwriting career, Michael has developed projects for some of Hollywood’s most important movie studios and television networks including Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, HBO, Walt Disney Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, BET, Universal Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, VH1, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, and New Line Cinema.

As CEO of Michael Elliot Media, Michael continues to create motion pictures, mentor, and inspire others as a motivational speaker. In addition, Michael is committed to help tomorrow’s breakthrough screenwriters, break-in, with his seminars, webinars, script consulting services, eNewsletter, and his downloadable directory of industry contacts – all available on

Friday, May 25, 2012

Putting Your Protagonist in Conflict

10 Ways to Put Your Protagonist/Hero into Conflict

You must put the protagonist(s) in conflict with either his or her own environment or the environment of others to keep the story moving and interesting.  A story without conflict is flat and boring and won't sell.

Do this by creating one or a combination of the following situations:

1. Something changes in the environment.

2. Moving the protagonist from one environment to another.

3. Put the protagonist in an environment that is in conflict with other environments.

4. Put the protagonist in an environment he or she wants to change.

5. Give the protagonist an environment to conquer.

6. Put him or her in an environment he or she wants to escape.

7. Put the protagonist in an environment where he or she is not wanted.

8. Put the protagonist in an environment for which he or she is unsuited.

9. Change the protagonist's status quo in his or her environment.

10. Change the status quo of the environment.

Give the protagonist a chief motivating force with a tangible object. His or her response to the environment yields a determination to do something about it (the chief motivating force) to achieve some tangible objective. It helps if you exaggerate the protagonist's reaction to the environment.

Write right and write on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Million Dollar Script sold by first timer

29-Year-Old Former Assistant Sells Million Dollar Script About Internet Datestalking

Emma Stone is reportedly in talks to star in a movie based on a screenplay about cyber datestalking written by a woman who, until last week, was Adam McKay's personal assistant. The script's called He's Fuckin' Perfect, and the writer is currently accepting applications for people interested in officially living vicariously through her.

The movie, like all movies, is about a good intentioned but overly neurotic young woman who just wants what's best for her friends. She diligently researches men online for others until she finds a guy who would be just right for her. There's one problem: she's all neurotic and doesn't think she's good enough for him! To fix this, she creates a fake internet persona that totally doesn't backfire. Things ensue!

The script's writer, 29-year-old Lauryn Kahn, reportedly sold her script to Fox 2000 pictures for between $1 million and $1.5 million. After finding out that she could finally afford to buy all of the happiness she's ever wanted, she quit her $40,000 per year assistant job to write scripts full time and be fanned by tan musclebound men who use only the finest palm fronds. In my imagination, Adam McKay is watching her wistfully as she waves goodbye. Goodbye, my love.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: never let go of your idiotic dreams. A million other people might have the same dream, but maybe one day you'll get lucky and the wheel of fortune will stop on you. Or you'll get unlucky and be the first person in your state to die of dysentery since the 1940's because of some expired cottage cheese you ate.

Emma Stone in talks to star in Lauryn Kahn Fox 2000 Spec [Deadline]


Excerpted from the blog post written by Erin Gloria Ryan

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Genres that sell - April 2012

What types of scripts sold in April 2012?

Here’s a break down of the genres sold in April 2012 per the Scoggins Report:

Genres Sold

2 Action/Adventure
3 Comedy
0 Drama
1 Horror
0 Sci-Fi
3 Thriller

Write from your heart, continue to show up on the page and know that good writing will eventually sell. If you keep at it and believe that quitting is not an option, your time will come.

Write right and write on!


For more industry information, check out

Write the Million Dollar Screenplay...oh and sell it too!

Writing the Million Dollar Screenplay

L.A. based producer, Victoria Wisdom who sold “The Usual Suspects” and got it produced, spoke to The Scriptwriters Network about selling screenplays.

Many writers still work in an industry bubble and don’t realize that agents make up to ten time the commission from A-list movie stars than A-list writers. There are fewer movies being made, budgets are polarized as mid-range budgets are being eliminated and there are fewer distribution channels than ever before. The pool of high-risk equity finance is dwindling, making life tougher for writers. Now that you have the brutal truth, use it to set you free to write smarter.

You need an aggressive (and sometimes obnoxious) personality to leave an indelible mark in this industry. Learn to recognize your obstacles and maneuver around them. Accept them as a part of life rather than complaining about them. As the Dalai Lama said “learn to flourish in a hostile universe through self-reliance, determination and persistence”. Perhaps he was a film mogul prior to living in exile in Tibert. Expect the worst to make the good taste even sweeter.

The average movie costs around $140 million including an around 15% P&A budget. Shockingly, studio films need to earn 2 to 3 times their production budgets in box office revenue to break even.

Writers must understand their role in the film making process. We are architects, writing blueprints for the 2D (or 3D) interpretation of our ideas. Hollywood is driven by fear of executives being fired rather than a desire to tell a good story. Ironically, a good story, sensibly priced and well positioned in the market place will sell tickets.

Be savvy. Be marketable and realistic about how much your film costs. There is no formula to success other than to keep writing. Consider 10000 hours of writing to be your apprenticeship. Don’t try to imitate other writers. Let them inspire you. Allow yourself to inspire others.

Read the tacking boards, rotten tomatoes, Variety and Box Office Mojo for opening box office figures. Each Monday morning, box office trends are either radically altered or affirmed. “Per screen average” figures are more meaningful for smaller indie films with a limited release. Know your audience and understand whether counter-programming is targeting the same or another demographic.


ACTION This is the most profitable genre since it traditionally attracts the 14-24 year old male demographic which repeatedly attends the cinema. The 25-36 year age group is next and anyone older doesn’t go to the cinema. Tentpole, franchise films are almost all action films and play well in international markets. Overseas distributors like them, because they have less dialog than dramas and comedies and consequently less subtitles are required. Be aware that studios are increasingly reliant upon foreign box office (around 68%) to make their films profitable.

Superhero films are box office tonic today, possibly due to the widespread economic malaise. Superheroes offer an escape and sense of comfort and protection. The flawed hero also humanizes them and makes them more accessible to audiences.

COMEDY Is often counter-programmed against action films. They are substantially cheaper to make (around 50 to 90%) compared to their action counterparts. The above the line costs (key creatives: producer, director, writer and actors) are similar in both genres. The cost base becomes insignificant for below the line roles in comedies which are traditionally use cheaper CGI and visual effects. Romantic comedies are date films targeting the 14-24 male and female demographics. The key issue with comedies are that they are often culturally and socially specific and don’t always travel well.

THRILLER Once again this genre targets the 14-24 year old demographic and includes horror films. The costs can be a tiny fraction of the cost of action films (sometimes as low as $50000). The box office fate of these films tend to be critic proof. Audiences will attend regardless. However, thrillers target a more film savvy and educated audience. Their plots are more complex and more engaging. Studios love action thrillers because they straddle two profitable genres.

Horror films are hugely profitable. The classic horror films such as “The Exorcist” play side by side with splatter horror films such as “Halloween”.

DRAMA These films have largely migrated to the TV market. They are based on hugely best-selling books and are championed by influential actors, directors and producers. Actors’ pulling power is referred to as their “category”. These films target older, urban, more sophisticated audiences. Historical and period dramas are virtually impossible to sell because they’re expensive and have a limited audience. Newer writers are ill advised to enter the marketplace with a drama.


A script which guarantees a profitable film. Since guarantees cannot be made, studio heads track the profitability of similar films from the previous week. In essence, they want “the same, but different” to recreate recent box office coin. Therefore, you should create a template of successful films similar to your own. If you want to write something too different, make it provocative, relevant and current. It needs to be born from the contemporary zeitgeist. The birth of modern Hollywood cinema is mooted to be around the mid-seventies when blockbusters such as “Jaws” and “Star Wars” were produced. The core rules still remain until we figure out what comes next.

Play with structure. Consider the backward execution of “Memento” or the scattergun time line of “500 Days Of Summer”. Be aware that females are going to the movies in groups more than ever before. It is unclear if they repeatedly see the same film like 14-24 year old males.

Create your own destiny. Make Hollywood executive stampede towards you rather than you towards them. Don’t be afraid of the light. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t be afraid of not being liked. Be afraid of inactivity and ill-considered moves.


I actually met Victoria Wisdom several years ago when she spoke at a Dallas Screenwriter's Association meeting when I lived in Dallas, Texas.  She is a woman with a wealth of knowledge and industry experience.

For more screenwriting tips, visit

Write right and write on!

Write a Romantic Comedy That Sells!

You Can Write a Romantic Comedy That Sells.

Here are six insider-tips that will increase your romantic comedy’s chances of getting read, getting purchased, and getting on the Big Screen.

Tip #1: The Chemical Equation

You saw the posters and trailers for ‘The Proposal’, ‘Jump The Broom’, ‘Brown Sugar” and ‘Pretty Woman’ BEFORE you saw the actual films. You went to see these romantic comedies already knowing that the leads were going to end up together. So creating two unique characters an audience will fall in love with and NEED to see united is the most important key to a romantic comedy's success. Your characters must each be emotionally incomplete people who get completed by their mate-to-be. One (if not both) of your protagonists should have an inner conflict that the story's romantic relationship confronts and ultimately resolves.

Tip #2: The Hybrid

Some of the most successful romantic comedies are hybrids -- movies that have expanded their audience by cross-breeding with other genres. Romantic comedies can be action-adventures (Knight & Day), gender-benders ('Tootsie'), sports comedies ('Just Wright'), political ('The American President'), period pieces ('Shakespeare In Love'), crime stories ('The Mexican'), teen movies ('Clueless') and more. This kind of cross-genre inter-breeding has kept our genre healthy for decades, and it's something to think about as you shape your romantic comedy with an eye towards the marketplace. You may already be edging into another genre's territory in your story. If so, maximize that element. Producers and studios are more likely to be intrigued by a romantic comedy that also promises the kind of big screen action that a crime, adventure, sports, etc. movie provides.

Tip #3: Don't Talk Too Much

Great movies MOVE. Too much talk, too much dialogue, can result in a pass (because what you've written is more like a play or a TV show) than a MOVIE. So ask yourself, how active is your script? How visually exciting? While you may not have the mudslides, wild chases and fireworks 'Romancing the Stone' delivered, you may have a set, a setting, world or a physical comedy opportunity that will open up and enliven your movie. Even the verbal-witty 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' featured a Scottish reel in colorful kilts. 'Annie Hall' is packed with sight gags, from the cocaine sneeze to the errant lobsters. Make sure your script makes use of all the cinematic storytelling techniques a good movie- movie uses.

Tip #4: The Formula Flip

Since most plots of successful romantic comedies follow a fairly predictable paradigm, your romantic comedy spec could stand out from the others in the marketplace if your concept, story and/or execution is exceptionally clever, imaginative or even better, ingenious. Four romantic comedies from the past that were truly memorable made their mark by putting a spin on the standard plot structure. There was 'boy doesn't meet girl until the last five minutes of the movie' ('Sleepless in Seattle'), 'boy meets girl after they're both dead' ('Defending Your Life'), 'boy only meets girl in and around weddings (and a funeral)' ('Four Weddings') and 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, ad infinitum, until he finally gets it right' ('Groundhog Day'). Try to come up with a concept that will enable your rom-com to stand out from the crowd. Failing that, a hook in the execution can make the difference. 'Bridget Jones's Diary' has the diary to hang its story on; ‘Two Can Play That Game’ uses breaking-the-fourth-wall conversations with the audience. Take a bold leap and find your tweak. It may make all the difference.

Tip #5: The Sexy Funny

Everybody remembers the 'fake orgasm in the deli' scene from 'When Harry Met Sally.' Romantic comedies that have pushed the erotic envelope have often scored with their audiences. The zipper scene from 'There's Something About Mary,' the dress straps 'Jerry Maguire' breaks, 'American Pie's pie -- successes like these show that the humor to be found in sexual situations is well worth pursuing. At the same time, don't forget that any comedy should provide at least a couple of truly funny set- pieces. Has your romantic conflict gotten so serious that the script is light on laughs? Find the humor in it and maximize. Steep your characters in painful, truth-baring situations, and look for gags to build bigger gags on. Smiles and chuckles don't sell a script. 'Ha- ha!' laughs-out-loud do.

Tip #6: The Meaning

At the core of any great romantic comedy is some kind of thematic idea grounded in the writer's personal point of view. Why are you writing this particular story about this specific couple? What about their story reflects some insight you have about the relations between men and women or the human condition? What question are you asking that your screenplay's story answers? The romantic comedies that endure -- and strike a real chord with their audiences -- are the ones that explore universal issues. 'When Harry Met Sally...' is about whether men and women can overcome gender differences. 'Tootsie' is about how no man (especially when he becomes a woman) is an island. Your romantic comedy should be posing a question, or poking at a truth, that you, the writer, are passionately invested in exploring. That's the real key to involving an audience, and no amount of cute one-liners can take its place. So have your movie MEAN something. It will help it to get made -- and to matter.

This article was created by Michael Elliot, and reposted here at Million Dollar Screenwriter. He is the writer of half a dozen produced movies and a great inspiration to emerging screenwriters. Sign up for his newsletter. It is chocked full of useful and timely information that will help propel your screenwriting career to the next level.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What is high concept?

This was taken from a literary agent's blog ( This defines their idea of high concept in regards to story and books.  Works for movies, too. 

What is High-Concept?

•High-concept is a welcome slap-in-the-face for publishing professionals

who’ve been lulled to sleep by thousands of boring submissions (hey, it’s the truth).

•High-concept instantly communicates an idea and gives it context.

•High-concept is the difference between good and great.

•High-concept is taking something timeless and making it timely.

•High-concept is making something familiar and/or faded… fresh.

•High-concept is clever (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also authentic).

•High-concept is standing out, getting everyone’s attention, creating curiosity.

•High-concept sometimes (but not always) means being bold, creating a spectacle,

and/or creating controversy.

•High-concept is memorable.

•High-concept is often newsworthy and media-friendly.

•High-concept gets people talking, sometimes shouting, other times whispering.

•High-concept is simply positioning or repositioning.

•High-concept is what Houdini created when he unchained himself from manacles

and escaped while hanging upside down 30 stories above the ground (but it’s not magic).

•High-concept is what P.T. Barnum used to fill his tents, employing the talents of

Tom Thumb (but you don’t have to be a clown or create a circus to do it).

•High-concept is embracing your role as both expert and entertainer or master of intrigue

and mystery (even if you’re just writing cookbooks).

•High-concept might mean using a metaphor to make the mundane seem magnificent.

•High-concept often bends (and sometimes breaks) rules and conventions.

•High-concept is arguably more important than the characters in a novel because

no one will ever meet (or care about) your characters without it.

•High-concept might capitalize on current trends (and sometimes creates new ones).

•High-concept understands that important themes, valuable content, and

a beautiful writing style aren’t always enough.

Selling a Script on Title Alone - Create High Concept Titles

Is it possible to sell a script on a title alone?  Rarely but yes.  People have done it but even if you aren't an A-list screenwriter, you can at least get people interested in your book or screenplay by stating the title alone if it's a high concept title.  The title followed by a magnificient logline will get you read.  Below are tips excerpted from the book, "The #1 Secret to Sell Your Screenplay to Hollywood".


A good title must be:

1. Concise. One to five words is the best length.

2. Genre-appropriate, The Bourne Identity hints at suspense and threat.

3. Relevant. The audience feels cheated if they can’t see a title’s relevance.

This doesn’t mean the relevance always has to be obvious from the beginning. But never take a passing detail and stick it in the title for show.

4. Intriguing. Makes people wonder what or who the story is about. Will the title you’re considering make readers ask questions, questions you answer in your story?

5. Tantalizing. Makes your title irresistible.

6. Memorable. Titles should be easy to remember. The catchier the better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Short and simple analysis of a story:

In the beginning of your story, the hero and villain meet each other and embark on a journey. This journey can be a plane trip, a business merger, an experimental medical treatment, a wedding, etc.

In the middle of your story, the hero and villain begin to compete with each other instead of cooperating with each other.

The end will be the confrontation and resolution in which only one of these characters survives or triumphs. During the three phases of your story, each character experiences conflict and the trauma that comes with it.