How Film Producers Analyze Your Screenplay/ 2019-03-15
When an actor reads a script, he’ll think about how to approach his character, his motivation, his arc. When a cinematographer reads that same script, he’s thinking about lighting, camera angles, and what cinematic style to employ. The art director thinks about how to use design principles and visual techniques, while the editor assesses how everything will cut together.
But what about the producer? After all, she’s the creative gatekeeper who has committed to bringing all these people together to turn your script into a movie. What does she look for? In short, everything. (Albeit from a macro level.) Because if she doesn’t understand what the script needs, how will she assemble the right team for it? Moreover, how will she find its audience? Below are six main areas that a good producer will consider when reviewing your script.
The producer wants fleshed-out characters, dramatic tension, coherent theme, and appropriate narrative structure. These are the underpinnings of viable cinematic storytelling. The story should resonate with your target demographic – whether through comedy, drama or thrills – ultimately offering a two-hour journey that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief. Bottom line, you can take a great story and make a so-so movie, but you’ll never turn a so-so story into a great movie.
Producers are not only the film’s creative shepherds but also its fiscal ones. They’re responsible for deciding how much the film should cost and then securing that amount from investors. They also maintain a fiduciary duty to make choices that will benefit those investors. Smaller stories that require over-the-top set pieces or excessive visual effects might turn what would otherwise be a greenlight into a pass. Similarly, material with a low-budget feel might turn off a producer seeking something with wide theatrical appeal.
The right cast is almost indispensable to selling a film, so it’s no great mystery why producers rarely read a script without thinking about who would play key roles. Think about known actors whose look, style and personality might best befit the characters and let that inform your writing. The producer may ask you who you see playing those characters. Just make sure the actors you pick have a decent track record of starring in successful films.
Execution & Logistics
At the end of the day, remember that the producer is tasked with turning your words into images. That means finding the right locations, hiring the best crew, securing vendors, determining a feasible schedule, and doing it all in a way that protects the integrity of both the story and budget. If she sees a workable path for bringing your script to screen within the budget parameters, she’s more likely to take a chance on it.
Loving a script is not enough. The producer wants to know that others will love it, too. Those people will make up the movie’s audience. As she reads, she’ll be thinking about how to grab the audience’s attention before they ever buy a ticket, from posters (how will the stars look on it?) to trailers (are there some good action-oriented set piece moments?) to awards potential (can I parlay a win at Cannes into an Oscar?). Considering such things in the scripting stage yourself might make your material more marketable.
A feature film is ultimately a product. Making it is only the first step. Releasing it to an audience is the rest. The producer thinks about which distributors, sales agents, and platforms will find the story appealing, whether it be a made-for-TV movie, an international blockbuster, or a small Spanish-language indie for the Latin streaming market. Elements like scope, scale, plot, tone, genre, cast type, and marketability factor into this decision, so your understanding of such things help you better craft material.
These six elements are critical to how a producer analyzes a screenplay, but they don’t operate in a vacuum. They all relate and affect each other. For instance, story and budget will affect the level of cast you can attract, while all three will affect logistics. Cast and budget will affect the marketing plan, and so on. As such, multi-hyphenates like writer-producers who actually produce some of their own material are in the best position to consider another producer’s mindset when writing future scripts.
For further insights, here is part of an interview I did with Film Courage on this topic: