FROM CONCEPT TO SCRIPT IN 4-6 WEEKS
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
You have an idea for a screenplay. In fact, you might even have a finished screenplay. Now, you want to engage a producer or manager. Do you have a one-two page written pitch? Why only two pages? It's highly unlikely that anyone will read more than that. If you can't hook a producer or manager in two pages, forget about 110.
Whether you have a screenplay or not, if you have a great idea, and if you can write a powerful two-page written pitch just based on that idea (i.e. a logline or a pitch paragraph) , you might actually have a story worthy of a screenplay.
One way or other, the two-page written pitch will expose what works and what doesn't in your story. That said, little did I know how that two-page written pitch knowledge would benefit me.
As of last month, I recently finished my eighth commissioned screenplay (all projects were written for producers that work with the Lifetime network). All have been (or are about to be) produced. I have learned a lot along the way and would like to share some of it with anyone who might be reading this.
For all eight screenplays, I was given either a paragraph or a rough one-page treatment (without a logline). From that, I was expected to churn out a 95-100 page thriller, within 4-6 weeks, keeping in mind that budgets were low, cast and locations had to be minimal and that anything that I wrote could be changed or discarded. Was this the reason I had studied screenwriting? No; on the other hand, I had the opportunity to work on my craft, get paid and get a credit. Here are some tips that may help you on your journey from concept to screenplay:
BASED ON your logline/one-pager (or whatever you have been given or whatever you have created): Create a character profile for each of your characters using this simple questionnaire. You can copy and modify it to your liking. Do all the character profiles at the same time. Be as detailed as you like. Completing this character profile means you have thought through each of your characters to the point you know them and they are in your head. When you get lost, you can refer to it (and modify it as you go along, based on what you learn and discover about other characters and/or story requirements).
Now you have your basic concept (logline/paragraph/one-pager), plus a detailed character profile. Next (and here's where my experience with the two-page pitch came in handy), take your paragraph or one-pager and spin it out into something that could become a 9-act treatment (even if you only start with 9 key sentences). Why "9"? Think of each act as roughly 10 pages of script (one page equaling one minute of screen time), and you have a 90-minute movie, which is still the standard today. More importantly, if you think in 9 acts, you need to have a compelling event for 8 of them, i.e. a cliffhanger, to propel the story into the next act. This is a fantastic motivator. It forces you to stay on your toes (or your fingers) and ask yourself the hard questions: what is compelling enough to move the story forward and keep the audience engaged? In this respect, it matters not whether you are writing a thriller or a romcom -- you need "an event" to happen that will be sure to bring everyone along for the rest of the ride.
Assuming you started with 9 key sentences, spin those sentences out into strong paragraphs (2-3 paragraphs for each sentence, but even one punchy paragraph might work), all in present tense, all moving forward, filled with powerful visuals (stay away from quoted dialogue).
This 9-act treatment should be REVIEWED by your peers or mentors or the person you are working with. This is a crucial document that you are going to base your script off of. When you get the thumbs up for this document, you can proceed to your script as you will have created the basic blueprint for your 90+ compelling pages.
Other things to keep in mind:
If your scenes do not have conflict, ensure that they do or cut them. It's that simple.
If you bring in a minor character (one that is essential), give them a 3-beat arc. Think of everything in "3s". The 3-beat arc makes minor characters more fully fleshed-out and gives a sense of completion to whatever their contribution to the story is.
Give your lead character(s) a last name. It makes them sound/feel more "real."
If you read something and think it is unclear or might not work or seems weak: it is. Rewrite it or cut it.
EXPECT NOTES and deal with them gracefully
These are a few tips that may help you. I know they've helped me. Good luck!