Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Screenplays: A Producer's Perspective

Producers are on the eternal search to find a good screenplay -- that gem that jumps off the screen or page and enraptures them from beginning to end. Something that is so good that they want to call the screenwriter mid-read and expound on their genius. Unfortunately, this phenomenon doesn't happen very often. Boy, I wish it did!

As a producer, you are in charge of finding or developing strong material that appeals to a large audience. Even if the writing is top-notch, the topic may be too small and focused on a niche market. Or maybe the topic is great but then the writing is sub-par. Finding the right mix is a big challenge and can mean many, many hours slogging through script after script or months of development with a writer to get the screenplay in the right position for a sale or packaging. 

And though screenwriters are wonderful people -- I claim to be a writer myself -- the process of reading thousands of scripts can make even the nicest producer a bit surly. So please forgive any angst from producers during the development process. We are just reacting to our sore eyeballs and overstimulated and over-caffeinated brains.

When considering a screenplay, producers need to take into account:
  • is the topic timely?
  • is the script structured properly? 
  • is there a role that will appeal to one or two top actors?
  • is the dialogue strong?
  • are the characters well developed with unique voices?
  • is it a page-turner?
  • is it a standard length?
  • is the script in proper screenplay format and exhibit good grammar and minimal spelling errors (none is preferred of course but screenwriters are human!)?
All of the above are critical to ensuring the script will appeal to a financier. And in the end, that is the producer's job -- to find the ability (i.e. money or deferrals) to get the film made. And though this is an industry built on dreams, the producer needs to take those dreams and make them a viable business opportunity. And that starts with a good screenplay.

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