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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

Dch, I submit a lot to producers at Inktip, but my scripts are being passed on even before they’re being read?  Can you tell me why?


This week's answer: 

Pretzel Premise

Garcia, I appreciate your question.  The reason for the quick rejections is probably because the producers are not adequately intrigued by your log lines.  I look at many script log lines / premises for producers, having to move quickly, and what I look for are fresh, original, extremely creative ideas.  If I come across a premise that reminds me of a hundred others, chances are I’m not going to give that script much attention and continue to search for something different than the norm.

Here’s an example:  I come across a query with a premise about a corrupt detective in a small town who takes one last case and goes after a serial killer, who turns out to be somebody who has eluded him for years and has recently surfaced and has targeted friends and relatives of the detective.

Now that premise is not a bad one and could definitely make for a thrilling read and film.  But I would most likely pass on it unless I knew that the writer is a highly skilled screenwriter.  The premise, as sound as it seems for a psychological thriller, does not “wake up my brain,” and that’s what I’m looking for:  something that immediately has me thinking, “Now that’s different.”  Not only “different,” but  “engaging” needs to be in play.

So many writers are involved now with convincing producers that their scripts are good because of all of the twists, turns, reversals, double twists, etc., involved.  Those changes in direction are fine and make for compelling storylines, but, no matter how “twisted” the script is, the premise is paramount.  That’s so important, I’ll put it in a big font:


Before you, the screenwriter, decides on a premise, it’s helpful to look at premise ideas from as many angles as possible, seeking the most original and impacting one possible.  Concerning the one above and just playing with some other ideas connected to it, here are some possibilities that stem from letting the “imagination ride”:

1.  A corrupt detective obsessed with finding a serial killer who has eluded him for years, becomes a serial killer in order to stop him.

2.  A corrupt detective suspects that the serial killer who has eluded him for years is his wife. 

3. When a serial killer, who used to be a detective and has been released from jail, is hunted by an unknown serial killer who has been killing the convict serial killer’s relatives and friends. 

Do you notice how the three possible alternative premises have a way of turning the original one on its head or inside-out (or outside-in)?

Of course, regardless of how fresh a premise, you want to create one that engages you.  After all, you’re the one who has to stay interested throughout the screenplay to keep us interested.  And once you have your creative premise and you’re thoroughly committed to that creative premise, you can feel free to put as many twists in the storyline as you like.  Turn it into a pretzel, for all I care (which brings me to another big-font line):



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