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I thought I’d add my two cents with the writers’ strike now behind us. Then, I thought, “Why would I write about something I have no first-hand knowledge of.” (It’s funny in today’s world; speaking about something you have no real insights on seems to be the norm.)

However, I do get asked often, “What makes a script a “good script” good, and what do you need to know about getting it sold?”  

Again, I have no professional wisdom on what makes a script good, great or crap. I can though share some insights into the latter, “what do you need to know about getting it sold?” 

These insights are based on my unique position and experience in the industry.

As most of you know, my career has been primarily on the frontlines of production and as a content producer. As some of you know, I’ve also written my fair share of scripts, books, and show treatments/pitches. This gives me some credentials to share insights that are usually only learned through the experience of trial and error.

When we sit down as writers/storytellers, we are typically guided by a topic/story that we have conceptualized or directed by an outside entity. Regardless of where the concept comes from, the following insights should always be considered.

Many will argue that most of these considerations have little to do with the writer’s responsibilities. I disagree. But before I lay out my argument, let me list the general considerations for bringing a concept to a finished product. These are not necessarily in the order of execution, but eventually, they all have to be considered.

First Consideration: 

What format will the story be presented?

  • Is this going to be a print or ebook?
  • Is this going to be a script for film or video?
  • If script, is it long form or short?
  • Will it be cut into a series with episodes dropping in a sequence?

Second Consideration:

What is the projected budget for the final product?

  • As the cliché goes, “It is called show BUSINESS for a reason,” and cost versus return is everyone’s first consideration.
    • Deadlines to completion.

Third Consideration:

How and where is this going to be captured?

  • If it’s a print book, compare the publisher’s deal memo.
    • Page count 
    • Who is paying for an editor
    • Initial run.
  • Script/screenplay: how many locations?
  • Cast size?
  • What are the practical production concerns?
    • Crew size
    • Camera (s)
    • Lighting
    • Sound
    • Sound stage rentals
    • Location fees
    • Insurance

Forth Consideration:

Post-production approaches?

  • All shot through the lens?
    • Special effects
    • ADR
    • Music
    • Sound FX

What I’ve listed above are just some of the “general considerations” that will be scrutinized during execution from concept to a final project.

Are all of these taken into consideration on all projects?

Yes, but writers usually do not concern themselves with them.

Why? Because “it’s not my job to worry about how hard it is to simulate the scene of a rainy evening in 1850 London, England.”

Well, whose job is it? Depending on the project size, these “considerations” are the responsibility of various designated professionals attached to the project.  

So why should a writer even worry about or consider these issues? If you’re writing a book, it doesn’t matter. Write your story as elaborate as you want.

But if your story is targeted for another medium or format, it’s best to understand the entire process. The more cost-effective your story is to produce, the more enthusiasm you will get from the green lighters and, most importantly, the overlords of the budget.

Let’s say you get contracted or decide to write a fabulous film shot in real life about an anthropomorphic GCI mouse who was adopted by a human family living on the Upper East side of New York City. You apply all the writing techniques learned at university. You detail the scenes, the character development, and the character nuances. Your plot weaves the story through dozens of New York City recognizable scenes, both interior and exterior. Your subplot and backstory align perfectly with the story arc.

At the conclusion of your writing, you hand your screenplay off to an agent in hopes it will quickly be greenlighted. The first pushback is always budget, “Do you have any idea how expensive it will be to produce a complex blend of an animated protagonist with real life?” Then, the conversation will move to the excessive locations and location production costs. At this point, your pitch is over before anybody has mentioned the value of your story. You’re booted out the door with, “Come back when you learn what it takes to write a story we can cost-effectively produce.”

Now, you take some time off writing and spend time on sets, in studios and locations studying and observing all the crafts involved in media production. You engage everyone willing to share the nuances of their craft. What skills did they have to develop, and how did those skills get plugged into the production. Single-out production managers who are typically responsible for everything from clearing location rights to hiring caters. Try and get an introduction to an accounting firm that underwrites production. Find out how budgets get allocated and what is the financial sweet spot for investors. Drop into a recording studio and learn how composers develop soundtracks. Sit with editors who must piece all this work into a coherent story.

Once you feel like you actually understand the BUSINESS of show business, your next script contains all that you’ve learned: limit the complexity of scenes, the size of the cast, the size of the production crew, potential profit, etc.

Your new story takes place on a single street in New York City. You have two locations on that street, a phone booth and inside a room a few floors up with a window facing the street with sight lines to the phone booth. Now you can focus on the plot and a simple title, maybe Phone Booth.

Yes, taking all those considerations into account is not traditionally the responsibility of a “writer.” Still, until you are a highly respected writer, the more you bring to the table with a deeper understanding of what it takes to go from concept to final, the better your chances are somebody will greenlight your project.

*To find out more about gathering insights into those “considerations” and making those necessary connections, become a member of Ferro City and learn from the best. 

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