We’ve all see good ideas that seemed like a great movie, only to be disappointed by the actual movie. We’ve also seen talented actors and actresses playing roles to perfection but in a story that’s dull, disjointed, or illogical. The problem is that a great movie takes more than A-list stars and high-profile directors. What makes a great movie is both a great idea and great execution.
A great idea means that your story, condensed in one or two sentences, immediately grabs people and catches their interest. Even if they don’t like that particular story genre, they should still be intrigued by the idea. For example, there’s the high-concept idea like “The Hunger Games” where teenagers are forced to battle to the death on a reality TV show. Then there are lower key ideas like “Nebraska,” which is about a man humoring his father who thinks he’s won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes.
With “The Hunger Games,” the idea of teenagers fighting to the death is unusual so it’s also intriguing. With “Nebraska,” the idea of a man convinced he won a sweepstakes simply because he received a letter stating that he may have won is much less intriguing except in an oddball manner. Try to pitch an idea like “Nebraska” will be much harder than trying to pitch an idea like “The Hunger Games” or “12 Years a Slave.”
But just having a good idea is never enough. You also need to execute that idea. Most novices struggle to fill 110-120 pages and think that they’re done. However, too many novices fill their screenplay with dull scenes that don’t intrigue, don’t grab our attention, and don’t serve much of a purpose. A common mistake is to focus on the appearance of someone’s bedroom so you can see how sloppy or neat they may be. Unfortunately, looking at someone’s bedroom is boring. There’s no conflict or drama, so there’s little interest. A bedroom is only interesting if something unusual is happening such as a couple making love only to be discovered by their six-year old son, or a dead body sprawled out on the floor.
The way you write each scene in your screenplay determines your execution. Can you turn a great idea into a great screenplay? It’s easy to come up with great ideas. It’s much harder to turn those great ideas into intriguing screenplays that don’t mimic a billion other movies.
A good exercise is to write individual scenes of your screenplay in complete isolation. Then let others read just that one scene. If that one scene grabs their attention and makes them want to know more, you probably have a good scene. If that isolated scene bores people or confuses them, you probably have a bad scene and need to rewrite it. String enough bad scenes together and you’ll wind up writing a bad screenplay no matter how good your initial idea might be.
So the lesson for today is to make sure you have both a good idea and know how to write every scene in your screenplay in an interesting manner. Fail to have a good idea and nobody will care about your screenplay. Have a good idea but boring scenes and you screenplay will go nowhere and disappoint everyone you show it to.
Structure your idea properly. Then write scenes correctly to execute your idea. That’s a surefire way to make your screenplay stand out in the crowded market.