Three Things Producers Want in a Screenplay

by Ken Miyamoto on May 21, 2018

If producers had to narrow it down to specific elements within a screenplay that would best persuade them to take a chance on a screenwriter and their script, what would they be?

Prolific film producer Mark Heidelberger spoke with Film Courage and answered that very question. He narrowed it down to three things that best attract him to a project and its writer. Here we take his three answers and elaborate on their reasoning.

1. A Well-Written Script

Too many screenwriters these days are so focused on concept and marketing potential that they forget about the most important element overall — having a well-written screenplay.

"The script just has to be, in my eyes, well-written," Mark answered. "I don't care what the story is, in terms of genre, to me, a good story transcends genre. It has nothing to do with genre. Genre is just sort of a set of conventions that allow people to identify what kind of movie it is... you can tell a good story in any genre." 

He goes on to further describe what a well-written story is.

"Is there some sort of character, some sort of protagonist, and can I identify with [their] journey in some way. I'm not going to use the word likable. I'm just going to say, 'Is it a protagonist I can identify with?' In some way, I want to follow him for some reason. Does he have goals? Does he have flaws? Is there an antagonist that is creating conflict with this guy or girl... is there something I can get behind?"

He also looks out for a strong theme. The theme is central to the script's driving force of why this story is being told. What's the message? What's the subtext? What's that additional layer that can touch us as humans watching this movie?

It's not enough to have characters with superpowers, some good scares, and shocking twists and turns.

2. What's the Budget Range and Is It Reasonable?

In the end, film is a business. And the logistics of it are important, as far as if the script is reasonable, budget-wise.

"People come to me and I get a lot of, 'How much would it cost to do this script?'"

His response is, "I'll answer that question if you can answer a question for me. How long is a piece of string?" 

There are so many intangibles that can't be quantified and too many screenwriters just don't understand the logistics of budget. "It has to be doable," he says. What that means is that he seeks a writer that has a general idea of the scope of the film that is on their end.

You can learn to offer a general range based on researching similar films to your script's story. BoxOfficeMojo often has the budget of films listed on their site. Use that as a resource to find a ballpark figure so that when you get onto that industry call or attend that studio meeting, you can offer a number that shows you've done your homework and have a good feel for the scope of your script.

You can then research what types of budgets production companies work with and allow that to inform you who you should be going to as you market your script.

And this plays into the writing of the script as well. If you go all out and write a story that requires major digital effects, epic stunt work, thousands of movie extras, and widespread location shooting throughout the world, it will limit who you can take that script to.

Knowledge is power. Do your homework and go in knowing what you're getting into and what you're asking others to get into as well.

Read ScreenCraft's 5 Ways to Realize the Budget of Your Screenplay!

3. Do I Want to Spend the Next Year with This Person?

It's not always the script that dictates whether or not a producer will want to take a chance on it.

"You're going to spend a year or more dealing with this person..."

And that specific element points to you as a writer and how you carry yourself as a hopeful collaborator. When you get to go on that water bottle tour of industry meetings (or phone calls), producers and development executives have already read your script. Now they want to learn a little bit more about you and what you're about.

Do you have more than one script? The answer will dictate how prepared or green you are to undergo rewrites.

Are you open to changes in your story? They're testing your ability to both collaborate and keep your own ego in check.

How you handle yourself and others is a huge part of their decision to take a chance on you and your script.

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies


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