Four Ways to Inject Your DNA Into Your Script
June 7, 2019
William Goldman famously said, “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work.”
That’s true of course. No one can guarantee outcomes in Hollywood — or any place. But, there is actually one thing that all buyers are looking for in a script:
That’s not just my personal opinion. I also Googled, “What makes Hollywood buyers buy scripts?” There’s a lot of results that pop up, but here are the three responses from respected producers and execs that support that statement:
“I tend to look for something fresh that surprises me.” - Michael Barker, Co-President, Sony Pictures Classics
“Almost every movie we do challenges the notion that there’s a formula to screenwriting. We are never looking for “the next” of something we’ve already done.” - Jason Blum of Blumhouse
“Anything new and strange, as long as it’s intelligent and emotionally honest.” - Helen Estabrook, Producer, Up in the Air, Young Adult, Whiplash
If what every buyer wants is new — a.k.a. Fresh, emotionally honest, and not a repeat of some other Hollywood hit — then I have good news. You’ve got it. It’s called your DNA.
The work lies in ensuring that your script contains your DNA.
It’s how you see the world, the people in it, and puts a unique perspective on story that only you can. I call this process writing through YOUR AUTHENTIC LENS. It starts with using 100% of what makes you, you, and then adding 30% extra. 100% of you is authentic. But it may not be a movie or TV show. That’s where the 30% extra comes in.
But first, 100% of YOU.
Here are four ways to inject your script with your DNA
1. Own The Place
Set your story in a location where you know the best the coffee shops without Googling. It’s a place where you can see everything your character sees when she walks down the street — because you’ve been before. Ideally, the location is a place you know better than anyone. Bonus if it's a place you're introducing us to! To really hit this notion home, narrow the perimeter down to say. A good example of this is in Russian Doll, which focuses on only four blocks of NYC’s East Village, instead of the whole neighborhood; and overturn every stone.
2. Trademark It
Be the authority on your character's profession, personal circumstances, family and relationship dynamics by mining your own life. I'm not saying the character has to "be you," but show us your fingerprint. Phoebe Waller Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve) writes complex female relationships that explore women in a way we haven't seen before. Her focus on female relationships is the link between her half-hour dramedy Fleabag and her one-hour serial killer thriller Killing Eve. What’s your trademark?
3. Pristine Pairings With a Twist
Put two professions or tropes together that we’ve never seen together before, and you will own that pairing. Writers that have done this exceedingly well are the Creatives behind: Barry (Hitman/Actor), Breaking Bad (Chemistry Teacher/Meth King), Kidding (Grieving Father/Mr. Rogers), and Dead To Me, which features both the Grieving Widow/Murderer pairing as well as the Kill a Guy/Become a Wife’s BFF trope.
4. Scene Stealing Seconds
Create secondary characters that steal scenes from your lead, because they are that memorable. It’s what gets the audience talking — and coming back for more! Think: Dory in Finding Nemo, NoHo Hank in Barry, Fran and Chris in Catastrophe, Eve in The Bible, and pretty much everyone except Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
I test each of my secondary characters to see how they rate on the interesting scale with: If I call them to say, "I'm pregnant," I know how each one will react and those reactions are unique and super specific.
That’s it: four ways to inject specificity into an existing script. And for the next script, how to build your DNA into it from the start. It is the one way I know to guarantee your NEWness. Sounds simple enough? Then get writing!
Written by: Lisa EbersoleLisa Ebersole coaches professional screenwriters to write scripts that sell by identifying their AUTHENTIC LENS and treating their career as a startup business. Learn more at www.lisaebersole.net/free-masterclass