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This Is What Managers Look for in a Script

June 25, 2024
9 min read time

These days it’s uncommon for a screenwriter to sell a script or get an agent without being repped by a manager beforehand. Management companies have become the de facto filtering system of the screenplay marketplace.

When an agent, producer, or studio exec submits a script via a manager—especially if it’s one they have a relationship with—you’re more likely to not only get a read but to get a more serious read. This is why getting a manager is important and should be a priority for an aspiring screenwriter.

But what exactly are managers looking for in a script? Every manager will have their own tastes and priorities that factor into what they connect with, but below are five things they are looking for.

Read More: 3 Must-Ask Questions Before You Write a Sellable Script

A High Concept

Arguably the thing managers are looking for most is a “high concept.” 

A high concept is a concept that can be succinctly pitched, ideally in one sentence. This sentence is essentially the logline (or “the elevator pitch”). If it takes more than a sentence to pitch your idea or story, chances are managers won’t consider it a high concept. Furthermore, what you’re describing in the sentence needs to be easily understood and evocative: it should make a person excited to read what you’re describing.

A Quiet Place is a great example of a high concept. Its succinctly pitched concept was even used in the film’s promotional tagline: “If they hear you, they hunt you."

A man covering Sam's (Lupita Nyong'o) mouth in 'A Quiet Place: Day One'

However, coming up with a high concept can sometimes feel like looking for the Holy Grail: it’s sought after and elusive to many. This is because, in addition to being able to be described in a single sentence, the concept should also be sellable and marketable.

The screenwriting marketplace is constantly changing, and what’s considered a sellable concept is likewise always altering. This is why it’s important to predict a marketplace trend or be right at the start of one rather than following a trend or being on the tail end of one. 

It sometimes takes just one film scoring or bombing at the box office to change everyone’s mindset in the industry. The more you adapt to the marketplace and new trends, the better your chances of striking conceptional gold.

A laptop, notepad, and coffee on a wooden table, This Is What Managers Look for in a Script

A Fresh Take or Approach

Bigger management companies receive multiple submissions and query emails daily. This is another danger of simply following a well-established trend or formula: your script might come across as “too familiar” and it won’t stick out.  

“It’s too familiar” is a phrase frequently used by managers and producers when passing on a script (it might even rival “I liked it but didn’t love it”). Now this doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel and write something radically different from what’s been written before; you need a fresh take or approach to the material.

Despite the above oft-cited phrase, most managers do want a familiar story, they just don’t want it executed familiarly. It’s not like Hollywood is never going to make a zombie apocalypse movie ever again, but you have to make yours fresh and new.

Another popular phrase in screenwriting circles is: “The same but different.” If you can find a new way into a time-tested story, this will often be enough to make your script read less familiar. Maybe you can switch the point-of-view from a hero to a villain or add a topical or timely angle to the story. 

Think of the type of films that typically get made, then think of a way to write one of those films uniquely.

Read More: How To Write a Topical Screenplay

Two women in a meeting looking over notes; This Is What Managers Look for in a Script

Your Script Will Be Easy to Shoot

What is not often discussed in articles and books on crafting screenplays, but major factors in why certain scripts get sold or produced are logistical: will your script be easy to shoot?

These days, many managers are also producers or, at the very least, are aware of production concerns when reading a script. How many locations are in your script? How many actors are required? How many stunts? How many visual effects? 

An original screenplay not based on an established property or intellectual property (IP) is less likely to be produced if it requires a big budget or will be difficult to shoot. This is why contained thrillers have been increasingly popular over the years: they’ve got small budgets and are easy to shoot. 

If your script manages to have both a high concept, and a fresh approach and can be shot “on the cheap,” you have a much greater chance of getting a manager interested.

A woman holding a black and white clapper; This Is What Managers Look for in a Script

Roles Actors Will Want To Play

Another real-world consideration is whether or not your script has roles actors will want to play. Moreover, is there a lead role for a movie star or a known actor with heat? Many films secure financing due to the attachment of a bankable actor and this is something else managers are well aware of. 

Manages also know agencies will have a better response to a script if they can easily attach their acting talent pool to it and possibly create “a package.” Packaging is the industry practice of shopping a script with multiple attachments (actor, director, producer) and it increases the chances of a sale. The more elements a project has in place, the more confident people will be in it because they know it’s more likely to get greenlit and produced.

Regardless of the genre, when writing your script be mindful of your characters and try to make them as strong as possible. The protagonist is the most important because that role can lead to a bankable actor’s attachment. Consider your script as your protagonist’s story and it should be told largely from their point-of-view. Your protagonist should also have an emotional throughline and a clearly defined character arc. These are things actors respond to and a manager will be looking for them.

Read More: 4 Tips to Never Forget Your Protagonist

Charlie (Nic Cage) sitting in front of a typewriter in 'Adaptation,' This Is What Managers Look for in a Script

You Have a Voice

Finally, a manager will be looking for a writer with a voice.

This means if you have a distinct personality and writing style: a voice often being “the X factor” to why some scripts stick out more than others and make for a more engaging read. Managers also respond to a writer with a voice because they know it’ll be easier to create a brand and career for that writer.

But how do you give your script your voice? Perhaps you have a dark sense of humor or a unique worldview. Maybe you write with a lot of cinematic flair or have eclectic tastes and like to mix genres.

Essentially it’s about inserting your personality and tastes into your script—without being over-indulgent—and by extension giving your script more personality. When writing, make it your script, and don't hold back!

Read More: Write Like It’s the Last Thing You’ll Ever Write!

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