So you think you have an idea for a movie?

So you think you have an idea for a movie? March 27, 2012

I got another one last night. A person who heard me give a speech sent me a message asking me to evaluate his life story as a good spine for a movie. We folks in the movie business get this kind of message a lot. As a rule, people have absolutely no idea how big and developed an idea needs to be to become fodder for the entertainment industry to start tossing it around. Below is a two-pager I worked up for my undergrads, basically as a guideline for their final project for me in my Story and Character class. From now on, when somebody writes me that they have a “good idea for a movie” I am going to ask them to complete this sheet – which I am estimating will come in at between 8-12 pages.

Movie Proposal Format

PROPOSED PROJECT TITLE: How does this title give a sense of your theme, genre and character?

LOGLINE: One sentence that sums up what this movie is about.

SHORT PITCH: In one paragraph, sell this story to me. The following information should be included in a breezy, well-written style.

What is the genre of this piece?

Where does it take place and in what time period?

What is the scope of the movie (ie. Epic studio movie? Quirky indie film? Etc.) and who will be its primary audience?

What will make people want to see this movie? How will it be fun/entertaining for the audience? (Think something to learn, something to feel, something to dream about. Think universal truth and spectacle.)

MOVIE THEME: State in one artfully-written, arguable sentence the main theme of this project. You can also include lesser themes in other sentences.

ARENA: Describe the unique and visual world through which we will travel in this movie. What will this movie look like on the screen? How will the visuals help set the tone and the theme? If it is a standard location (ie. courtroom, bar, restaurant, living room, office), describe how we will see this standard location in a new way in the movie.

CHARACTER PROFILE: This section should be at least three pages. It should include everything that Aristotle and McKee – and um, me – says that goes into a good character (not necessarily in this order), including:

Characterization (how old? How smart/educated/articulate? How rich or poor? Where he lives? How he looks – his personal style and quirks. Give me a thorough sense of the way this character is going to look and handle himself on screen.)

Character (What is his genius? His charm? Why will audiences be drawn to him? What are his values and how did he find them? What would he say he needs most? What stands in his way?)

What are the main conflicts in his life? What are some of the deep paradoxes in his life?

Who or what is his support system?

What is his transformational arc in the movie? What leads up to his moment of grace and does he accept it or not? How is he irrevocably changed at the end of the movie? How is his ending a new beginning?

SUPPORTING CHARACTER PROFILES: Write at least a paragraph for each of the two or three other principal characters in the piece. Give details of their character and characterizations and indicate what transformational arc they will travel in the story.

STORY SYNOPSIS: Divide the main action of the story into acts. This section should be at least five pages.

ACT ONE: Take us through the main action of the first half hour of this movie. Include the way the main character is introduced. Include how you are going to introduce your theme and any visual imagery you will be using. Hook us by indicating the entertaining spectacle that the audience will enjoy in the story. Then, take us through the inciting incident that draws the character into launching the journey of the story by making a choice. Describe the various kinds of conflict that stand in the character’s way. Introduce supporting characters and subplots. End with a high stakes, visual action/choice that puts the character in a new dilemma.

ACT TWO: Take us through the next hour of the film. How does the character’s situation become more complicated? What actions does the character take which drive the story? What changes do we start to see in the arena? Where is the character and his personal relationships in Act Three? What is it that heightens the stakes and suspense? What will continue to make this entertaining for the audience? What is the main reversal that comes at the mid-point? At the end of Act Two, how is the character’s situation as bad as it can be? What is the test that you have set up for the third act?

ACT THREE: Take us through the main action of the third act. What does the character do in the third act? What are the remaining sources of conflict and how does the character engage them? Where is the character in his relationship in Act Three? How does the character’s genius come into play in getting to the resolution of the story? How does the character “die” so as to live? How is the arena changed at the end of the story? What is the new beginning at the end?

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