What Producers Are Looking For When They Read A Script

You’ve got a killer idea. You’ve spent months developing it, outlining the story and writing the script. These characters mean a lot to you, and you’re finally ready to start the process of taking your script to screen. 

You reach out to producers you know through mutual friends, you post about your script in Facebook groups and on job sites. You’re ready for the right producer to come along and pick your script up, but… *crickets*. 

Everyone who reads your script politely declines it. You have no producer attached, you’re no closer to getting your script made into a film and the worst part? You don’t know why.

Unfortunately this is an experience I have seen so. many. writers. go through. When they’ve experienced enough rejection, they tend to go one of two ways.

Give Up

They’ll chalk it all up to experience, and leave their script in their Google Drive, never to be looked at again.

They take a break from writing, from developing ideas, and start to wonder if they’re actually any good at this.

Suddenly they wonder if they’d have had the same experience if the script had won awards. So they manically start trying to save up for festival submission fees, and start sending the script out. Of course, the response rate is low, the success rate even lower.

Their script ends up back where it started, and they’ve lost even more time and $$$

‘It’s not my time’

Or else they’ll decide that it’s not the ‘right time’ for their script. It’s not a popular story right now, it’s not diverse enough, it’s not avant-garde enough. 

They’ll go through every excuse in the book, and start reworking their script. 

A few weeks, or months later, they’ve reworked their script completely and it’s almost entirely different.

They start sending it out again, but get the same rejections. 

The script gets left in their Drive, and they refuse to keep changing it. They think the problem is that they don’t know what the industry wants right now, and their blind stabs in the dark haven’t been successful. 

They leave the script and decide to work on another one, whilst fielding questions from people asking how the last script is doing. 

Finding an audience for short films

All out of options

Do both of those options sound terrible? Yeah, I don’t like them either.

Which is why we’re looking at it from the other way around.

Read more: The Biggest Misconceptions About Being A Filmmaker

What producers are looking for in a script

Every producer is different. Some live for sci-fi while others are strictly horror only. So it pays to do your research before sending it off to anyone. 

It’s also a great way to find producers that are probably looking for scripts like yours. 

The first message

The first step before approaching producers is to write down the bare bones of your script.

  • Genre
  • No. of characters
  • Target audience 

Once you’ve got the outline, you can start approaching producers much more confidently. 

Now you’re standing out from the very first message.

Because instead of diving straight into script and story (of which they have 10+ emails from other writers) you’re talking to them in their terms.

You’re also doing it differently from every other writer in their inbox, which is exactly what they’re looking for.

Read more: Defining Your Filmmaking Career Path

The script 

Now let’s look at your script itself. There’s no carbon copy script structure to follow that appeals to all producers – that would be crazy. So the best way to make your script stand out is to clearly define what sort of short film it is.

Complete Story or Conversation Starter

Is it a complete story? Or a conversation starter? And once you’ve decided on which category, stick to it.

Personally I am all about complete stories. I love a good beginning, middle and end. 

But a lot of short films serve as conversation starters or think pieces, designed not to give the audience a traditional story. Instead, it gives a glimpse of a story that makes the audience think. 

Pick your category and once you’ve decided it, you’ve added another way to stand out to producers. Because, again, you’re talking to them on their terms.

These categories aren’t official or commonly talked about the way genres are, which is why it’s even more powerful. 

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The characters

Your characters are leading the story. They’re how the audience finds their way in, and why they either follow it, or give up and stop watching. Take a good look at your characters. It’s time to take stock and evaluate.

  • Number of leading and supporting characters
  • Age 
  • Defining characteristics

You probably know your characters inside out, which is why it’s important to outline them in a few key points. Anyone reading your script doesn’t know them the way you do, so determine how your characters look to an outsider reading the script for the first time.

Do the characters come across the way you want them to? Do they lead the story in the way they need to? Will people love them, hate them, or be indifferent?

Know how they read to an outsider, then pitch them that way. 

The audience

Audience can be a scary word to anyone who isn’t a producer. Which is why we’re going to make it super simple. We’re just going to look at age, gender and a few interests.

Your target audience is usually the same as your leading character(s). So if your protagonist is a 25 year old woman, your audience is likely to be women around 20s – 30s. 

That’s all you have to do at this stage to identify your target audience. This is another powerful way to stand out to a producer.

Because, above all, a producer wants to know you’re serious about writing, creating and filmmaking.

Demonstrating that you’ve started to identify a target audience is a fantastic way to do that.

The last piece of the puzzle is to look at common interests, and this is easily done with Google. 

It doesn’t have to be heavy research, and it doesn’t have to take long either.

You could look at the most popular activities, hobbies or films seen by your target audience. 

The purpose of this is to confirm that your target audience will be interested in your story. 

Male audiences, for example, tend to exclusively watch action films. Which means if you think your target audience is mostly male, but there’s zero action in your script, you may have to rethink. 

Want to know more about audiences?

Get the lowdown in The Producer’s Checklist

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The realism aspect

Lastly, producers are realists. Know the limitations of your script. If it’s  30 page period drama, know that it’s not going to be made for £2000. If you have a lot of action sequences in your script, know that it will take a lot of rehearsals and careful planning. 

This is equally important when you’re picking producers to approach. Don’t send a period drama to a bona fide horror producer, and don’t send a script that will easily need a budget of £20,000 to someone who’s only ever handled lo-no budgets before. 

Remember, your story doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. That is nearly impossible so when it comes to being realistic, don’t go heavy on the ‘this is just like…’. It’s not the story that matters. It’s how you tell it. That’s what makes you a writer, and what sets you apart.

So, let’s recap:

Your to do list 

  1. Outline the bare bones of your script 
    1. Genre
    2. No. of characters
    3. Target audience
  2. Define your script 
    1. Complete Story
    2. Conversation Starter
  3. Your characters
    1. No. of leading + supporting
    2. Age
    3. Defining characteristics
  4. Your audience
    1. Age
    2. Gender
    3. Interests
  5. Remember the realism aspect
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