How to use the premise test to vet an idea

* Premise and conversation posted with permission.

ORIGINAL PREMISE 
A lonely speech pathologist getting over her sons death, a nervous ticked chemist and an escaped, young alien must break into a research facility to free captive aliens or else he will never be reunited with his family. They do this by planning to break in the facility and learn to give up the past and trust in others. 
 
REVISED PREMISE 
An emotionally devastated woman who has lost her son encounters a stranded alien child. She fosters him and works to reunite him with his family by rescuing them from a government base. She mounts her rescue and breaks into the most heavily guarded facility in the world, using nothing but ingenuity, planning and courage. Things are complicated by the fact that she’s bonded with the alien and doesn’t want to let her surrogate “child” go. She learns to let go of the past and trust others.
HOW WE GOT HERE:
JeffreyWhales: Gotta try mine out to see how it looks so far. A speech pathologist who lost her son in an accident and a nervous ticked chemist fall in love while hiding an escaped alien from a nearby facility, only to find out the alien’s family is still being held in captivity causing them to plan a break in to help get them home. Not there yet, but any tips would be wonderful!
Me: Please put it in the suggested format.
JW: A lonely speech pathologist getting over her sons death, a nervous ticked chemist and an escaped, young alien must break into a research facility to free captive aliens or else he will never be reunited with his family. They do this by planning to break in the facility and learn to give up the past and trust in others.
ME: Presumably, they don’t do this by planning to break into a facility, presumably they break into a facility, right? What do they spend the second act doing? Planning the break in, breaking in, or dealing with the aftermath of the break in?
JW: Yes, didn’t realize that I put that. I imagined it where they spend the first part of the second act learning about the alien and how to care for him, and then finding out about his family midway through the 2nd act which is when they decide to break in. Maybe its put better like this: …they do this by learning how to utilize the alien’s powers and their own expertise to sneak in and find his family. This is difficult. But thank you very much for helping. It’s amazing.
ME: It is hard. People look at this and think it’s going to be easy, but it’s strange how powerful the Visual Means part is when it comes to determining what people take the story to be. …they do this by learning how to utilize the alien’s powers and their own expertise to sneak in and find his family. Okay, I like that better. I can see why learning to use an aliens powers would yield some sequences. The first half explores the powers, the second half utilizes them in service of a goal. That’s at least a defensible second act, though. Perhaps not an ideal one, but it’s defensible.
QUESTIONS:
1) What are the alien’s powers? If he’s got superman-level powers, it’s one kind of movie, if he can teleport, it’s Jumper, if it’s goofy, you’ve got ET or my Stepmother is an Alien or Mac and Me.
2) What’s the genre?
3) What’s the third act look like?
My prediction: They get to the base, break in, but their friendship sours because of an inability to let go of the past. and they get caught. It looks like they’re going to die, but then something happens to remind them to trust each other, let go of the past. Then they do, and use the alien powers and their new fellowship to free the family and save the day? I’ve read enough scripts to infer that’s what would probably happen, but I want to be sure that’s what you want to communicate.
JW: More of superman like powers. The ability to direct blasts of electricity, heal wounds and create fields of energy around them. Not looking for goofy, I like sad shit. The third act you almost nailed actually. difficulty with her letting go of her new “son”, they do get caught and separated. She sees something (spoilers?) that gets her to let go, refocus on escaping and getting the help of the other aliens to escape.
ME: When you said alien, I thought ET or Paul. That’s goofier than you intended. Now I’m not sure what has crash-landed on earth. Is it a Kryptonian? An Iron Giant? A Thanagarian? A Xenomorph? A Predator? Gort and Klaatu? When you say alien, people are going to default to ET, a Grey, or a Xenomorph. You’ve got to be specific, otherwise your idea communicates poorly. Is this an alien movie or a superhero movie? I still need to know what the genre is.
Also, and this is just me, now I’m thinking of the movie Powder and I’m unhappy because no one should think of Powder.
JW: It’s an alien movie, but I really wanted to focus on the relationship of the two people coming together over these circumstances. a Grey type alien for sure. Sci-fi romance for genre? is that a thing? Also I should mention and didn’t know how to fit it in the log line, When she lost her son, she loses her ability to have children as well. There is a payoff for that in the ending once she gets wounded and taken onto the alien’s ship to be healed. I’m assuming you’ll guess the payoff.
ME: Okay, this is getting complicated, and I’m starting to lose faith in the unity of the premise.
Right now you have two premises fighting with each other:
1) Two grief-stricken people rebuild their lives while caring for a stranded alien life form.
2) A stranded alien with crazy super powers must rescue his family from Area 51.
These are two different tonal approaches to the same concept. I’m not certain they’ll coexist well, because either of those could be a movie in themselves, and those are two different genre approaches on a similar concept.
Ask why. Why do you need both of those things? Why does the alien need DC comics powers? Those feel arbitrary, and arbitrary is bad. Wouldn’t the story also work if he was just an alien? Why lightning and healing as opposed to telekinesis and psychokinesis, or cybermancy and flight?  Why is the human’s grief specifically ameliorated or exacerbated by the specific nature of the powers?
What does it all mean? Convince me that you’re writing from an overarching aesthetic choice, not just a random collection of interesting ideas.
JW: Possibly true that not all the powers are needed. I can see that, I did need one, their healing powers, to specifically be there for the ending when they help fix her inability to have children. This allows her to have a child with some of the powers that the facility was trying to gather information on, but that is mostly for the other movies. I imagined it as, in its most basic form: loss of child and ability to have children. A “surrogate child” comes into her life that she must learn to give up and let go of. learning to give up, she is rewarded with unexpected help from aliens to be able to have a child. The powers were there mostly to aid in the break in and out of the facility. Would that be distracting? They do only come into play around the middle of act two when they are able to remove the collar that inhibits their abilities.
ME:
“The powers were there mostly to aid in the break in and out of the facility?”
Seems like lazy writing. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the downtrodden woman had a clever plan that worked as opposed to having to rely on an arbitrary ass pull? Of course, now you need a clever break in (I fucking hate writing those), but it’s a better show of your talents.
Here’s your logline:
THE CHILD 
An emotionally devastated woman who has lost her son encounters a stranded alien (child?). She fosters him and works to reunite him with his family by rescuing them from a government base. She mounts her rescue and breaks into the most heavily guarded facility in the world, using nothing but ingenuity, planning and courage. Things are complicated by the fact that she’s bonded with the alien and doesn’t want to let her surrogate “child” go. She learns to let go of the past, trust others, and to embrace tomorrow.
THOUGHTS
The healing device must be on the ship, otherwise the alien would heal her womb and her arc is over.
It doesn’t matter if she gets her fertility back or not. It’s not about restoring her reproductive “worth” (I can’t begin to tell you how loaded this idea is in gender politics), it’s about restoring her soul. Arguably, her getting fertile again cheapens her arc, it doesn’t strengthen it. It’s optional.
Choose one genre. This could be a soulful story like Michael, or K-Pax, or ET. This could be a riproaring action story like HANCOCK or THE HOST (Korean). Trying to split the difference cheapens your built-in character arc by turning her human tragedy into a plot contrivance.
If you want to do the actiony stuff, sell it harder. If he has amazing lightning powers, hint at ways those powers might be used.
I hope this shows how using the diagnostic logline helps you focus on what’s specifically interesting about your premise.
JW: Ah fuck that’s good. Yeah, I’m sure I can come up with a better plan, but yes, they really suck to write. I mostly imagined the powers used to protect them from bullets or to shoot back at the guards. They would have gotten in through a weak spot in the surrounding fence that the woman learns about early in the movie. Also that the alien gets taken away and leaves her and the guy to fend for themselves for a bit. I really can’t thank you enough for all of this help. I don’t have any friends in the film world so doing this all in my own head wasn’t getting me anywhere. Thank you!!!
Shameless plug: I’ll do the same for your logline for just $10, and you won’t have to see it posted on the internet! See my services page for more information.
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