Before you write a feature ask yourself – does this really need to be a feature?

I read for a living. I’ve noticed that most beginner scripts fall into one of 7 subgenres that make them a non-starter.

Of these, the worst is what I call “the glorified short.” These are scripts that have core ideas that would be better served by being written as a short film, a pilot, or even a high concept music video.

This is the note I hate giving the most, because I’m essentially saying, “Hey, you know this thing you’ve spent six months of your life on and that you’ve pinned all your hopes on? It doesn’t work.”

I get it. Shorts are unpopular, and most people screenwrite because they want to change their lives, which a feature sale will do. But that creates a kind of tunnel vision that makes people stretch a passibly amusing five minute idea over 100 pages.

The best way to avoid this problem is to spot it before you start writing:

  • Does your outline require a lot of flashbacks and dream sequences to get your idea up to 40 or so index cards? It might be a glorified short.
  • Does your story spend more than five pages cutting to a newsanchor/Larry King/a ubiquitous reporter commenting on the action? It might be a glorified short.
  • Do your characters spend more time planning to do something, wrapping their heads around a problem, commenting on what’s already happened then they do “doing stuff?” It might be a glorified short.
  • Do you find yourself tweaking the margins to get your script from 69 pages to 84 pages? It might be a glorified short.
  • Could you conceivably tell your story in three well chosen scenes? It might be a glorified short.
  • Does your outline necessitate a funny third character who spends more than 10 pages doing something that has nothing to do with the main idea? It might be a glorified short.

The easiest way to avoid this problem is to write your logline out and then pitch yourself six fun scenes that directly stem from that logline. If you can’t come up with six setpieces easily, it won’t be any easier to find them when you’re in the throes of writing your first draft.

The first step to avoiding this problem is to acknowledge it exists. Finding a great idea for a script is like meeting the love of your life – you know it when you see it, but often times we delude ourselves into kissing a lot of frogs. If you feel this could be you, it’s often good to come up with a few other ideas before you start writing “the one.” If those other ideas feel easier to fill out, strike your friends and family as more interesting than the idea you really want to pin your hopes on, it might be worth rethinking your project before you commit to a draft.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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