The Producer’s Guide to Saying No: Why Producers Pass On A Script

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The Producer’s Guide to Saying No: Why Producers Pass On A Script

Why do producers pass on screenplays? There is no magic or absolute answer to that question, but there are plenty of practical guidelines to be gleaned from producers. Here at ScriptArsenal, we know a good deal of producers, and have learned a thing or two about why they might pass on a piece of material.

Improper presentation. If your script does not adhere to basics of formatting and presentation, chances are any legitimate producer will toss the script on page 1. Because any legitimate producer has much more pressing demands on their time than reading an amateurish script. With the plethora of screenplays available online, there is no excuse to send a producer a screenplay that does not adhere to industry standards of formatting and presentation.

A protagonist they can’t cast. If the protagonist of your film is an eleven-year-old, good luck. There are basically no eleven-year-old movie stars. You’ve instantly made your film much more difficult to finance and produce. There are ways around this, like writing a strong co-lead that’s of an older age, which is absolutely a legitimate option. But at least one or two bonafide movie star roles that can be cast with movie stars are vital.

A movie they can’t sell. Much as screenwriters endeavor to sell their script, producers in turn must sell the script up the chain to a financier and/or distributor, and the distributor must in turn sell the film to an audience. Making movies is one giant game of telephone. If your concept is too vague or complex to be communicated to an audience in a 12-second ad between YouTube videos, it might be tough to get traction on that script.

Tame writing. This is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. There are plenty of solid scripts out there in the screenwriting world. With great resources available online, more and more writers are getting good, fast. The scripts that elevate above the crowd take chances. If there’s not one element of your story which feels uncomfortably risky, your script may be too tame to grab a producer’s attention.

A movie that will never be made. There are a remarkable amount of scripts that fit this criteria. A magical realist take on the Holocaust with time-travel and a post-apocalyptic epilogue would make an awesome graphic novel. It also would likely have to be made FIRST as a graphic novel to have a chance to be a feature film. Budget, genre, concept, and tone must align reasonably closely with each other in a screenplay, or that screenplay is going to make a producer’s life very difficult.


Why do you think producers pass on screenplays? Let us know in the comments below.

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