What’s the Biggest Question Your Script or Pitch MUST Answer
Art and Experience: When you’re writing, you can get so caught up in the plot and characters that you forget the main question asked by those who might want to buy your script, “Why now?”
Every time you sit to write, you’re tasked with clearing an unbelievable amount of hurdles for your audience. You have to develop characters, arcs, thread plot lines, and make sure all the beats land.
With all that in mind, even if you nail every single task, there is still a humungous chance your idea does not sell, one of the biggest reasons being that your script doesn’t answer the most important question…
When your script is passed up the development ladder, that question will be asked every step of the way. Sure, some places think they can retrofit or rewrite the answer, but wouldn’t you like to have an answer right off the bat?
The best writers do.
That’s why we’re going to go over some strategies to answer this big question and infuse it into your work. So, let’s get started!
One of the easiest outs to answering the “why now” question is that your script is talking about something happening right now. Movies like Bombshell come with this answer right away.
It’s hard to write while chasing the zeitgeist, so don’t get bogged down on writing about what’s happening now unless you think there’s a dire need to. Still, current events can help inspire stories, too. Think about how Hustlers was inspired by a true story that was culturally relevant now. It was a gangster movie led by females ready to capture a huge market waiting for it. Plus, it had a great script…which helps immensely because it gets people the most excited.
If an executive thinks they’re playing against her clock, they’ll understand how this story needs to be made now, too. Untold history is a great way to assure that. So if you’re mining for stories and find one no one has told, this could help.
But there’s still the reason why the story has not been told. Does it have any cultural relevance today? Here’s where things get tricky.
Sure, history repeats itself, and there’s always room to learn from the past, but we need to know why we need it today. So, work those facts into your pitch or make sure they’re overt.
Maybe your story is about immigrants who can’t get a room in the inn, like The Nativity Story, or you’re doing a biopic on someone like Elton John. Have your reasons ready, especially in a pitch.
Social relevance crosses history and the present. Whether you want to tell an impeachment story, talk about the danger of guns, racism, the poisoning of a river, or the systematic abuse of children by the Catholic Church…social relevance is a great reason to tell this story now.
Make sure everyone knows why your story needs to be told. What’s at stake if you don’t tell it?
Spotlight is an incredible movie that had a message that felt urgent. But the same can be said about an original script like Moonlight. Moonlight is a sweeping love story that needed to be told, too. It had the right message for Hollywood and the right people behind it—people that took that message personally.
When you tell a story, it has to come from a piece of you. Why do you need to tell this story? What do you think makes it relevant for everyone else? You are in control of this answer. You can build it into your pitch and it should be clear on every page of your script. You’re telling a story from which other people can glean information, as well as emotion.
Even broad comedies like Bridesmaids have complex morals about love, friendship, and midlife crises. So, what do you want people to understand about your work? What’s the urgency behind it?
Is your bank robbing movie, Hell or High Water, really about greedy banks? Or your romcom, Set It Up, about the complicated lives of Hollywood assistants and their bosses and how hard it is to find love when work comes first?
The point is, come up with this stuff. Let it drive your original ideas and your adaptations—and have your answer ready when someone asks.