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Monday, September 17, 2007

Premise Testing Question

Rouge Waver Rico asked if the Wave-inatrix could provide a premise test "...for a recent hit film so we get an idea of what a good one should look like? Maybe Superbad?"

And being a smart gal and one for sharing the love, I passed that question along to Margaux:

Rico,That’s a fair request, and a good one for me, Margaux, the Rouge Wave/Script Whisperer co-poster.This hit list from the Wave-inatrix is a great document to help you, the writer, with your process. And the key thing to remember here is that there is a lot of prep work that can be done with your script before you even get to your script pages. Theoretically, prep work (or development work as the pros would call it) should save you a headache or seven down the road.This document can also be a good brainstorming tool, where maybe your answers will be longer as you are still making a few decisions. However, as you really boil your long-winded answers down, before you start writing pages, you would want these answers to be as concise as possible. You might need this document to help with a decision later into your script, and if you don’t have a clear, concise answer jotted down there, that vagueness could translate into your pages.

Alright, I know you requested SUPERBAD as an example. I agree that SUPERBAD was a terrific movie, and a well-written one. For these purposes, however, I would prefer to breakdown the recent 3:10 to YUMA. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, DO IT NOW! I will stand behind my theory that 3:10 to YUMA is the best written film of the year thus far. (Although, I will also admit to having never seen the original version.)

Title: 3:10 to YUMA

Premise line: A down-on-his-luck rancher accepts the job of escorting a notorious criminal to a jail-bound train, but when the criminal’s cohorts try to save him and the simple job becomes a death wish, the rancher risks it all to keep his word and deliver the criminal to his train.

Genre: Western

Hook: Updated movie; bringing a classic Western to modern audiences.

Theme: Respect is earned, not bought.

World (location/situation): Post-Civil War Arizona

Main Character: Dan Evans (Christian Bale)

Wants/Needs: Deliver Ben Wade to his train and collect the $200/ Needs respect from his family, especially his oldest son.

Flaw: Cowardice (disguised as being too polite.)

Age/stage of life: Broke and broken.

Antagonist: Ben Wade (Russel Crowe)motivation/goals: Do anything to not get on the train to Yuma/ Out psyche Dan Evans.

Set up or inciting incident:
Dan runs into Ben Wade in the middle of a hijacking, and loses his horses to Ben, and adds to his son’s disdain for him.

1st act break event:
Dan Evans joins the crew to deliver Ben Wade to the Yuma train.

Midpoint reversal: Ben Wade escapes.2nd act break event: Ben’s crew offers money to anyone who will shoot Ben’s escorts.

Ticking Clock: Gotta make the 3:10 to Yuma train.

Showdown or Climactic Scene: The train arrives, and the final push to get Ben on the train.

How does this story fit into the current zeitgeist?: How do you do what’s necessary to survive and maintain your integrity in a harsh world?

What age is the audience for this story idea?: Adults/ Baby Boomers

What is universally resonant about this story?: How hard will you fight for what’s right?

Approximate Budget: Around $50 million.

List Three Movies which are in ANY way similar: Unforgiven, The Fugitive, Silence of the Lambs.

When was each released?: See BoxOfficeMojo

What was the box office?: See BoxOfficeMojo

Hope that example was helpful, Rico. I always recommend doing one of these premise tests for a movie similar to your own script. It often helps to see what genre conventions might be regularly occurring, and also a great way to make sure you’re not too similar to something else.

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Geena said...

Wow, that is an impressive pitch! Extremely useful how to information. I've been craving these type of lessons. They are very difficult to find.
Better than an issue of Creative Screenwriting.
Thanks Julie

The Style Bard said...

Very useful, Julie, thanks! Would it be possible to coax you into doing one or two more for vastly differing movies so we can compare?

Rico said...

Thanks, Julie! Now that I've actually seen "Yuma" (great film!), this is very helpful to compare -- and interesting to note areas where you and I differ slightly in our analysis.