Most government film agencies have funds to spend on promising new screenwriters. Often the requirements are less stringent in terms of the formal perfection of the works; the attention goes to the writer’s voice, the type of material and the mastery of a visual language.
Still you will need to get through the hurdle of the paperwork. Before getting access to tax payer’s money, a rather large amount of boxes needs to be ticked. Still, these application forms are usually not as daunting as they look.
If you have studied the questions in the application and there are still questions left, it often pays to pick up the phone and ask the people in the development department directly.
However, the most important elements of any application package for a new screenplay are the following:
– the screenplay
– the logline and/or one-paragraph synopsis
– the synopsis
– the three-page outline
– the development notes
If you are confident that you have a good story, it is paramount to make sure each of these four is in prime shape. Let’s look at them in further detail.
ALL scripts are read. To my knowledge, this is where the first selection occurs.
This means you the screenplay’s presentation is extremely important. To improve a reader’s experience and keep the focus on the story, your script needs to be as perfect as you can get it. Proper format, no typos, ‘lots of white’ etc.
It is true that if you have a formally deficient screenplay but a rock solid story, you will ultimately find the money. If you have a dead-boring story written in a perfect, super polished screenplay, no-one will care. Still, your script may be eliminated from a funding round just because it looks un-professional.
The external reader in charge of making the first selection may decide that if you are not disciplined to even get something as simple as the format right, you are not serious about screenwriting in the first place.
It tells in only a few words what your story is about. Twenty-five-words-or-less, ideally. If you can’t do this, most likely any future sales people will have trouble pitching your story.
The logline is a one sentence or one paragraph summary of your story, sometimes called the elevator pitch. Clever writers have used this tool during development and now is the time for the world to admire the brilliant gem.
The logline is so powerful, it doesn’t just tell us what the story is about, it also demonstrates your clarity in terms of vision and plot.
Think of it like this: if you give the people deciding on development or production investment the most powerful, exciting line summarising your story, you can almost be sure your story will pop in their minds before any others. You have already half won the money.
Even if the synopsis is not used for the first elimination, a badly written synopsis will most likely throw you out of the race at some point. Once a first selection is made, readers will need to refresh their minds and in stead of re-reading the entire script, they may look at the synopsis in stead. If yours is sloppy and uninspiring, this may reflect on the discussions about the script in the shortlisting stage.
I am of the opinion that significant tax money could be saved if funding agencies would behave like the rest of the film industry and make a selection based on the synopsis first. It is a time-efficient and highly reliable tool to assess the story in a reasonable level of detail without the need to read for hours. A badly constructed story can be a good read but ultimately it may waste everyone’s time.
Finally, one page is one page. Don’t cheat. If necessary, cut out all subplots and focus purely on the protagonist’s journey.
THREE PAGE OUTLINE
Here you can go into more detail about any side-characters and their journeys. If the synopsis suffered in terms of its style because of the struggle to get the essential plot points in, here you can be more evocative. Give us a flavour of the genre of the film by using expressive language. However, this is still not a treatment: no dialogue or detailed description.
Honesty first. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t over-sell. Be clear about what you want to achieve in the next draft. The development notes are hugely important and in all fairness, it is not really an area where you can be on your own. It always pays to hire a professional to look over the application materials as the competition is fierce and many of your competitors will have worked through their submission with the help of a script consultant.
These notes should provide the SWOT Analysis of your work. Why do you believe it will attract millions of viewers? Why is it worth spending money on further development? And most importantly: what are you intending to do next? For a writer, it is hard to judge the merits of your own work. Here you will need help from an experienced reader, another writer or a script editor.
One more piece of advice: start writing these documents EARLY. Don’t wait until the last days before the deadline. Not only will you save yourself the stress and the danger of having documents riddled with typos. When you have the time to let your application materials rest for a week, two, three, you will have time to write another seriously improved draft. You will pick up on weaknesses you didn’t see in the first place. The final result will be 200% better.
Back to work. Good luck!
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Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.