Writing For The A-List Actor

By Jacob Krueger

There’s a reason why bona-fide movie stars take home bigger paychecks than just about anyone in Hollywood.  And it’s not just their pretty faces and talented performances. Movie stars get movies made. Because the right star virtually guarantees the one thing every producer is looking for: butts in seats. Look at the Academy Award nominees for Best Original Screenplay, and you’ll see an exciting trend.  For the first time in years, Hollywood is putting real money behind scripts that would normally have been considered barely commercial.  And those movies are having huge success, both critically and at the box office.

This renewed appetite for original screenplays represents a huge opportunity for emerging writers, who’ve found themselves in recent years wasting away the desert of “intellectual property” movies to which only the biggest media conglomerates have had access. So what does it take for an emerging writer to capture a producer’s attention with an original project? Three Words: Characters, Characters, Characters.

Could Your Screenplay Be The Next Dallas Buyers Club?

When the script for Dallas Buyers Club first hit Hollywood, it was just another great idea, based on the fascinating (if slightly-too-edgy-to-be-commercial) true story of Ron Woodruff.   And Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack were just two unknown writers peddling a script. 10 drafts later, they’d crafted a character so compelling that Matthew McConnaughy committed to playing the lead, and suddenly this unlikely project was on the way to an Academy Award Nomination.dallas buyers club

Take a closer look at the Academy Award Nominees for Best Original Screenplay, and you’ll see they all have a common element– the tremendous star power it took to get them made. Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Louis C.K. in American Hustle.  McConnaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner in Dallas Buyers Club.  Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (again) and the voice of Scarlet Johansson in Her.  Cate Blanchett and Alex Baldwin in Blue Jasmine.  Heck even Alexander Payne’s micro-budget Nebraska almost had the plug pulled until they got Bruce Dern to play the father.

These are the best scripts in Hollywood.  And they wouldn’t have had a shot without A-List talent attached to them. That means if you really want to have a shot to break in as an emerging writer, you’ve got to do more than just come up with a great idea, or craft a great story. You’ve got to write the kinds of characters that make an A-List actor salivate, from the very first page.

Give Your Producer The Ammunition They Need

herWhen a producer buys a script from an unknown writer, they are putting their own reputation on the line. Most likely at this point in your career, you don’t have a track record they can use to reassure their superiors that your project is going to make money, the connections to attract big stars or big directors to your script, or the powerful agents that push a movie through the system. The only thing you’ve got is your screenplay. A great hook or a great idea might be enough to get you in the door.  But great ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood.  Great execution of those ideas, on the other hand, is exceedingly rare.

If a producer is going to put their own name and reputation on the line for your script, they want to know you’ve got a project that can deliver.  And that means a script with the kind of characters that can excite the passion of an A-List Movie Star and draw them to your script like a moth to a flame. Every producer knows that a screenplay with a big name actor attached is 100x more likely to get that coveted greenlight than one without.  Which means every producer is asking the same question when they look at an original screenplay by an unknown writer.

“Are these characters so compelling that one of the biggest names in Hollywood would give anything to play them.” 

nebraska bruce dernWriting That Kind Of Script Begins With Understanding What Great Actors Need

In a world dominated by cookie-cutter formula, it’s not every day that actors are presented with genuinely exciting roles. Great actors don’t want to play the same old cliches.  They want to play characters that challenge them, push their limits, break them out of type-cast roles and make audiences see them in new ways. They want to do cool stuff.  And they want to say cool lines. And they want to go on cool journeys. And it’s your job to show them that they’re going to get to do that, from the very first time they appear in your script.

So many perfectly well intentioned writers end up shooting themselves in the foot, imagining that actors are going to slog their way through an entire script to find that one powerful moment at the end. But A-List actors are busy.  And if you don’t hook them from the very first page, you’ve already lost them forever.

Look at the first time each character appears in your script, and ask yourself are they doing something cool? If you were an A-list actor, would you be thrilled to do that action, or say that line?  Or is it the same normal stuff that you’d be seeing every day. Is your main character spending a lot of time standing around and watching or are they making big choices, in the way only they could make them. Are you writing from a truthful and connected place or are you attempting to manipulate the emotions of your audience?  (A great actor can pick up on that from a mile away). Is your main character driving the action of each scene?  And are they going on a profound and unexpected journey, that changes them forever? Are you thinking like an actor, carrying a powerful objective into each scene you write, or are you simply communicating exposition to the audience? Is the role you’ve written worth the 20 million dollar salary of the writer who will play it?  And do you already know who that actor could be?

If you can say yes to all those questions, you just may have a script that can not only open the door to Hollywood, but also get you through to the other side. If you’re not sure, then keep writing!  This is one of the most exciting times ever to be a writer, and you can take advantage of the opportunity.  Keep on pushing on every moment, every line, every action and every image, until you’ve created a role so compelling that even you would kill to play it!  And you’ll know you have the one thing that everyone in Hollywood is looking for:  a truly great script.blue jasmine

Take Your Characters To The Next Level

If you’d like to learn more about writing characters that can grab the attention of this kind of talent, check out this exciting new 2 hour video seminar, Writing For The A-List Actor, available in video demand format. You’ll learn what it takes to create the kind of characters that the best actors are looking for when they read a script, and how to get those kinds of characters onto the page, so you can craft the kinds of characters, dialogue and images that grab an actor and won’t let go!

Then, once your script is ready, you’ll discover a powerful approach to target the actors most likely to fall in love with your writing, leverage the power of your own social network to connect to them, and pitch your script in a way that makes them pay attention.


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