Can a premise ever be improved?

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  • Can a premise ever be improved?

    First, the simple definition taken from Wikipedia: The premise of a film is the fundamental concept that drives the plot. (i.e. A lonely boy is befriended by an alien.)

    IMHO, that seems to imply that the premise is an unshakable foundation for any screenplay, so if a reader gives the screenplay premise a particular rating, (for example in Black List) does that mean that no matter how much you rewrite and improve on the script, the SAME reader would never rate the script premise any higher due to its unchanging nature? (Short of a radical rewrite)

    Please note I'm referring to any screenplay in general, not one whose premise is "unlikable/unsellable" right off the bat: like "A ordinary day in the life of a farmer" or something along that lines.

    On the other hand, if your premise scores highly by one reader (maybe a 8/10 or 9/10), how is it possible to get a 10/10 rating from this SAME reader? How do you improve on the premise of - a lonely boy is befriended by an alien??

    Is it because some readers just blur the lines between premise and plot altogether and look at it as a whole package? If so, what's the point of some competitions like BL having a premise rating?

    Can plot irregularities/minor plot holes affect your premise? (Like say hypothetically speaking, if E.T. had made irrational choices getting himself caught) Because shouldn't plot irregularities be an issue with the PLOT instead and be rated accordingly under the plot category?

    Just wanted to clarify it better, thanks for any inputs!

  • #2
    Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

    The premise of your film is being judged on its uniqueness and its appeal. Appeal is somewhat subjective. If you have the same premise as ET, and you haven't given it a really appealing twist, you'll get a lower rating for uniqueness of premise than Spielberg and Company did back when they had the idea. Few premises are definite tens. If the premise is accurately rated as high as 8 or 9, that should be a good enough premise to support a movie that people would be interested in seeing. Then the rest of the grade is for execution. If the script has superior characters, plot, dramatic tension, cinematic qualities, emotional appeal, etc, so that the reader loves it and can't put it down, theoretically, the reader could rate it a 10. (Usually, though, few tens are given because readers commonly don't want to go that far out on a limb saying this is the best script ever, just in case the boss doesn't think it's all that great.)

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    • #3
      Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

      just before The Matrix came out in 1999, David Cronenberg released eXistenZ:

      "In the near-future, organic virtual reality game consoles known as "game pods" have replaced electronic ones. The pods are attached to "bio-ports", outlets inserted at players' spines, through umbilical cords. Two game companies, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics, compete against each other. In addition, a group of "realists" fights both companies to prevent the "deforming" of reality."

      Although the concepts are not 100% identical, and although I enjoyed eXistenZ in its own way as much as The Matrix, I would say that the latter exploited the premise of reality v. virtuality more fully than the latter.

      or, for example, Galaxy Quest, which was apparently based on an existing script (Captain Starshine) that contained the original premise of a Star Trek-like cast thrown into a real space battle. The rewritten version kept nothing from the original script but the premise itself and improved upon it:

      "In 1999 Mark Johnson, already an Oscar winner for “Rain Man,” was an independent producer with a deal at DreamWorks Studios. Johnson’s scouts had come across a screenplay called “Captain Starshine” that, by all accounts, wasn’t particularly good, but which had that killer “what if” hook.

      Basically: what if the Thermians – a group of goofy space aliens – misconstrued old episodes of a “Star Trek”-esque show called “Galaxy Quest” as “historical documents” about brave interstellar warriors? And based their entire society and all of their technology on it? And when their planet was threatened, went to the crew for help, only to discover (eventually) they were out of work actors?

      Mark Johnson (producer): The original David Howard draft of “Captain Starshine” – very few people have ever read that. The original concept was brilliant, but we needed someone like a Bob Gordon to take it from there.

      Robert Gordon (screenwriter): I didn’t read [“Captain Starshine”] until after the film was made. I heard the logline from my agent."

      http://www.mtv.com/news/1873653/gala...-oral-history/

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      • #4
        Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

        Some basic concepts just are what they are, and maybe any improvement would essentially result in it being a different concept.

        But some seemingly small tweaks to the essential concept can be pretty big improvements.

        I think THE SIXTH SENSE started out as: boy who sees ghosts gets therapy to help him cope with his ability -- then the big breakthrough was when it became: boy who sees ghosts gets therapy to help him cope with his ability from a psychologist who doesn't realize he was killed by a patient he previously failed.
        Steven Palmer Peterson

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        • #5
          Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

          To add to the MATRIX and EXISTENZ thing was 13 FLOOR produced by Dean Devlin that was kind of the virtual reality version of DARK CITY...

          A weak premise (concept) is a problem that can't really be solved. You can have some amazing writing, but that is all in service to that premise. Hey, maybe the great writing gets you an assignment, but I think you are often judged on your *imagination* and *creativity* and that weak premise is a factor in that.

          One of my long term projects is doing page one rewrites on some old scripts with weal premises by finding the amazing twist on the weak premise which makes it more creative and imaginative. So, if I had a script about a boy who finds a stray dog and brings it home with him, and that dog bites someone and the dog catcher is looking for it... I could change the dog into an alien and change the dog catcher into Keyes and end up with E.T. And that may be the thing to do with a script which has a weak premise.

          Best thing to do is spend as much time finding the great idea as you are going to spend writing the script, and not marrying the first one you see or the first one you fall in love with. I have a thing I call the 100 idea theory in my Ideas Blue Book, that it's best to come up with 100 ideas and then pick the best one using both your heart *and* you mind.

          Bill
          Last edited by wcmartell; 08-02-2014, 12:39 PM.
          Free Script Tips:
          http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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          • #6
            Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

            Originally posted by JoeBanks View Post
            Mark Johnson (producer): The original David Howard draft of "Captain Starshine- - very few people have ever read that. The original concept was brilliant, but we needed someone like a Bob Gordon to take it from there.

            Robert Gordon (screenwriter): I didn't read ["Captain Starshine-] until after the film was made. I heard the logline from my agent."

            http://www.mtv.com/news/1873653/gala...-oral-history/
            I LOVE Galaxy Quest. And this article was great! Thanks for sharing!

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

              Premises are a funny thing. Especially when it comes to sci-fi. In my book, there are two types of sci-fi premises: a) Mind-bendingly interesting hooks which make you KILL to read the script and b) "meh." The "meh" are usually your space operas / marvel stuff. The "Mind-bendingly Interesting" ones are premises you'd find in Outer Limits episodes. For eg:

              Star Wars: A restless farmboy goes on an epic space adventure to save a princess from the evil space lord who killed his father.

              Reaction: YAWN. Wasn't every space opera from 1930 - 1977 about this?

              Minority Report: In a future where criminals are arrested before their crimes, a straight detective (one who could never harm a fly) witnesses himself committing a horrific bloody murder of a stranger in 2 days! He must now go on the lam to discover how/why and IF he can stop the mysterious murder.

              Reaction: OMG! I gotta read this!!!!!! I will MURDER SOMEONE to read this!

              Minority Report is a 10 premise hands down. But why is Star Wars also a 10? EXECUTION. So don't panic if your premise sounds dull. Execute it well, and you'll turn it into a winner.
              I'm never wrong. Reality is just stubborn.

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              • #8
                Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

                Thanks for the replies and advice. Interesting stuff!

                Btw the lonely boy meets alien example I was quoting off Wikipedia, it's not the same premise as any of my scripts, of course.

                I doubt anybody will be doing another E.T. wannabe screenplay anytime soon, if ever.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

                  Originally posted by Goliath View Post
                  First, the simple definition taken from Wikipedia: The premise of a film is the fundamental concept that drives the plot. (i.e. A lonely boy is befriended by an alien.)

                  IMHO, that seems to imply that the premise is an unshakable foundation for any screenplay, so if a reader gives the screenplay premise a particular rating, (for example in Black List) does that mean that no matter how much you rewrite and improve on the script, the SAME reader would never rate the script premise any higher due to its unchanging nature? (Short of a radical rewrite)

                  Please note I'm referring to any screenplay in general, not one whose premise is "unlikable/unsellable" right off the bat: like "A ordinary day in the life of a farmer" or something along that lines.

                  On the other hand, if your premise scores highly by one reader (maybe a 8/10 or 9/10), how is it possible to get a 10/10 rating from this SAME reader? How do you improve on the premise of - a lonely boy is befriended by an alien??

                  Is it because some readers just blur the lines between premise and plot altogether and look at it as a whole package? If so, what's the point of some competitions like BL having a premise rating?

                  Can plot irregularities/minor plot holes affect your premise? (Like say hypothetically speaking, if E.T. had made irrational choices getting himself caught) Because shouldn't plot irregularities be an issue with the PLOT instead and be rated accordingly under the plot category?

                  Just wanted to clarify it better, thanks for any inputs!
                  Well, take something like The Conjuring, for example. There's nothing about the premise of the Conjuring that's particularly earth-shattering or original.

                  The true-life story of a husband-and-wife team of Paranormal Investigators who put their lives on the line to help a family being menaced by demonic forces.

                  Now, I suppose you can dress that log line up a bit, but ultimately what sold this thing wasn't the log line -- it was the actual Investigators who went around trying to sell their account of the case, along with tape recordings of the woman describing the incidents in the house.

                  From that, they got a producer interested, got a script written -- it moved in and out of development for years, got various producers and writers attached and unattached until it was finally made.

                  And while the final result is, in my opinion, brilliantly well-made, there's nothing about the premise that's particularly special or original.

                  But so what? There's nothing about the premise of the Mona Lisa that's particularly original either. That's not to say that there aren't some works of that that aren't both amazingly original in concept and brilliant in execution -- but many are not.

                  Most works, in any medium, are traditional in concept and to the extent that they exceptional, they are exceptional in execution.

                  Most great films, like most great paintings or most great novels, are not strikingly original *in concept.*

                  If you were to write out log lines for all the plays of Shakespeare you wouldn't rear back and proclaim what incredibly brilliant original high concepts they all are.

                  So it's admittedly a challenge when you are faced with trying to sell an entire work on the strength of a sentence.

                  The answer, I suppose, is to ask yourself what it is about the script itself that excites you, that made you want to spend however long you spent writing it. Presumably you are passionate about some aspect of it -- otherwise why would devote a big chunk of your life writing it?

                  So, whatever that is that excited you and made you want to write it and presumably would make you want to watch it -- you need to find a way to boil that down and put it into the log line.

                  Because it's not protagonist or antagonist or this meets that that's really the most important thing in a log line. What matters is why the reader of the log line should want to read the script.

                  And hopefully the reason that you wrote it is that reason that they should read it.

                  NMS

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Can a premise ever be improved?

                    Originally posted by JoeBanks View Post
                    or, for example, Galaxy Quest, which was apparently based on an existing script (Captain Starshine) that contained the original premise of a Star Trek-like cast thrown into a real space battle. The rewritten version kept nothing from the original script but the premise itself and improved upon it:

                    "In 1999 Mark Johnson, already an Oscar winner for "Rain Man,- was an independent producer with a deal at DreamWorks Studios. Johnson's scouts had come across a screenplay called "Captain Starshine- that, by all accounts, wasn't particularly good, but which had that killer "what if- hook.
                    I was interested in finding more about the original script -- here's an interview with the screenwriter from 2000, interesting background and more on the process: http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/02/...rd-part-2-of-3

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