Know your goal before you start writing your screenplay.

It does not matter whether you start with the project or the goal itself. What's important is that they are in agreement. 

Know your goal before you start writing your screenplay.

The Story and Plot Weekly Email is published every Tuesday morning. Don't miss another one.

Know your goal before you even start outlining. Know the parameters for your project.

It does not matter whether you start with the project or the goal itself. What's important is that they are in agreement. 

If you have an idea you really love, make sure your goal is realistic. If you have a goal you want to achieve, just make sure you choose a project that aligns with that goal.

Either one is fine. Projects are born from all kinds of places. One of my favorite projects started as a title! That was it! We built from there (It’s a great title).

That said...

If you’re just starting, your goal should be limited to one thing:


This should be the goal for anyone's first few screenplays. There is absolutely no need to worry about anything else.

I am developing a free email mini-course for beginners that will cover more details, but in the early stages, it’s healthy to just have an immediate goal of finishing a screenplay. 

That is no small thing at first, and it should be celebrated. 

Keep it simple. Tell a simple story and try to tell it well. Being over-ambitious with structure, complexity, or concept may do more damage than good here. Enjoy this experience, and don't make it frustrating for yourself.

  • THE BURDEN: Just finish it.
  • THE LOGLINE: Not important. The first couple of screenplays usually suck anyway. Embrace it. But focusing on what ideas make a good screenplay is a good practice to start.
  • EXAMPLES: What youare currently working on.

When you’re ready to move beyond that, here are some other goals to consider:


Think $100k or less. If you’re using your own money and don’t mind losing it, genre does not matter. Do what you want!

But if you’re like the rest of us, and you're using other people’s money, or you hope to get your own money back, then keep within a marketable genre. Action (At this budget level? Yikes!), thriller, horror, or comedy can all work here. If it's more of a passion project, great acting and character work are crucial. If it's a downer drama, you have more pressure to make it work really well to stand out.

You probably still won’t get the money back, but at least put yourself in the best position to do so.

  • THE BURDEN: Keep that budget down. $1k-$250k.
  • THE LOGLINE: Less important.
  • EXAMPLES: Paranormal Activity, Primer, Tangerine.


Studios used to make these movies, but not so much anymore. The budget needs to be lower, but nothing you could raise yourself. $500K - $15 million is a wide but appropriate range.

You still have a burden of commercial appeal, but your market can be smaller. The smaller that market (be honest!), the smaller the budget. 

This option requires a producer to put the package together and raise the financing (as opposed to putting the package together and setting it up at a studio).

You need great roles for actors here. Getting a director and name actors attached is what will push this through the long road of financing. Give them something to work with.

  • THE BURDEN: Execution. Everyone will likely take a pay cut. They have to love it. The script really needs to be exceptional.
  • THE LOGLINE: Less important. 
  • EXAMPLES: Little Miss Sunshine, Hereditary, The Holdovers


These films are sometimes foreign-financed and focus on foreign markets. American domestic is just a bonus. Think Luc Besson-produced films or the straight-to-video market with actors who don't anchor big studio films anymore.

There is a burden on commercial appeal or the buyer's very narrow mandate. Action films and thrillers do best. Horror if it’s high concept and in the $2-$5 range (the Jason Blum model.)

Any budget higher than $20 million is usually a non-starter for a non-IP, so keep that in mind. 

You will still need a good logline, but it’s not make-or-break if you don’t have a great one.

There is also a market for non-WGA TV movies that sell to cable networks like Lifetime or Hallmark. These films are very low-budget and aim for a tight margin. They are usually light romances or women-in-jeopardy thrillers.

  • THE BURDEN: Lower budget and narrow mandate of the financier's market.
  • THE LOGLINE: Very important, but clarity is more important than high-concept.
  • EXAMPLES: Taken, Gerald Butler movies, The Sinister Surrogate 


This is the classic “sell the script.” This means selling (or optioning) the screenplay outright to one of the dozen or so major buyers in Hollywood. You have the main studios, the streamers, and the smaller buyers that have output deals with the studios and also may straddle both the studio and the independent market.

This is by no means a definitively defined group. But they're willing to write bigger paychecks.

If this is your goal, you will want to improve your odds with a commercial genre. Horror, action, and action-comedy are always good. Fun four-quadrant (young/old/male/female) adventures also fit, but the HUGE studio movies are just not coming from spec scripts these days.

The logline is always important, but it is paramount here. 

Twenty-seven years in this business has taught me that the sale of a screenplay comes down to two primary things:

- The quality of the logline.

- How well the screenplay fulfills the promise of the logline.

And when I say the quality of the logline, I don’t mean how pretty the language is. I mean the concept that the logline represents.

Budget here is less of a factor, though don’t go overboard. 

You will require a producer or agency to put the package together with actors and a director and then take it to the buyers. Scripts that go out without attachments are going out "naked," and they have been a tough sell lately.

The studios used to develop and package themselves, but that has been pushed further down the food chain ever since I started in the business, and it seems to be accelerating.

  • THE BURDEN: Everything. The most competitive level there is.
  • THE LOGLINE: Crucial. I don't bother unless I start with a phenomenal logline. 
  • EXAMPLES: Anything made at a studio, too wide a range to list.


This is more relevant in television when you’re looking to get staffed. In features, however, it feels like a consolation prize when a great script ends up as a calling card because it didn't sell.

There are occasions when someone intentionally targets the "writing sample" angle. They know it will never sell, but their goal is notoriety or accolades. Sometimes called a stunt script.

This is, admittedly, out of my mindset. So much so, I don't know how to even advise.

But you absolutely can get work off a script that cannot sell.

  • THE BURDEN: Original voice and execution. You are not selling this story, you are selling you. 
  • THE LOGLINE: Important, though not in the commercial sense. If the goal is to get people to read, it needs to sound compelling, even shocking.
  • EXAMPLES: Van Damme vs Seagal, Seinfeld: The Twin Towers

Your goal can change.

There is a flow to things, and after a while, you might find your project fits better as a small-budget independent than a micro-budget. Or perhaps better outside the studio system than in.

There is nothing wrong with this. But the limitations and burdens of that new goal remain intact.

Setting a goal doesn't mean you will get it.

And not achieving it doesn't mean you failed. This is a business of mostly missed shots. As UH basketball coach Kelvin Sampson says, "Prepare for failure."

Outfight the other guy for the rebound and get another shot. 

The first battle you have to win every day is the mental one. Keep going. Keep writing.

And while nothing you do can ever give you a guarantee, keeping your screenplay and its goals aligned can at least give you better odds.

That's a wrap for this week!

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Until next week!


The Story and Plot Weekly Email is published every Tuesday morning. Don't miss another one.

Tom Vaughan Tom Vaughan
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