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04/20/2002 - One Liner To Rule Them All

Nine times out of ten the scripts from the masses are unoriginal. They don't have a central concept to sell, which is the factor that pulls in the most dough (to be crude). If the current murmurings are correct, the spec market may be reviving to some extent. Do you have one of those golden-ticket one-liners?

What's a one-liner? A sentence-length concept so punchy and titillating that companies would pay for it outright, even if the script isn't developed that well. As you may have noticed, the one-liners that get the most press are the "least-likely-to's", i.e. a person with a defect/shortcoming is forced to do something that directly challenges their defect/shortcoming.

Even non-spec scripts often have such an underlying mechanism. Remember the underlying plot from AIRPLANE!? A tortured pilot who's afraid to fly must save a jumbo jet full of screaming passengers.

What about PANIC ROOM? A woman who wants a panic room for safety's sake is confronted by burglers who only want what's in that specific room.

Hell, even VERTIGO. A policeman with vertigo tries to watch over a woman with a propensity to jump off of things.

Or ICE AGE. A misanthrope mammoth who lost his family to human hunters is the only creature capable of saving a lost human baby.

Of course, these scripts had a lot of other good stuff going for them. Great characters, fresh humor, innovative visual effects, etc. But the screenplay structure depended on that one-liner nut in the center of the story.

Try to come up with three of these one-liners and then consider which idea holds the most depth for you. Develop that concept and you may be on your way to writing a spec-market script. Remember, spec purchases tend to be high and in return for that payday the producers will want a concept that sells easily. Juicy one-liners are their own ad campaign. That's why such spec scripts are so beloved.


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