Everybody knows that if you want to get your script made, you’ve got to get an amazing actor to say yes to the leading role.
And that doesn’t mean some underappreciated thespian who really deserves her day in the sun. I’m talking above-the-line talent, a legitimate movie star whose name itself is reason enough for people to want to come check out your movie.
It used to be that this kind of casting only mattered in the big budget world. But as the independent film industry has become more mainstream and competitive, star casting has become vital even for microbudget movies.
Which means if you’re going to make it in this business, you’ve got to learn to write a screenplay that not only succeeds as a story, but provides the kind of irresistible actor bait that makes a big star want to take a chance on you.
Stop Selling Out and Sell In.
This may all sound like annoying sellout Hollywood business baloney to you. But the truth is, this is one of the rare areas of screenwriting where what is good for commercial success is also good for your art as writer.
As a young writer, you can’t compete with the big boys when it comes to pay or play offers, money, clout or connections.
There’s only one way to get a real A-List Actor to take a chance on your script. And that’s by developing your voice as a writer to a point where they read the role and just can’t say no.
Which means that writing with the needs of an A-List Actor in mind will not only make you more likely to succeed in your career, but also to develop both your art and your craft as a writer to a point where the full power of the movie you see in your head has actually translated to the page.
Why did George Clooney say yes to Michael Clayton?
Why does a multi-million dollar actor like George Clooney agree to work for the equivalent of a handful of pocket change on an unlikely low budget feature about the moral dilemmas of a back room corporate lawyer?
Yes, every actor wants to win an Oscar. But to attract an actor like George Clooney to a role you can’t even afford to pay him for, you’ve got to do more than just write an Oscar worthy character.
Above the line actors like these are reading the very best scripts in Hollywood, every day. In fact, every day, actors like this are saying no to the very best roles in Hollywood.
Creating a role that they finally say yes to requires a deep understanding of the psychology of your potential star.
It means understanding what they look for when they read a script, the conscious and unconscious decisions they are making from the very first page, the little mistakes that make them stop reading before they even get to the good stuff, and the psychological underpinnings that make them see themselves in your character, and know this is a role they absolutely need to play.
These factors are different for every actor. But the good news is, you don’t have to have a degree in psychology to identify them.
As I’ll be discussing in detail my upcoming webinar for The Writers Store Writing for the A-List Actor every actor leaves a vast footprint of their tastes, preferences, psychological quirks, turns ons and turn offs, which you can unearth by learning a simple process for analyzing their existing library of films.
This technique was first developed by renowned New York City acting coach, John Dapolito, as a way of helping emerging stars make sense of their own unconscious psychological impulses, target the roles in which they’re most likely to succeed, brand themselves for the market, and hone their acting techniques around their deepest instincts.
Now as a writer, you can use these same techniques, not only to brand and market your own writing to A-List actors, but also to connect more deeply to your own unconscious creative impulses, and to create the kinds of compelling characters that great actors fall in love with.
Understanding the hidden psychology of a star actor will not only make your writing better, but also help you make the right decisions as you try to sell your script.
Taking George Clooney as an example, nearly every role he has chosen to play, from Up In The Air, to Fantastic Mr. Fox, to The Descendents, to Michael Clayton, has centered around the question of identity—a flawed character, trying desperately to figure out who he is, in the face of moral, psychological, social, and environmental obstacles.
Clooney kills for these kinds of roles, for deep psychological reasons that most likely transcend even his own conscious understanding. He gets these kinds of characters, and he’s great at playing them.
That doesn’t mean you should impose some kind of identity issue upon your main character just because you want Clooney to play him. But it does mean that if your character’s central dilemma centers around his identity, Clooney is a lot more likely than the average actor to see himself the role.
By targeting the actors (not to mention producers and directors), who are already drawn to the same themes that are present in your writing, you’ll not only save yourself a lot of wasted time and unnecessary rejection, but also maximize your chances of finding an actor who feels compelled to take a chance on your script.
Don’t put the cart before the horse!
When you learn the simple process by which actors’ psychological preferences can be analyzed, it’s easy to get excited about the potential casting for your movie.
But remember, you’ve still got to write this thing! And that means you’ve got to start with something you connect to deeply in your writing, and then find the stars who happen to be dealing with those same themes in their work.
Just as actors naturally find themselves drawn to certain themes, so too do writers. But because the root of those themes lies deep in your own subconscious psychology, often unearthing them in your writing can be challenging.
The good news is, just as actors don’t need to be consciously aware of their psychological themes in order to be drawn to characters that explore them, so too will those themes naturally come to the surface for you, if you can develop an organic approach to writing that taps into your own impulses as a writer.
Begin with the small stuff to get to the big stuff.
Understanding the little things that actors are consciously looking for when they read a script will ultimately lead you to the more powerful subconscious elements that ultimately sway their choices of which role to play.
Which means that turning your script into actor candy can begin with something as simple as an image of your main character, a single line of dialogue, or a dramatic change in your character’s journey.
Actors want to be doing dramatic things in dramatic ways, from the very first page of your screenplay. So start by taking a look at your main character’s first moment in the script, and ask yourself this simple question:
If you were a movie star who knew nothing about the script, would this moment alone make you desperate to play the role?
If your answer is no, there’s a good chance the actor of your dreams is going to set down your script before they even get to the good stuff.
But if you can find a way to look more deeply and specifically at that moment, and find the elements that make it compelling that any actor would want to play it, you’ll not only instantly increase the commercial appeal of your script, but also start to uncover the raw material that translates your own connection to the script onto the page.
The more specific and compelling each image, each action, and each line of dialogue of your main character becomes, the more it reveals about the deeper themes that draw an actor to your character.
In this way, simply by working organically from image to image, line to line, and moment to moment, you can not only start to bring your most compelling themes to the surface of your writing, but also turn your screenplay into irresistible A-List Actor bait, all while improving both your art and your craft as a writer.
Of course this is only the beginning. Because the more you learn about what an A-List Actor is really looking for in a script, the more ways you will discover to hone both your craft as a writer, and the marketability of your script.
If you’d like to learn more about how to turn your script into A-List actor bait, discover more about the many conscious and subconscious elements draw a great actor to a script, and learn how to avoid the common mistakes that can cost you your dream casting before you even get your foot in the door, I invite you to join my upcoming webinar for The Writers Store: Writing For The A-List Actor!
Get Jacob’s Webinar On Demand!
At a Glance:
- Discover why A-list talent in Hollywood get attracted to a role, and what it takes to make them fall in love with yours
- Learn techniques from an award winning screenwriter to turn your characters, dialogue, and images into actor candy
- Learn pitching and networking techniques to get to the A-list actors you need to target