So you know what genre you want to make your film for. You’ve studied the market and have balanced passion with realism. Good.
Time to start writing, right?
Slow down there. The horror stories are countless— and I’m not talking high ROI horror films— I’m talking about how many filmmakers run with an idea without testing it.
To be honest. We did it a few times before we learned our lesson. Learn from our mistakes. That’s what we’re here for.
What do I mean by testing?
You likely have a whole folder full of story ideas, partially written scripts, or screenplays you have access to. If not, that’s great too: Time to start brainstorming.
Using the genre you chose based off market data and the genres you’re most passionate about, write down every idea that comes to mind.
With about five to fifteen ideas, send them out to non-filmmakers in your circle. Friends and family are fine; since they are all your ideas (or at least they think they are) the feedback you get will be fairly neutral.
This is easier said than done, but you HAVE to try. We did a survey through surveymonkey asking people to rank all the story ideas we’ve been tossing around. We only five out of a hundred people respond in the short timeframe. It was still useful.
The chart was a bit of an eye opener. The people that responded were from our target audience of casual movie watchers. It differed greatly from the ideas we were dead-set on before.
Our top choices prior to testing were probably 26 Innings and The Heartless Kind. We still loved these other ideas, so it’s not like we would be sacrificing anything by going with any of them.
Look which ones stood out. A horror (The Woods). Two comedy (One of Those Things and The Ones Who Stayed). A thriller (Crescent Valley Cabin). Those are movies we can bank on!
The idea that ranked number one is a fantasy romance set in present time and the 17th century. It might be worth exploring that one in the future; however, we felt that it was too far out of our skill-range right now.
Don’t waste your time and money (or time that is money) on writing a story nobody is going to care about. Write one that at least a few people are already excited about.
Take note of who responds with which favorites; these people might be your first fans. Ask them to sign up to your mailing list.
You can do a few more steps of testing if you’d like after this. Take the most popular story ideas and create a short treatment— basically an overview of all three acts of your idea— and send it through the same process.
The more testing you do the better, but eventually it will be time to move on to the writing stage.
In the end, you don’t want to make story decisions all based on data. It will undoubtedly come out uninspired. You DO want to consider other opinions.
Go with your gut, but let the numbers sink in first.
Feel free to send us your survey personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com when you follow this advice. HOWEVER, the idea is generally to send it out to non-filmmakers to get an idea of general audience opinion.
Good luck with your testing. Check out our next article on How To Write A Screenplay Faster or find another topic on the Sideline Movie Maker Guide Overview.