A synopsis is not a synopsisComplications Ensue
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Monday, January 16, 2012

From time to time, funding programs (Canada) and producers (the US) will ask you for a synopsis.

A synopsis is "An outline of the plot of a play, film, or book," right? It recounts what happens.

Technically, yeah. A secret that took me years to find out is: when they ask for a synopsis, always send a pitch.

When you turn in a synopsis, you want the reader to get excited about your project. Your goal is to get them to read your script if they haven't. If they have, and they're going through a big pile of synopses, your goal is to remind them of why your script is the best one, and possibly even get them to think your script is more exciting than they did when they read it.

A good pitch recounts your plot, yes. But more importantly, it hypes the elements of your story. It sells what your main character wants, why he or she can't get it, and why we care. It is long on the jeopardy, the stakes, the obstacles, the antagonist, and the personality of the main character. It is short on details. It contains details, yes, but primarily details that are revelatory of character, or clever, or funny, or thrilling, or fresh.

Generally, the best way to write a pitch is to do it off the top of your head, as if you were writing a letter to a friend in the business, or a friendly producer. You will often reduce the amount of cutting back and forth between storylines that you do in the script. Sometimes you have to double back to mention something that wasn't worth mentioning earlier. You have no obligation to match the pitch story to the actual plot. Who cares if it doesn't match exactly? They'll only find out when they read the script, and that's all you wanted them to do in the first place.

The worst way to write a synopsis for submission is to go through the script and write down what happens. That's how you get "an outline of the plot." You'll wind up with a series of events that lack a strong through line.

It is very, very hard to read a real synopsis. They tend to lack nuance, gusto, and fun. A pitch should be fun to read. It should make us see the movie.

In fact, as you write a pitch, you'll often feel inclined to change your story. Go for it. Changes you make when you're selling your concept are often changes in the direction of a stronger story.

Of course, a beat sheet that you write for yourself is another beast entirely. Then you do want to go into detail about what happens. But a beat sheet doesn't have to communicate the story; it's just a reminder of what your story is.

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Agreed on all counts. First Good Wife that I didn't watch all the way through.

By Blogger jon, at 10:24 PM  

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