Sample Premise

A ROYAL PAIN is a "Clueless In A Castle" - type comedy about an American teenager, chafing under her mother's rules, who learns she was switched at birth - and that she's really the princess of Arcania, a tiny European country.

What this premise tells us is who the story is about, what it's about (independence - what all coming of age and teen movies are about), the possibilities for transformation, action and comedy (American teenager must learn to become a princess; the ruled over must become the ruler). In this case I included the "Clueless In A Castle" comment to differentiate it from Disney's "Pygmalion" approach in THE PRINCESS DIARIES ("clumsy American teenager learns she's really the princess of a tiny European country").

So you see that even what could look like the same exact premise can veer off in very different directions. One thing that all premises - and pitches - have in common, is that they can be said in a phrase, a sentence, or, at most, two sentences. As I said earlier, a premise is NEVER "there's this guy, and then this happens, and then that happens." Keeping this in mind -

EXERCISE 3:

Write out the premise of your story, in one, or at the most two, sentences.

Not so easy, is it? When in doubt, one way to approach this is to start out with "this is a story about a man who..." The fewer words the better - the less explanation, the more "high concept" (simple) an idea is, and the easier to grasp. Simple ideas are often hard to come by, and tend to be action films, or comedies. Think INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S. fights for the earth's freedom against an attack from outer space); TWINS - Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger; TITANIC - working-class Romeo and upper crust Juliet, on the most devastating sea disaster in modern history; etc.

Your premise should get you started on writing your story. If you don't have a premise to start, never fear, you will by the time you finish. In that case, if you can't encapsulate the idea right away, then you can simply start writing the synopsis. Some questions to guide you through that process are included below.

A cautionary note: one idea we see a lot of is the "two people fall in love, stay in love, buy a house, and make love, and all of their dreams come true." What is wrong with this scenario? Basically, that there's no real external conflict; that our two lovers fall in love and stay in love, without major opposition or problems; and that there is nothing more boring than watching two people be happy together for two hours on screen. Again, conflict fuels drama, and should be the essence of all screen stories. In fact, without conflict you can have no -

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Responses

  • adele
    What is premise in scriptwriting?
    8 years ago
  • Josie
    What is the premise of a script?
    8 years ago

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