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The Number One Question Screenwriters Ask

By Britton Perelman · May 29, 2019

Robert McKee knows his screenwriting stuff (understatement). The best-selling author hosts multiple story workshops around the world every year, keeps an active screenwriting website, and talks shop with entertainment professionals everywhere. 

And according to him, the number one question he gets asked is… 


Fair question. Something all screenwriters probably wonder at some point. 

McKee considers this the stupidest question they could ask him. The reason? Screenwriters don’t actually want to know the answer. Because the answer requires hard work. 

“You write a superior screenplay,” McKee says. “You write a screenplay that is clearly head and shoulders above all the rest of the crap that’s being written out there.”

In part of his conversation with The Script Lab, McKee points to something really important for aspiring screenwriters. Focus on the writing. 

Too often, we screenwriters put the cart before the horse. We worry about selling a particular screenplay before we’ve even finished writing it.

McKee says that budding screenwriters often talk about “breaking into the business” as if it’s a burglary. In keeping with his analogy, screenwriters must assemble the tools for the heist before any break-in can happen. 

By tools, of course, I mean the screenplay itself. You can’t break into the business as a screenwriter if you don’t have a finished script. 

Download your favorite screenplays here for free.

It’s the writing that’s most important, not the selling.

Once you have written that superior screenplay though, McKee advises that you know how to pitch it to others. Don’t give anyone the whole thing, just a taste. Practice your elevator pitch until it’s under two minutes long. Be able to talk about your story so well that when you are ready to “sell your screenplay,” you catch the agent or filmmaker’s attention right away. 

To watch the full interview with Robert McKee and find out which question screenwriters should be asking, sign up for a free 3-day trial of TSL 360, the LARGEST screenwriting education content library, featuring masterclasses, deep-dive interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, TV show-runners, producers, literary managers, agents, studio executives, and leading educators – all in one place.

Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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