Analyzing a Premise Test

 In Screenplay Blog, Screenwriting Tips

Screenwriting is about two things, imagining and communicating. The trouble is, people have a tendency to gloss over that latter part, and act like the reader is psychic. By and large, we’re not. We can’t envision anything unless it’s clearly stated.

A redditor,  /u/zombdi, asked me to analyze a premise test for free. I agreed, on the condition that I could use it as a public example.

The premise test is a way of spelling out an idea so it can be diagnosed and analyzed.

An /ADJECTIVE/ /PROTAGONIST TYPE/ must /GOAL/ or else /STAKES/.
They do this by /DOING/ and learns /THEME/.

PREMISE: A Las Vegas drug addict must make money in order to achieve his goal of helping people and impress his Mother before she kicks him out. He does this by a sneaky commune influencing his life to teach him that the best way to help people is to help them help themselves, leave things to their own, and take no credit.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#e65652″ class=”” cite=”” link=””]I don’t want to use
my imagination.
I want the writer to
make me see.[/pullquote]

This is a classic example of sub-optimal communication. The writer has an idea they’re passionate about. The idea might actually be good. But it’s communicated in the vaguest way possible, leaving far too much to the inference and imagination of the reader.

I don’t want to use my imagination. I want the writer to make me see. I react to poor communication the same way I’d react to a waiter telling me, “I know that the chicken is raw in the middle, but just imagine if it weren’t!”

PROBLEMS:

I can’t envision the main character.

His trait is being from Vegas, which is a zip code, not an adjective. Who is this guy? What separates him from other drug addicts? His archetype feels inaccurate. He seems more like a bloke who happens to use drugs than what the media would have us believe a “drug addict” is.
I have no idea what his goal is. I get that he wants to help people, but I don’t know what that entails, nor why living at home nor having money would enable that. How much money does he need?

The stakes are low.

I’m essentially rooting for the hero to keep mooching off his mom. Shouldn’t he want to move out? I’m not sure what I’m hoping happens to him.
Most importantly, I’m not sure what the second act is.

I’m not sure what the idea is, nor am I certain how it will be explored.

I’m missing most of the clarity that I’d need to understand the premise and envision what sort of amusing ideas might come from it. I have no idea why the commune is sneaky or what it does (nudist commune very different from all male cannibal commune). It also forces him into a passive role. He doesn’t do anything, he just gets acted on by outside forces. Not very compelling or charismatic.

The theme/learns section reads like a fortune cookie. Presumably he learns how not to be a drug addict (or learns that he’ll be addicted for life). Anything else feels extraneous.

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