Overheard at the place where I get my hair cut:

“I think it’s about comedians. It seems okay. Then I saw that Adam Sandler is, I guess, dying or something. It looks really good.”

This was a conversation about the upcoming Judd Apatow movie, Funny People. Yes we are all going to see it, and I personally can’t wait. But just because I’m interested doesn’t mean everyone is.

What I found in that overheard bit of conversation was something fascinating… and a little scary.

If we’re lucky enough to have our movies bought and made, we will eventually find ourselves in the hands of the Marketing Department. There is an array of weapons at their disposal to get the word out about our film: A series of ads on TV, the trailer or two, a Behind the Scenes look on HBO. And there will hopefully be a message that explains “What is it?” One that is clear… and compelling.

But what it boils down to is: Do we get it? Do we pull from the 20-30 second message in a day of a million 20-30 second messages, the thing that makes us go? Because all you really can get across is the barest semblence of the plot, the cast, a general feeling of whether or not it’s interesting.

What travels best is: primal. We sorta had them there with the comedian description, everyone likes Funny People, don’t they? But what got this person’s attention that I heard over the blow dryer, the part that stuck, was the primal part: Adam might be dying. And that made all the difference. Now there are stakes for him — and us. Now there’s a plot. Now I’ll go check it out.

What’s the primal piece in the movie you’re writing? What essential element will catch the attention of  busy audiences? A pregnancy, a divorce, the impossible chase to find love? The caveman song of survival, hunger, death, father, mother, sister, brother, wife, child?

When we ask “What is it?” we not only need the hook — and that has to be fantastic!! —  we will also need a primal reason to stay put and listen. Finding your primal piece not only helps you focus on what your story is saying, but helps communicate an idea that even the busiest cavemen “get.”