Question: How can a great 'non-formula story' get past the gatekeeper?
Marisa D'Vari responds: Great question, Stuart. My personal feeling is that several recent events and the national tragedy will pave the way for more personal films. Realize that it all starts with character. The characters in 'Diner' were exceptional, very real, and the audience felt as if they knew them, even if they never met that 'type' before.
A gatekeeper is looking for well-turned characters who must resolve universal key issues before the story's end. This is the simple formula for a great film. To test if your characters pass muster, why not get some actor friends together to read the script aloud. Test the script. Send it to people whose opinion you respect. If your characters are real and if their issues are both ones that an audience can universally relate to and are resolved at story's end, then go ahead, send it in. The formula, I suspect, will soon be outdated.