The fundamental thing that a script should do is tell a great story. Hopefully, that’s not a contentious point – we go to the movies or turn on the TV because we want to be entertained! Whether it’s an adventure, an emotional drama, or a horror, the story is what keeps people hooked. With that in mind, it’s easy to focus on the things that are always visible: plot points, characters, and dialogue.
But it’s important not to forget that the very best stories have layers. Underneath the surface, they have something more to say about life. If you ignore this second layer – if you ignore themes, and forget to include one (or more!) in your script, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. They might not be visible or obvious, but they’re extremely important.
At the end of the day, it’s the theme that will most touch an audience and make them remember your film long after they’ve seen it. Anyone can string gunfights, explosions, arguments, and witty dialogue together, but if you can say something unique and profound that no-one else can say, it’ll really make you stand out.
It’s important to note that the theme is not the same as the concept of your script. Your concept or premise is the idea that drives your story; your theme is the message that it is trying to convey through that idea.
So for example, in David Lean’s classic film THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, the concept is that a rule-obsessed British colonel helps his Japanese captors to build a railway bridge, while being unaware of an Allied plan to blow it up. The themes, however, revolve around the absurdity of the idea that there can be rules in warfare and that honor can exist in such a situation.
These themes are never explicitly stated, but they’re clear from very early on, as soon as Colonel Nicholson (Alex Guinness) takes out his copy of the Geneva Conventions and attempts to show it to the uncaring commandant Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) to protest that his officers can’t be put to work because it would be in breach of law. And later on, Nicholson even forbids his men from trying to escape the POW camp because, having been ordered to surrender, escaping would be in breach of their orders!
This theme – of the rules of war – is difficult to express in a single, memorable sentence. It’s always there, though, in every scene of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. It leads us through the story from start to finish.
Knowing what your theme is before you start writing (or at the very least, during writing) is immensely helpful in this regard. If you don’t know what message you want to express, your story can end up wandering all over the place because it doesn’t have any guidance; a strong theme, on the other hand, can help to keep it on track.
So there are a lot of good reasons to make sure your screenplay’s themes are clear. It will help audiences to remember your work, making you stand out as a writer with something unique to say, and keep your story on track.
It will also help to keep us script analysts engaged. Make us use our brains rather than just dealing with things on a shallow level, and we’ll keep reading – and if you can get people to keep reading your script, page after page, then unsurprisingly you’ll achieve success in this industry!
The WriteMovies Spring 2019 Screenwriting Contest is heating up, with just one week to go until the final deadline on Sunday June 16th!
There’s a host of reasons to submit to this competition – not least of which is the Grand Prize of $2000, which is awarded to the script that comes in first place. Even more valuable, however, is the guaranteed pitching to industry and the year of free script development given to the top three scripts.
Any great writer knows that writing is rewriting. With help and advice from our industry experts, our winners can expect to see their script go from strength to strength. We’ll assess your work on elements such as concept, structure, characters, and more.
WriteMovies is able to add a massive amount of value to any script, no matter how far along it is. Don’t forget that you can get our help on your screenplay by buying one of our Script Reports, starting with Judging Feedback from $89 up to the more comprehensive Development Notes at $149.
And once our winners scripts are in the best possible shape – that’s when we start taking them out into the world and pitching them to the industry! Don’t miss out on your chance to win these great prizes and start your screenwriting journey with WriteMovies.
Make sure you submit to our Spring 2019 Screenwriting Contest by the final deadline this Sunday, June 16th by clicking here!
Our inaugural Sci-Fi and Fantasy Award may have closed for submission, but the WriteMovies Spring 2019 Screenwriting Contest goes on – and the final deadline is now just one month away!
Your last chance to enter will be on Sunday June 16th, with a Grand Prize of $2000 plus guaranteed pitching to industry and a year of free script development for the top three scripts. So get to work polishing that dialogue, tweaking your story, and fleshing out those characters, and make sure you give us lots of reasons to get excited!
But what will help you to get our attention? Here are some things we look out for:
- A unique concept. We read a lot of scripts, so show us something we haven’t seen before!
- Fully rounded characters that we love. If we’re invested in the people, we’ll always want to keep reading!
- Strong commercial potential. If the project won’t make money, it has little chance of getting made.
- A great opening. Make sure you grab us with the first ten pages. First impressions matter!
You should also take a look at our Director Ian Kennedy’s article on “What your writing submissions are telling us” for some hints and tips on what mistakes to avoid, and more details on what we’re after.
And then, when you’re finally ready… Click here to submit to the WriteMovies Spring 2019 Screenwriting Contest by June 16th!
Writing a script is hard work, but getting a script turned into an actual movie can be even harder. There are all sorts of obstacles standing in the way, not least the key decision-makers and producers who will actually be responsible for the whole project. So how do you get these people to say yes to your work?
One of the most important things that a lot of writers forget about is making sure that their script is commercially viable. Caught up in so many great ideas, they write whatever comes to mind with no thought for cost – but if the film unlikely to make a profit, then a producer is unlikely to want to back it. After all, their job may well be on the line!
Here are some tips to make your script more commercially viable…
- Ask yourself who is going to go and watch your film. Who is this going to appeal to? Who is your target audience? These are the kind of necessary questions that producers ask all the time; if you find that you’re not certain of the answer, then it might be time to have a rethink.
- Reduce the number of locations. By having all the action take place in only a few places, you’re massively reducing costs. A great example of this is RESERVOIR DOGS, which was predominantly set in an empty warehouse.
- Another way to reduce costs is to tone down the action. You might have some great set pieces planned out in your head, but every stunt takes time and money to plan and perform. Can you cut the helicopters out? Can you have only one explosion instead of three? The scene doesn’t have to always to be loud to be exciting!
- On a similar note, cut down on the crowd scenes. Extras have to paid and fed – each and everyone of them is costing the production money. If possible, even having a small cast of two or three is even better – that means paying even fewer actors!
- A lot of Hollywood blockbusters seem to be overloaded with special effects these days, but they don’t come cheap. They might be an unavoidable cost in science-fiction and fantasy, but see if you can find a way to cut down on them.
In short, when the budget is small and there’s a clear audience, producers are much more likely to say yes to your work. A small cast, a handful of locations, small-scale action (or none whatsoever) are all things that can help on this front, and give your script the best chance of thriving in a competitive industry.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a great example of film that does this well. There is always an audience for horror films, and by keeping its costs so low, it became the most profitable film ever made based on return on investment, making an impressive $193 million off a budget of just $15,000.
So when you sit down to write, make sure you think first about the commercial side of things – specifically, whether there’s enough of an audience for your script to claw back the money that will be used to make it. That’s part of the key to making your way as a successful screenwriter!
In our latest Writing Insights article, Script Analyst Edward Smith shares his insights on the things you should think about before you start writing. Here’s our checklist before you start putting your ideas down on paper…
Suddenly it hits you – a new idea for a script! There’s nothing more exciting than this moment. Unable to contain yourself, you rush to your computer (or typewriter, if you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way) and start to type –
Wait a minute!
Yes, you heard us – wait. It can be a hard thing to do when all you want to do is sit down and write, but planning things out in advance, and making sure that you’ve got everything you need, can save you a lot of time further down the line. There’s nothing more frustrating than reaching the end and realizing you made a mistake right at the beginning – and it’s going to mess everything up.
So, here’s our checklist for when you’re writing a new script. Get things right before you start writing, and your job will become a whole lot easier…
- Is this concept really as unique as you think it is? Sometimes we’re inspired a bit too much by the stories we love the most. There’s nothing wrong with going with a proven formula, but make sure your work has a unique selling point too.
- Don’t just think about how you’re going to start your script – think about how you’re going to finish it as well! If you don’t know where the story ends, it’s easy to run into trouble by taking a wrong turn in the story before you even realize it. Figure out your destination before you take the first step to make sure you head off in the right direction.
- What’s the theme of your story? We read a lot of scripts that tell a strong story and are underpinned by great ideas, but without a theme they lack purpose. Don’t just thrill us; make us think as well. Give your script focus by giving it a theme!
- Make sure you know your characters. Their actions should dictate where the story goes, rather than the story dictating their actions; it’s frustrating when characters behave unnaturally just to move the plot forward. Head off this problem by building up a detailed knowledge of them before you start.
- Ultimately, the purpose of a screenplay is to be turned into a film – and that means producers need to see it as a sound investment. Take time to think about the commercial potential of your project – the audience who will go to see it and the costs involved in making it. If it doesn’t look like it’ll make a profit, it might be worth making some changes.
Once you’ve thought all this through, it’s time to start writing. But you know what? For the all the careful thought you’ve put in, there’s one other thing you shouldn’t forget…
Let the story take you where it needs to go! You’ll discover new and exciting ideas as you write, and you shouldn’t feel that you can’t explore them just because you’ve already planned everything out.
Be flexible with your writing. Be playful. Experiment.
Now get writing!
Found this useful? For more Writing Insights from WriteMovies, click here to see our full archive of articles!
Whatever you think about the Oscars, there’s always something to be learned from them. Last night was no exception: there was the usual number of sure-fire wins mixed with a few shocks that leave us scratching our heads. Here’s our take on what happened at the Oscars 2019…
- The big news of the night was the surprise win of GREEN BOOK for Best Picture. This may not have been the most competitive year for this category, but stacked up against films like BLACKKKLANSMAN and ROMA, it’s still not what we expected. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times even went so far as to call it “the worse best Picture winner since Crash“. Ouch. But the main thing to take from this? ROMA might have been the favorite on the night (rather than THE FAVOURITE… okay, it’s a bit confusing) but the Academy isn’t ready to give highest honors to a Netflix film just yet. The big studios continue to guard their territory.
- Spike Lee finally has an Oscar, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for BLACKKKLANSMAN. When it comes to films about race, the Oscars have generally favored less hard-edged material than Lee makes, so at first glance, this looks like it could indicate a shift for film’s biggest awards ceremony. However, that’s all kind of cancelled out because…
- The winner for Best Original Screenplay also went to GREEN BOOK, which has come in for a lot of criticism for perpetuating the “white savior” trope and couldn’t be more of an opposite to BLACKKKLANSMAN if it tried. Take a look at that article from Chang and you’ll see why it’s so confusing that the two screenplay awards went to these two films. On the one hand, a film that takes an intense, no-holds barred look at racism – on the other, a film that deals with it through a feel-good story. One thing is clear – Hollywood still hasn’t figured out how it wants to deal with this kind of subject matter.
- Away from the main controversies, superhero stories are starting to gain some traction at awards ceremonies to go with their popular appeal, with BLACK PANTHER picking up three awards and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE winning Best Animated Feature. This is where the real money is right now – and it looks like there’s even the possibility of picking up some nice shiny awards to go with it.
- On a similar note, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY took home four awards. Even though the only big one here was for Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury, it’s a surprise to see a film that got mixed reviews from critics fare so well at the Oscars. Is the Academy really becoming more democratized to reflect popular opinion? We’ll have to wait and see how next year unfolds…
From a screenwriting perspective, the main thing here is the confusion of seeing two totally contrasting films take home the awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Here at WriteMovies, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this, with several of our past winners – such as BLACKOUT.COM by Ruben Bush III dealing with this kind of subject matter.
The Oscars 2019 may not have had the drama of the wrong winner being announced for Best Picture like a couple of years ago, but they’ve certainly given us a lot of food for thought…
It’s time for more Winter 2019 Screenwriting Contest results! There were a lot of great scripts in our Quarter-Finals and it was tough to make this next round of decisions, but after careful consideration our judges have decided on our Semi-Finalists!
There’s often a fine line when it comes to the different rounds of our screenwriting contest. Some scripts only just miss out, and it can be difficult to know why. A lot of the time, it comes down to the execution of basic elements – structure, characters, and dialogue.
Take a look also at this article that our Director, Ian Kennedy, wrote when we announced Quarter-Finalists: What your writing submissions are telling us, 2017-2019. If you’re making any of these mistakes, they could be holding you back!
But what else have we found with these latest Winter 2019 Screenwriting Contest results? Well, a few things that have often helped our Semi-Finalists stand out from the rest:
- Unique Concepts. If there’s something in a script we haven’t seen before, it immediately makes us want to read on. See what Ian wrote in his article about the number of scripts with a vehicle smash at about page 10 – when we’ve read the same thing so many times, it quickly starts to become dull. On the other hand, when we encounter something new – that’s really exciting!
- Specific in genre and the story they wanted to tell. With a number of scripts, we found it difficult to tell what genre the writer was aiming at and it was a while before the story began to take shape. These unfocused openings usually fail to hold our attention. Be specific about your story, and be clear with its genre!
- Engaging characters. Ian wrote it in his article but it’s worth repeating again here: “Make us care and get fascinated with your main characters and their world”. When we care about the characters, the script takes on a whole new life. Don’t rely on clichés or stereotypes, but create rounded characters we can engage with as if they were real people. And not just the protagonist either, but the supporting characters and villains as well!
And with that, it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for. Here are our next Winter 2019 Screenwriting Contest results: the Semi-Finalists!
|BAD LUCK VS KARMA, Aaron Davis||TÖDLICHE ERINNERUNG, Urs Aebersold||SPACE RACERS, Jason Azcar|
|THE DAWN OF EVE, James Bingham||LE SECRET DU KATANA NOIR, Christian Bourgeois||LA VENGEANCE DU COBRA, Christian Bourgeois|
|THE WALL, Anthony Buono||UNE CHANCE POUR GUERIR, Christine de Chauvelin||PSYCHOANALYTIC TALES, Christine de Chauvelin|
|STRUCK, Elaine F Chekich||THE HUNTED, Mark Flood||WITHOUT BORDERS, Chris Gebhardt & Jenn Russi|
|LAST CHRISTMAS, Owen Gower||BAD LISTING, Brent Hartinger||KOBOS, Adam Hersh|
|HOLLYWOOD’S MOST WANTED, Manny Jimenez Sr.||THE SAX, Pascal Kulcsar||AGENT 355, Laura Lambert|
|IN THE ABSENCE OF JUSTICE, Stephen F Maynard||PROMISE OF TOMORROW, Andrew Pennington||THIS IS NOT REVENGE, David Pierotti|
|BOY MOST WANTED, Tuck Tucker||ESTHER’S DEN, Persephone Vandegrift||THE CRACK IN PEGGY SUE’S FLOOR, John Woodard|
Keep an eye out for more Winter 2019 Screenwriting Contest results from us, as we move on now to judge our Finalists and winners – and decide who takes away the Grand Prize!