Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Theme - Exactly what the hell is that?

I'm sure there are plenty of folks with an opinion about what theme is and about how to best figure out what it is and how to approach it. Me? I have a pretty simple idea of how it works for scripts. I think of it just like I did my papers in college.

Think of any argument, pick a side, then justify it. The difference with screenplays is you can do whatever the hell you want to support your side. Even lie? Sure! You just have to make sure it's a convincing lie. You gotta sell it.

Take About Last Night - ahh.... the 80's. That movie is all about how a long term relationship - love - or being in love - leads to happiness. If you're not in love, you're unhappy.

Andrew McCarthy's character utters that great phrase, "marriage was an convention created by people lucky to make it to the age of 30 without being eaten by dinosaurs." So cynical, yet we know that he's secretly in love with his best friend's girl. He's miserable without love.

Your themes can be as big or little as you like, but the one thing you want to attempt to do is make as many of your scenes and characters support your side of the argument (either they are supporting it and doing well or they are not and they are failing and/or miserable). If you're going to say that crime doesn't pay, you can't have somebody getting away with murder. Typically, the end of your story is where you are paying off all your previous scenes and it becomes (hopefully) obvious what you're trying to say "love conquers all", "crime doesn't pay", "justice is blind".

For great examples in a small timeframe, check out some of the better TV shows - especially the ones with several main characters such as ER. Not every episode is a winner, but they have some pretty good ones still. They'll have an episode where the theme might be a parent's love is unconditional. Then they'll have different characters involved with different aspects of parenthood - maybe a couple with an unborn child and their problem. Perhaps an elderly parent who's dying and their child comes to visit to mend a long-time rift between the two, etc. These are are perspectives that reinforce the theme.

The more you can do this in your scripts, the more it will resonate with your audience. The more opportunities you give them to say to themselves, "yeah, I know what you mean."

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