“The Anatomy of Theme in the Screenplay and Movie”

by
Donald L. Vasicek

What is theme? What does it mean? How does it apply to the screenplay? According to Merriam Webster dictionary, theme is: “A subject or topic of discourse or artistic representation.” In the screenplay, the theme must be introduced as early as possible. It should be introduced, as a visual, if at all possible, by page 3 of the screenplay or minute 3 of the film.

Since film is a visual medium, the screenwriter must strive to visually write. So, showing should take the place of telling in screenwriting. This is vital if you want to sell and get your screenplay produced.

How does one do that? Well, in “Born to Win”, one of my produced and award-winning screenplays, Justin, the main character in the film, has shown on Page 1, through a metaphor, that trust is the theme in the movie. This was visually accomplished in minute 1 of the movie by showing a butterfly fluttering away from Justin’s mother’s headstone. Justin won’t let go of his deceased mother, a problem he exhibits throughout the movie. The butterfly shows, “letting go”, by flying away, as a means for having trust.

On page 3, the theme for the movie is exhibited:

“Callie smiles. She tends the graves. Justin lingers. He notices Charlie’s shadow lengthen over him.

Charlie places his hand on Justin’s shoulder. He guides him towards the car. Justin slips his arm around Charlie’s waist.”

Can you identify the theme of trust in this scene? What visual shows that?

“Justin lingers”? It would work to show trust, with the exception that Justin lingers. It shows that Justin is giving Callie some consideration as someone he can trust. The key to utilizing “Justin lingers” as the theme is identified in the verb, “lingers.” “Lingers” exhibits the possibility of trust, but it does not exhibit trust. So, “Justin lingers”, is not the theme in the movie.

How about “Charlie places his hand on Justin’s shoulder.” There is an indication of trust here. Remember Justin is the main character, so everything should be written and seen from his point-of-view. Here, Justin allows Charlie to place his hand on his shoulder. So, this visual allows the first peek into the theme for the movie, trust, but it is not the theme.

Utilizing the visual approach to screenwriting and movie-making empowers the characters and it empowers the story. Without, the screenplay and/or the movie, falls flat and theaters will not want to exhibit it, let alone distributors picking it to put in theaters.

So, the more visuals the screenwriter can write and the filmmaker can film, the more powerful the screenplay and the movie will be. This, in turn, will create revenue. This, in turn, will create more work for the screenwriter and the filmmaker. That’s the way it works in the movie business.

So, instead of giving examples of screenplays and movies that back up what I am writing here, I will leave that up to you. Look at movies. Study them for the theme, particularly early on in the movie.

And, instead of telling you what visual in my example, “Born to Win”, depicts the theme of the movie, “trust”, you tell me. My email is dvasicek@earthlink.net. I’d love to hear from you.

Your choices are: “He guides him towards the car.” Again another element of trust, or is this the visual that identifies the theme, “trust.”

Or, is it: “Justin slips his arm around Charlie’s waist.”

You tell me. And remember, the theme, once exhibited in the screenplay and movie, must be visually shown in every scene from page 3 of the screenplay and minute 3 of the movie through to the end. If the screenwriter fails to execute the theme this way, then, the screenplay and the movie will fall flat.

And the screenwriter and filmmaker can show opposing views of the theme. For example, in “Born to Win”, Justin learns that the bad guy in the movie is one he should not trust, while the bad guy shows that he doesn’t trust law enforcement, and even his cohort.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
The Zen of Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

John Wayne's birthplace.  Winterset, Iowa

John Wayne's birthplace. Award-Winning Writer/FIlmmaker Donald L. Vasicek/Winterset, Iowa

“Hollywood’s Little Secret”

A professional screenwriter is a screenwriter who has been produced and paid. A professional screenwriter follows Hollywood’s rules in order to get produced. Hollywood’s rules require screenwriters to follow genre formula’s in order to produce their films. This means that professional screenwriter’s utilize their creativity by creating fresh, compelling, and unique stories within the context of a Hollywood established genre. This is the essence of utilizing one’s creativity in Hollywood. If a screenwriter wants to go independent of Hollywood in order to be creative, then, create to your heart’s delight. If a screenwriter wants to write screenplays simply to have fun writing screenplays, then be creative, have fun with it. If, however, a screenwriter desires to become a professional screenwriter, then, one must channel that creativity into specific channels in order to sell and get their screenplays produced.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
“Commitment to Professionalism”
Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

“The Log Line”

The log line must show what your movie is about. You have about a minimum of five or six words and a maximum of three, five to six word sentences to show it in the log line. The shorter, the better. If you are serious about writing, selling and getting your screenplays produced, then, you must think in terms of writing lean and mean. Lean and mean is the same thing, as the shorter, the better. This attitude will help you write to industry standards and help you hone your craft as a screenwriter.

A key here, is to use active verbs. Use them in your log lines, use them in your synopses, use them in your treatments and use them in your screenplays. The use of active verbs will help you streamline your writing. It will force you to write that show your descriptions and condense your dialogue. Think in terms of writing it with a beginning, a middle and an ending. Think of it the same way as movie trailers you see on television or in the theater. Think of writing the log line paralleling the same method that you read about them in television and movie guides.

Start your log line out with the main character. You should follow that with the description of the plot and end it with a hook that seduces people in wanting to read your screenplay.

An example that has been very successful for me with a screenplay I wrote, CATCHING THE FALL, is as follows: A common Joe races the clock to restore his son back to normal after the boy goes brain dead. Here, you can see who the main character is: A common Joe. The plot is: races (the key active verb) the clock to restore his son back to normal. And the ending hook is: after the boy goes brain dead. So, fix yourself up some potatoes and gravy and get to work on your log line.

Award-winning, writer/filmmaker, Donald L. Vasicek, dimensionalizes Olympus Films+, LLC’s services. He will bring you 35 years of writing and film making experience. Need to put your project together in a coherent fashion, but are stuck! Your storyline is rocky! What shots are you missing? Does your theme escape you, runs like an Olympic sprinter, away from you?  Whatever else needs repair so that you can move to the next level in your film, you will benefit by contacting Mr. Vasicek.

dvasicek@earthlink.net, http://www.donvasicek.com, 303-903-2103.
Rates/Fees affordable, negotiable and fair to fit your budget.
Contact him today so that you can move forward tomorrow!

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