Monday, March 15, 2010

Screenwriting is Simple...right?


So you’ve got an idea. Say your logline is, After nuclear warfare destroys much of existing society, mutant rabbits must battle with mutant turtles to determine the future leaders of Earth. You’ve got a hilarious ending planned, in which the lead mutant rabbit challenges the lead mutant turtle to a foot race, and the whole script is going to be brilliant.

Then you start to run into some little problems. You want to have a character that acts as a spy, but you can’t come up with a unique ‘traitor-villain’ on either the rabbit or turtle side. So you invent a Wall-E inspired cockroach character who passes information for food. Why, though, is this cockroach the only cockroach survivor? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so you create a whole army of mutant cockroach survivors. So, then there’s the problem of for whom the cockroaches are fighting? You figure that logically, the cockroaches would have their own agenda, so you create a separate rebellion subplot, in which the cockroaches are trying to sabotage both sides of the war.

Okay, so that’s still simple enough right? Cockroaches vs. turtles vs. rabbits. Fine. But then you start to think about relationships, and you realize you don’t have any real character bonds, let alone a romance. So you ask yourself, what if one of the rabbits likes one of the turtles? And in comes your romantic subplot. You figure you can add a lot of tension if the lead rabbit’s daughter loves the lead turtle’s son, but when one of the cockroaches spots the lovers intertwined, disaster ensues.

You’ve got a lot of conflict going on now. But that’s fine. It’s good to have a lot of conflict. Until you come to the problem of resolving it. Unless everybody dies, somebody has to win this war. And defeat the cockroaches. And reunite the separated lovers. And the cockroaches have really weakened both sides, but you can’t have the cockroaches win! So you decide that the turtles, who really are the good guys, find a mutant plant that gives them impossible strength, so they can defeat the rabbits. But…what’s to keep the rabbits from getting a hold of the same plant? How can you make it exclusive to the turtles?

So…you make it an aquatic plant that the rabbits can’t get to. But…what about the cockroaches? They may not be excellent swimmers, but they could survive underwater long enough to steal some plant from a turtle. My god, this is getting complicated. And what if the turtle and rabbit versions of Romeo and Juliet both eat a ton of the plant so that they can put an end to the war once and for all and make freakish mutant rurtle or tabbit babies together? What language will the turtles and rabbits speak so they are able to understand each other? Will there be subtitles?

This is a problem we often encounter: in setting up a lot of conflict, we set up a need for many, many solutions. And when the solutions don’t come easily, we create a new element that comes with its own set of difficulties to make the solutions work. But then we have to solve a new problem, and so on…So, the key is, simplify. Make your rabbits fight your turtles, make the turtles have the obvious defense of their shells, and so they win. The teenage mutant turtle and his teenage mutant rabbit girlfriend run away together and live happily ever after, and a giant shoe falls from a telephone wire onto the cockroach camp, so they’re out of the picture. The end. Sounds simple enough. Right?

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