It’s late. I’m at the keyboard re-reading the damn pages, again, and thinking about theme, again. The questions I always face from beginning to end are “Why write this script?”, “Is it exploring questions worth exploring?” and most importantly, “Does each and every scene really further the exploration of the theme?” As if that’s not enough, I also worry about whether the story is entertaining while making this serious exploration, whether the characters are interesting enough, and whether anyone else will be interested in the questions the story asks.

After years of working on creatiing interesting characters, I’ve finally decided I don’t give a damn. When a development exec says, “You need character development,” he or she really means, “The story is just not that interesting.”

Somewhere on the old website, I posted some pretty good articles on the psychology of character. I put a lot of serious thought into how to conceive characters that are built on internal conflict from the ground up. I’ll post these articles again one day, but what I’ve come to realize is that the psychology of a character doesn’t matter at all if what the character is up to doesn’t matter. Is my character facing a struggle that asks a question that I think is important? If not, I’m wasting my time.

So how the hell do I know whether my theme is good enough? The only answer I’ve ever come up with is that if it reaches me, if I look at what really matters to me, if I get it on the page through dramatic action without ever preaching it, then it’s worth writing. Not only can’t I tell what will be important to a particular exec, I can’t write it if it means nothing to me. It’s too hard. I don’t want to be vacuous. Contrary to popular belief, execs are not stupid. They know when you don’t care; it shows up on the page.

There’s a lot to say about theme and I’ll get around to saying it. Just not tonight. I need to read the damn pages again.

2 thoughts on “THEME; AGAIN”

  1. Old topic, I know. But this is the first time I’ve read it. And the first one that really made me want to comment. Besides Feb. 25th is a good day: my B-day.

    It’s nice seeing professionals having revelatory moments. Thank you for sharing.

    My thoughts are that character psychology only matters in as much as it actually shows up on the screen. I feel that character motivations and psychology should be able to be ascertained through the character’s current behavior and not through some forced notion that because they were mistreated as a child, or abused somehow, they now behave like sociopath (or enter other cliche in here).

    In Sydney Lumet’s book Making Movies, he even refers to this type of storytelling as rubber-ducky storytelling. “My mommie stole my rubber-ducky. That’s why I am a serial killer.”

    Is Hannibal Lector a less complex character because we never found out what drove him to being a cannibal?


    Do we get a rich sense of the character?

    You better believe it. (At least in Silence of the Lambs.)

    My personal taste is, if I’m going to fault, I’m going to fault on the side of a lack of backstory displayed on the screen, as opposed to an abundance.

    As for theme… in most movies I can think of, it is almost always tied into the character arc. When the character is believable on screen the theme tends to stand out more readily.

    The tricky part is working theme into the subplots. If it is done, it unifies stronger than any visual, or plot, or combination of things. Heck, look at Crash. It hangs together almost solely on theme.

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