How to Kill a Movie from Paper to Screen!

Updated: May 18

Recently in a social media screenwriting group, a screenwriter decried the destruction of her screenplay essentials. Though the details of her grievance were hardly spelt out clearly, she sounded as if the production team was made up of ‘murderers’. However screenwriters are sometimes accused of writing unrealistic screenplays that overshoot budgets or are just unrealistic in terms of production.


Another school of thought also allows the screenwriter to write freely, perhaps exude all fantastic ideas per costuming and locations; perhaps utopic technical requirements. On both sides of the argument the audience is the final judge, at the box-office. It is the audience’s emotional involvement with the final cut that justifies all the sweaty job that enables any movie to feel good. And that comes from how audiences identify with the protagonist’s emotional journey.


How does your protagonist carry you along in his or her emotional journey? You can only share in that emotional journey by experiencing his or her inner humanity. That is what impacts the outer humanity, manifested in the external struggle. On that external journey, which compensates the protagonist’s internal humanity the screenwriter plots and peaks audience’s reaction at plot and pinch points. Those are the challenging highs and lows, at which the antagonist creates obstacles to stop the hero or heroine’s realization of set story goal.


Accordingly your protagonist could either through the filmmaking team render an unemotional journey or embody emotional expression that impacts. Such emotional harvests from internal vis-à-vis external conflict include powerful expression of grief, fear or anxiety, during the protagonist vis-à-vis antagonist’s pursuit of fulfilment. Such harvests could be experienced in joys and sense of fulfilment.


The sense of feeling down or joyful is indeed realized when we understand the essential emotions that drive any movie story. Speaking literally however, audience’s surprise, disgust or happiness, while watching movies are subject to utility of emotions in movies. That subjective use of emotions implies the audience must be stirred mentally to express or communicate physically. No wonder tears flow, when we express that essential humanity.


Therefore as a standard movie filmmaking practice primarily from the screenplay stage, showing and not telling enables the audience to relate with the protagonist’s experiential journey. Really because thoughts weighed with scales of dialogue and action can only be expressed via emotions. The harvest of emotions is therefore possible, when we share in the physical reactions or communication of impact of emotions by characters.


Those communicated reactions or show of emotions become our collective or universal human experiences. They create credibility or integrity for the movie story and demonstrate the true skills of storytelling teams from script to screen. It simply means the skillful reflection of real life human experiences, which the screenwriter, producer, director and cinema crew impact on their audience.


How do these filmmaking stakeholders combine skills to cook up emotional sauces? They must feel, experience and express: develop, analyze and construct, finish and present. It is a process that starts from concept through conflict and skills. The process manifests the saying that, ‘S/he who feels it knows it,’ but also shows it!


No matter a screenwriter’s compelling story, other filmmaking hands must continue, even improve if not overindulge their audience’s emotions. Whatever happens in the story, character’s roller-coaster emotional journey shared with its audience must be well gauged from screenwriting through producing and cinematography among other filmmaking responsibilities.


It is therefore imperative that all hands, ideas and products recognize the essential storytelling synergy to cause and realize emotional sharing responsibilities before any audience shares too.

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