This blog was first published on March 26, 2009.
I was working with a screenwriter this week who made me think of something I say in class a lot:
A movie is about “one idea.”
I was reminded that in his book, Your Screenplay Sucks, my pal Will Akers says the very same thing.
To many this precept is confusing. And feels “restricting.” I am brilliant! I can weave many ideas through my screenplay. I will not be “dumbed down” into limiting myself and my creativity! you will protest.
And I agree.
But one idea, well told, is actually the way to make your script more meaningful. Finding the “one idea” makes your story spine stronger. Yours must be a tale in which we “follow the bouncing ball” of a hero who changes from beginning to end. Your hero must learn a lesson — pick one– and you are telling us what that is by clearly planting your Theme Stated up front… and tying it to the “lesson learned” at the end.
But as stated in Save the Cat! — and whenever I get to be face to face with you in class, or while working on your script with you — once you find that Theme, and can stick to it, you can weave in many different skeins of meaning! A movie is a debate, the pros and cons of a particular point of view or way of living. As long as it works off of your main theme, you can be as free wheeling as you like and have confidence that you will not lose your audience, or diminish the power of your thematic intention by diluting your story.
The “one idea” rule also helps you decide if it’s a love story… or a thriller. And don’t you wish more moviemakers would decide this? We can understand multiple levels of meaning, as long as your intention as the writer is clear. Sticking to the “one idea per movie” rule helps us focus on what we’re really saying.