“2001: A Space Odyssey” is considered a classic film, but is unique in that it doesn’t follow the typical screenplay format, or does it?
“2001: A Space Odyssey” is the type of film that would never get made without the backing of a powerful producer or director. In this case, Stanley Kubrick helped write and direct this film, but an ordinary screenwriter submitting this script would have probably been laughed out of Hollywood.
Nonetheless, “2001” still follows the format of eight distinct story segments (the 15 Minute Movie Method). By today’s standards, the movie may seem slow and ambiguous, and its lack of dialogue throughout most of the film may seem puzzling, but you only have to look at its sequel, “2010,” to realize how badly a story can be corrupted in the hands of a less talented director and screenwriter.
In “2001,” the hero isn’t an individual character but the evolution of mankind itself. This is how “2001” breaks down into eight distinct, segments:
Segment 1: Inciting Incident shows a bunch of apes protecting their water hole by a rival ape tribe. Rising Action occurs when the rival tribe beats back the other tribe, which retreats and hides out in misery.
Segment 2: The Monolith appears and the apes circle and study it. It starts teaching them how to use tools and the tribe takes back their water hole by defeating the rival tribe when their leader uses a bone as a weapon and clubs and rival tribe’s leader to death.
Segment 3: Dr. Floyd travels to the moon. Apparently there’s been a disease outbreak and the moon base has been quarantined. The Climax for this segment ends when Dr. Floyd arrives on the moon.
Segment 4: The quarantine story is just a cover story. The real problem is that a strange monolith has been discovered, so Dr. Floyd and others go out to investigate. This monolith is obviously created by some form of intelligence and has been buried for four million years. Just as the sun rises and strikes the monolith surface, the monolith emits a screeching radio signal towards Jupiter.
Segment 5: Astronauts are aboard a spaceship heading towards Jupiter. Their HAL computer questions the secrecy behind the mission, but then warns that a part outside of the spaceship is about to fail. When the astronauts retrieve this part, they find it’s working normally and HAL is in error, a first for that computer.
Segment 6: HAL suggests they put the part back and wait for it to fail. The astronauts get suspicious of HAL and plot to de-activate him. HAL tricks the astronaut into going back outside where HAL kills him. The second astronaut goes to retrieve the body and after being locked out, battles his way in and deactivates HAL. That’s when he learns the true nature of the Jupiter mission, which was to investigate the monolith’s signal.
Segment 7: Dave, the remaining astronaut, leaves the spaceship and journeys into the monolith where he finally arrives in a strange hotel room.
Segment 8: Dave gradually ages as he sees himself from different points of view. Finally, the monolith appears again and transforms Dave into a Star child watching Earth.
The point is that even a movie as unconventional as “2001” still tells a story using eight distinct mini-stories that pull the audience along and tells a main, overall story.
Look for these eight mini-stories in a movie you’ve already seen. Then use these mini-story segments to help structure your own screenplay. This isn’t a formula to follow blindly, but a structure to guide you into telling your story as effectively as you can.