The first step to getting your screenplay recognized is having a great concept. There’s an upcoming movie called “Sex Tape” starring Cameron Diaz. Having read one draft of the screenplay, the script had a great concept (a couple films a sex tape that accidentally gets released on the Internet) but from what I read, the script lacked a strong theme. If the movie follows the draft that I read, the story will likely come across as mediocre at best.
Most people focus on a high concept idea. “Titanic” was about two lovers trapped on a doomed ocean liner. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” was about a 40-year old man trying to lose his virginity. “Harold and Maude” was about a young man who likes to pretend to commit suicide. “Terminator 2” was about a killer robot reprogrammed to protect the future human army leader from a more advanced killer robot. All of these high concept ideas immediately grab your attention and make you want to know more.
Where many screenplays fail is that they make the entire story about the high concept. “Escape Plan” was about a prison expert trying to break out of the most secure maximum security prison in the world. Great concept, but that’s all the story was about. To make a movie great, you need a theme in the background to support the high concept.
In “Titanic,” the theme was how to live a fulfilling life on your own terms. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” was about how becoming a man involves more than just having sex. “Harold and Maude” was about enjoying life. “Terminator 2” was about how killing is wrong.
What happens if you don’t have a strong theme to support your high concept? You’ll likely get a movie loaded with action to support the high concept, but low on emotional interest and appeal. Many people watched movies like “Titanic” and “Star Wars” multiple times because they loved the emotional rush the movie gave them. Few people went back to see “Escape Plan” multiple times because once you see the action of the high concept once, there’s nothing more to see. People have watched “Titanic” and “Star Wars” multiple times because it’s more than just action but about making us feel closer to our own lives. That’s what a strong theme can do besides unifying your story.
When “Sex Tape” arrives, the high concept is great, which got the screenplay sold and produced. Now just watch to see if there’s a hidden theme or if the story tries to coast through on its high concept alone. If the movie is nothing more than its concept, it will likely be mediocre. If the movie contains an appealing theme, it could be a great story.
The next time you see a bad movie, look to see if it’s missing a great theme. Chances are it will and that’s why it wound up turning into such a bad movie.