When James Cameron was filming “Titanic” in Mexico near San Diego, a friend of mine got hired as an extra, playing a dead person floating at the end of the movie. He said during the filming, everyone on the set thought that “Titanic” was going to fail. “It’s just about a ship that sinks,” he told me. “Where’s the suspense in that?”
As James Cameron showed, there’s always more to a story than the action you see on the screen.
“On the surface, “Titanic” is just about a ship that sinks. It’s a historical fact so we already know what’s going to happen. What we don’t know is who will survive.
Still, wondering who will survive can’t keep our interest up for long. Just look at the feeble remake of “The Poseidon Adventure” that simply parades a group of characters and lets us watch them die, one by one. Not much excitement there as we watch them die grisly deaths for our entertainment. Boring.
What makes “Titanic” special and “Poseidon” not is that “Titanic” was more than just a story. It was a metaphor for a lost human soul who regains her spirit and turns her life into an adventure.
The heroine starts off as a woman trapped in an unhappy engagement where her life looks restricted and limited. Then she meets Leonardo and suddenly he shows her a world of adventure and excitement, and inspires her to survive and live on. The story is more than just about a sinking ship, but a story about how that event changed a woman’s life to go from a meek person to a strong-willed woman who experiences life to its fullest.
Every good movie is more than just the action you see on the screen. “Star Wars” has its mystical Force that gives the story a philosophical feel. “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” were more than just action thrillers, but stories with a message about the nature of fate and of the human race’s destructive behavior. “Thelma and Louise” wasn’t just about two women escaping the law, but two women searching for freedom in a male-dominated world.
Think of “The Matrix” with its philosophical idea that we’re all minds trapped in a body that’s asleep. Think of “Rocky” as a tale of one person’s triumph against incredible odds. Think of “It’s a Wonderful Life” that tells us that one person has a tremendous impact on the lives of others.
Now think of a really bad movie that just focuses on action, such as the typical throwaway slasher horror flick where a serial killer hunts down and slaughters helpless victims. In the original “Halloween,” that worked because it was about a Boogey Man. In all those mindless sequels, it become just a nut killing people in random ways for our entertainment, horror porn.
So make your story about something that resonates with people of all ages, cultures, and beliefs. Do that and your story may be more appealing as a result.