Here’s how Hollywood thinks they can make a movie better:
- Add more special effects
- Hire more A-list stars
- Hire a “hot” director
- Hire more writers to work on the screenplay
While none of these techniques alone can sink a screenplay, they completely miss the real problem on why so many screenplays fail. It’s because the story isn’t structured properly.
Story structure simply means setting up information before it’s used. Failing to setup information means that information appears out of nowhere and has no relation to any earlier part of the story. This creates a disjointed effect where every scene seems independent. When that happens, then tory becomes fragmented and incoherent.
In “Crazy Rich Asians,” one setup occurs when the hero is revealed to be an economics professor who can win at gambling games because she knows how to exploit another player’s fear. Later, she uses that skill to confront the mother of her boyfriend who wants her to go away.
If you ever get a chance to watch a bad movie that earned a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, watch “The Layover,” which is about two women who fall in love with the same man when all three of them are stuck in a hotel after their flight gets delayed. Then the two women compete against each other for the man’s affection.
That by itself is a decent story, but where the movie fails is when nothing is setup. Instead, every scene exists solely to find a way to get laughs, but because nothing is setup, there are precious few laughs since nothing makes sense. It’s just one failed attempt at humor after another in every scene until the entire movie falls flat on its face. That’s all due to the lack of structure and structure involves setting up information ahead of time.
Even in a simple story like “The Little Mermaid,” the information is setup ahead of time where Sebastian the crab is a music director and Ariel has a great singing voice. So now it makes sense later on that the villain would steal Ariel’s voice and sing to make the prince think she’s the woman who saved her and not Ariel. And is also makes sense that Sebastian the crab would try to use singing as a way to get the prince to kiss Ariel so she can get her voice back.
What would happen if Sebastian the crab wasn’t a musical director and if Ariel never sang? Then the villain’s use of Ariel’s voice to trick the prince would seem as logical and Sebastian’s use of music to try to get the prince to kiss Ariel would just seem to come out of nowhere because we wouldn’t have previous seen Sebastian’s skill with music.
When information appears to come out of nowhere, then the story will feel weaker. When information is setup and paid off later, then the story will feel stronger. It’s really that simple.