Use Limitations as a Way to Spark Your Creativity

The original “Twilight Zone” series always had a problem. They never had enough money to create each episode. As a result, they had to get creative with what they had and write stories within those limitations.

One day, Rod Serling noticed that a studio had a mockup for an airplane interior laying around that they no longer needed. So he wrote a Twilight Zone episode that took place entirely on the airplane called “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” which tells the story of a passenger plane that mysteriously crashes through the sound barrier and goes back in time.

Another time, Rod Serling wanted to depict the end of the world through an increasing heat wave so he wrote an episode called “The Midnight Sun” that depicted two women alone in an apartment building where the action takes place entirely in one woman’s apartment with a few scenes shot outside in the apartment building hallway.

The point is that limitations can often force writers to get creative rather than rely on special effects, lavish sets, or stunning scenery. One movie filmed during the COVID-19 lockdown used this limitation to create a movie called “Language Lessons.”

The story takes place entirely through Zoom meetings that occur through two people’s computers. One person is a Spanish teacher and the other is a man whose partner has paid for online Spanish lessons to help him fulfill a dream of speaking Spanish fluently.

Rather than rely on lots of physical action, special effects, or exotic locations, the entire movie takes place around the homes of the two characters. This forced the two writers (the two actors in the movie) to create interesting dialogue that reveals character and advances the plot through the character interaction.

Despite the limitation of two people talking through Zoom meetings, “Language Lessons” tells a far more compelling story than 99% of Hollywood movies that rely on gunfire, explosions, car crashes, and sex to tell a feeble story.

Many novices go wild with their imaginations in writing a screenplay, but the less expensive your script may be to produce, the more likely it will be produced. If your screenplay requires jet fighters firing missiles at a giant gila monster climbing the Empire State building, that will cost far more to produce than simply filming two people talking through a Zoom meeting.

Whenever you get tempted to require anything more expensive than an ordinary setting for your story, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. You may be able to tell the exact same story more effectively by using ordinary settings rather than unique, expensive settings with lots of action.

Big Hollywood studios can afford James Bond type expensive action involving multiple stunt people and fancy cars crashing. Your screenplay can’t afford anything expensive because the more it costs to produce your screenplay, the lower your chances of getting it made.

It’s just business. Use limitations to spark your creativity and focus on telling a great story without relying on the crutch of action, car crashes, and special effects. You may surprise yourself by focusing more on telling a great story like “Language Lessons” does.

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