There’s nothing quite like coming out of a movie theater feeling very satisfied with what you’ve seen on the silver screen. You became involved. You liked the characters and the story moved you emotionally. You were either scared, horrified or left the theater with a loving feeling, or a touch of sadness.
Whatever the feeling a movie leaves us with, the last thing we want from a movie is for it just to be average. We want a movie to be larger than life and to move us – it’s a ‘movie’! We want to get lost in the story. So what makes a really successful movie? How is a Hollywood or Bollywood Blockbuster different from the ‘also rans’? Just like cooking, the secret is in the recipe, how the script writer puts it all together.
Researchers have found that all successful movie scripts contain 8 key elements:
- The script writer needs to work to hard to make the characters likeable.
If the hero or heroine is very likeable, if the audience is rooting for them, then the more successful your story will be. If you write down your favorite movies you will find that you love these movies because of the characters. If people are asked to note their 5 favorite movies of all time and also their favorite characters of all time, you will find that there’s a huge overlap. Great characters and great movies go hand-in-hand.
- The script should be written in such a way that people want to re-watch it.
They want to see it again and re-live the highs and lows of the hero’s struggle. It stays in their memory. The most successful films are evergreen. They last and last – why is this? They last because people want to see them again then again. They never forget them because they were deeply satisfied by the emotional uplift of becoming involved with characters that they love.
- There must be a surprise in every scene.
Yes, each and every one. It’s is quite amazing, but even a poorly acted movie with surprises in each scene will do much better than a very boring movie with great acting. An audience wants to be surprised. It’s what they go to the cinema for. People want to be transported away from their normal lives, where there are very few surprises.
- The audience should be asking questions.
Audiences aren’t dumb. People don’t want to sit there with a blank mind. The script writer needs to make the audience ask questions all the way through the movie. When explaining a character’s actions or describing character traits, right from the beginning of the film leave some holes, so that the audience can ask questions such as, ‘Why is that man so grumpy around women? Why is he afraid of snakes?’ The screenwriter’s job includes having a sense of what questions can be left for the audience to ask and to try to answer in their own minds.
- Include conflict in every scene.
Imagine a scene, or two or three scenes back-to-back, where the characters simply agree with each other all the time. It’s not interesting and it’s not exciting. You need to have characters in each scene that have an opposing viewpoint. Even if they collaborate, heroes and their partners need to have some conflict going on, even if it’s only different ideas that they can argue about. Any scene should have characters that disagree with each other to create tension and conflict.
- Pull the audience into their fantasy.
Your audience, like all people, have fantasies. Often they will come to see a movie because they want to see these fantasies played out on the large screen. You have to understand this, and a great movie, a great screenplay is always going to have this fantasy element. Even if you have a story that’s based on truth, a fantasy element can always be introduced, so that the audience feels that they are pulled out of humdrum of everyday living.
- Every scene must be memorable.
A movie may have something like 35 to 40 scenes of various lengths, normally 2 to 5 minutes. The script writer needs to try and make every scene stick in the audience’s memory. This is quite hard to do. It’s not easy to make every single scene memorable, but this is a key factor for making the film successful. Obviously, some scenes just serve to lay out the setting and characters for the audience – this is called exposition. However, it needn’t be boring. This is where some of the most memorable scenes can happen. Memorable scenes are often found at the beginning, in the middle and the end of great films.
- Take the audience on a journey.
Your audience wants to go on a journey. Even if they do not know it themselves, this is why they came to the movies. As a script writer you have to make sure that you take that man, or woman, or that child on the journey that they are looking for. When they walk out of the cinema, you want them to feel as though they’ve been on an amazing Journey. They want to feel as though they were sitting on the shoulder of that hero, or walking along with the main character, taking the journey with them. They were with the hero as he overcame all the odds, won the girl, beat the villain, and found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is the magical journey created by the greatest movies.
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