Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches at Purchase College, SUNY and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. Kouguell was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. She is the author of THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER! and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and @SKouguell on Twitter.
Building the world of your screenplay, brick by proverbial brick, means effectively establishing your settings, exploring the look, feel, and atmosphere, and demonstrating how your characters relate (or don’t relate) to the various environs they are in. The reader needs to step into the world you have created with a complete understanding it. The more plausible and/or logical things are, the more real your world will be for the film executive to want to turn the page.
Most screenplays occur in some type of different world. Whether your characters exist in an altered state in the past or present, or if the other world is a metaphor, or even if your story is set in a real place or imagined, the world you are creating should be original and yes, different.
Let’s step into the very different world of the dark comedy The Lobster directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, screenplay by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou.
The Lobster: Set in the very near future, society demands that people live as couples. Single people are rounded up and sent to a seaside compound—part resort and part minimum-security prison where they are given a finite number of days to find a match. If they don’t succeed, they will be “altered” and turned into animals. The recently divorced David arrives at The Hotel with his brother, now a dog; in the event of failure, David has chosen to become a lobster… because they live so long. When David falls in love, he’s up against a new set of rules established by another, rebellious order: for romantics, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
At the recent 2015 New York Film Festival press screening, Yorgos Lanthimos talked about the inspiration and creation for building the world of his new film.
Yorgos Lanthimos: “The idea came from things we observed around us; conditions, situations. We wanted to do something about relationships and how people are under so much pressure to be successful in that, and how other people view them or make them feel. And, how much pressure we put ourselves under, doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We were not interested in representing reality; we were interested in structuring a world that has particular rules that can give us a situation we can explore.
We started with the rules, the restrictions, and the pressure of being alone. If you don’t make it what happens to you then? After we set up the premise: what would the leadership of the world do if they wanted to present, for example, what happens to the losers, how they could do it in a way that is a bit positive instead of killing them? That’s how we arrived for them to become animals; it has a positive side. We were interested in the irony of someone who tries to escape this kind of system, and in the end, constructs another one that is slightly different but essentially somewhat similar. People in reality follow completely absurd rules, like in the film. Years go by and you just don’t question the rules.
We are precise what we are showing, but beyond that, you can ask questions and go either way, and that’s what excites me. You can imagine a bigger world and how it works.”
Writing a savvy screenplay requires a complete understanding of the reality of the fictional world you are creating. Readers need to suspend disbelief and jump into your screenplay with full understanding and awesome wonder. Original and unique worlds will set your script apart from the other screenplays, vying for attention from film executives.
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