Screenplay Concept

ALTERED UNIVERSE

Setting your story in another time or place, somewhere where the current norms of society cease to apply, allows you to write your own rules, set your own limits, and construct your own "altered universe". Then you transport your audience there, to their great delight, as that's where they want to be--transported somewhere else for a few hours. Then they don't mind so much when you give them your morality play, your fight between good and evil, in fact they enjoy the hell out of it.

What are some examples of 'altered universe' in film?

The best examples of these altered universes in cinema are the Western and science fiction, which encompasses time travel, outer space, undersea, altered physical dimensions, etc. Westerns are famous vehicles for the moral message, the higher ideal, the black hats and the white hats, the American Way.

How does the 'altered universe' work with science fiction?

Science fiction stories, especially those involving time travel, offer the same potential and more as now you can bring in the battle between man and technology. Setting your story in a different era also grants you special liberties to tell the story you want to tell. Or put the story into a different place dimension, e.g., Outer Space, the Deep Blue Sea, deep within the Earth. You can also alter your universe via imagination, perhaps with a change in size, shrinking or growing your characters, or by using computer technology like cyber games, etc. Once there all bets are off and you can tell the kind of story you want to tell unencumbered by the limits of reality.

Are Westerns and science fiction the only examples of an 'altered universe'?

Without resorting to the Western or science fiction genre, you can also take your story to an 'altered universe' such as a deep jungle, or forbidding desert. Perhaps the tippy-top of a snowy mountain, or even a rogue airliner. Anywhere that's far from the ordinary world we all know, and where the ordinary rules no longer apply.

How do I use the 'altered universe' to tell my story?

The story can start and end in this alternate dimension or place. It can also go there at some point and stay there until the characters have gone through the major psychic and emotional change you intended. Then they return to the "normal" universe with the 'magical elixir', and nothing's ever the same again. This works particularly well with hero journeys.

See also . .


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EXERCISES:
  1. View The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the "spaghetti Western" that put Clint Eastwood on the map. How does shifting the story to the sands allow the morality tale to be told more fully?
  2. See High Plains Drifter (1973), Clint Eastwood's directorial debut. How does making this a Western allow him to "paint the town red"? Tell his morality tale better?
  3. View Unforgiven (1992) where Clint Eastwood alters the standard 'altered universe' of the Western. Who are the white hats and black hats here? How does the standard Western set the stage for this twist?