Concept

MESSAGE


"Your enlightenment is insufficient to capture the audience's attention for two hours."
DAVID MAMET

Film is a powerful medium.

A well-made film can get us to treat each other better, see life from a higher vantage point morally, hate war, protect the environment, and know the horrors of slavery. Film has the power to move us, and when we make films we want to move others. Often this is our underlying motive (even if we try to cloak it from ourselves and others).

Message films we have known . .
  • Gandhi (1982)
  • Missing (1982)
  • Schindler's List (1993)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

These are some of the great all-time movies; the titles that make much of the greatness of film and its potential to help change us and our experience.

So what's the problem?

Nobody likes to be preached to.

Stories with an overt message--moral, social, or political--or stories that beat up one audience group or another, just don't make good sense.

Your powerful message won't get through if presented overtly, because nobody likes to be preached to. So . .

  • No one will want to produce your movie.
  • No one will want to see your movie.
  • Those who do see your movie won't speak highly of it to others.

Other than that, it should work out fine.

Make it work without the message.

People go to movies to enjoy themselves watching strong characters go out into the world and make things happen. A message is best sent woven into the fabric of the story, carried through strong characters who face the world bravely.

Work it into the pattern and you've got a hit. Make the story work even without the message. Leave it sticking out like a sore thumb and you might as well leave it in your desk drawer.

"If you want to send a message, use Western Union."
SAMUEL GOLDWYN


See also . .


| Help for Your Screenplay | Enhance Your Screenplay | Story Dynamics | Market Your Screenplay | Scr(i)nk blog | Magic Star: Concept | Metaphor |

EXERCISES:
  1. What is the message of The Good Shepherd (2006)? How do they make the story work even without the message?
  2. Consider the message of As Good As It Gets (1997). How is it worked into the pattern of the film?
  3. Consider the message in The Color Purple (1985). Is it subtle or does it hit you over the head? Which approach do you prefer?