What is a movie? For me, it’s a potentially successful, audience-friendly, genre-specific piece of entertainment (as opposed to “arthouse fare”).
A movie is 3 “E”s: entertaining, engaging, and emotionally affecting.
Movies are fundamentally entertaining, something to take us out of our lives and our heads and transport us to other worlds and other people’s worlds and lives. We go to be amused, thrilled, terrified and captivated by these worlds and these other lives.
This part of the Es is paramount. When analyzing your story or script, ask yourself, “Would a stranger – anywhere in the world – be entertained by this? For 88 to 120 minutes?”
This is a hard question and a hard truth to face and grapple with. You may feel you have something important to say about life, love, and loss but if it’s not entertaining, maybe it’s an essay, a short story, a poem, or some other medium to best express it in.
Movies have a “hooky” quality to them, something that draws us in and keeps our attention – and for that 88 to 120 minutes. They have a dramatic question that begs to be answered – Will Indy find the ark? Will the main character survive? Find the truth about X? Find love? Escape Y? Ever grow up?
At their best, movies are emotion manipulation machines. We laugh, cry, and howl in fear at things and words conjured by a writer’s imagination and a director’s execution of those things and words.
To do this, the writer needs to create well-drawn, layered, empathetic, compelling characters who the audience can connect with and recognize themselves in and/or recognize as other humans. Movies are manufactured fiction (even depictions of true stories) designed to make us feel something.
An easy way to figure out if you have a movie is to find a close “comp” for it. It’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” with a horror twist. It’s a monster in the house tale but it’s on a spaceship. It’s like this but with that. It’s in the vein of X.
Not to say everything needs to be like something (“Everything All At Once” might fall into that category), but if you are having a hard time finding at least one comp, maybe it’s not a movie.
If you want to take your writing to the next level, check out my feature classes at The Script Anatomy at:
Written by David Kessler