"Theme" in a screenplay.

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The most important reason why I want to make films is to explore themes. Why bother making a "genre' film for the sake of it? Why bother making a film for its marketablity?  A film without a theme can be an insipid and forget-able experience. It is a great privilege to even make a film and there is a lot of money, time and trouble that goes into it. Therefore it is paramount that the screenplay have a theme.

It is interesting that a writer may not really understand the theme of their story until they've written it. By " theme " I mean the whole purpose of a film's story:  the reason why it even exists. The theme of the film is more important than the plot, which are the events or sequences  that make up the whole story. A good plot can be very clever, but it will not give you the sense of advancing your understanding of humanity and the meaning of life like a film with a good theme. For me, the theme can change in the process of writing the story and realizing the vision, but is always the driving force behind the project.

Where do the themes come from? I tend to agree with  Anderson West who wrote this blog Shoot what You know . The best themes come from your own personal experiences. Professor Richard Walter(professor and screen writing Chairman, UCLA) writes in his book Essentials of Screenwriting ..."Decades spent writing and teaching have taught me that writers' own personal stories are the only story they should write." (p13) This line has stuck in my mind. By this he does not mean screenplays should be autobiographical, but the theme reflects  the writer's experience. "The movie screen is a mirror and not a window"(p32). 

In 2008, I wanted to explore the whole topic of human cloning. I engaged the services of a screenwriter who wrote me a script based on some objectives which I gave her. She was a very clever screenwriter and wrote me a very clever story. However, I grew frustrated with it , as it some how failed to have a purpose. After telling her  she became  angry with me and didn't want to work with me ! I then went about writing the screenplay first entitled Dr Morag's Helical Dreams . I became aware that this story contained a theme I was experiencing in my life. The  theme was about being a parent and sacrificing for your children. In the way that Morag, was the "original or parent" to his clone. The paradox was Morag was using his clone as as a reserve of  perfectly compatible organs. Ultimately, the selfishness of this vexed him subconsciously, and rightfully he gives up his  body's most valuable organ ( his heart) back to his clone. In the first drafts,  Morag had a son, so there was going to be a contrast between off spring from sexual reproduction and offspring from asexual reproduction (the clone). For a variety of logistical reasons, I was persuaded to write this character out of the film. It ended up being a film that was set in a very sterile hospital environment. This too reflected my experience as a medical student, being trained in teaching hospitals.  Indeed the resuscitation scene reflected an experience I had as a hospital intern. It was in the process of re writing and script editing (with the script editor Dave De Vries) where I began to recognize the meaning of the theme behind this story, and that it was reflecting my own life!



About the author


Born In Adelaide, Australia, Alex Nakone is of Ukrainian Descent. Alex grew up with a passion for the arts, but like many Eastern European migrants settled in Australia, there were great expectations for Alex to become a medical practitioner, which he did. Alex Nakone’s first narrative film Biotech 8, a…

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