So where do we begin? How do we write the theme of our story? First, think about how you want audiences to feel after they watch your film. Once you’ve got an idea, ask yourself:
Do you want to write an optimistic theme? For example, 500 Days of Summer leaves us feeling positive and confident that life will carry on. If this is what you enjoy, you will likely be working towards a “happy” or “up ending.”
Do you want to write a pessimistic theme? For example, Se7en leaves us feeling despair after the villain prevails. If you’re drawn to this, you will likely be working towards a “down ending.”
Or do you want to do a bit of both and write an ironic theme? For example, Annie Hall paints a complex but genuine picture of love, showing us how love is full of both pleasure and pain. This sparks reflection more than any singular emotion. While ironic themes often capture life in the most accurate way, they are also the most challenging to write. If you’re excited by this complexity, you will likely be working towards an ironic ending.
Whatever you choose, it all stems from a few basic questions. What are you really trying to say? What statement do you want to put forth and/or argue? What message or emotion do you want your audience to walk away thinking about or feeling? As George Lucas once said, “All of us who make motion pictures are teachers; teachers with very loud voices.” Think carefully about your theme and the message that you’re sending to the world. Once you’ve got it, try to articulate it in a single, concise sentence of up to 30 words.
If you’re still stumped, remember that when you create your Open Screenplay, adding a theme is optional. You can always discover your theme as the story develops and evolves. Stephen King likens discovering your story to the process of uncovering a fossil. Theme can be similar. So if you have a story that you’re itching to write, don’t stress too much about the theme, just create your Open Screenplay and start writing!