Some writers believe, to paraphrase “Field of Dreams”- “If you write it, they will come”. Writing the great screenplay CAN eventually find its way into the right hands. Sometimes, you have to nudge those hands to your screenplay.
How do you do THAT?
One area to consider is location- the setting where your overall story takes place. This needs to be seriously considered during the CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT stage, a step that I often find many writers gloss over WAY too quickly. This is the time to really think your story through, asking yourself “Is this a marketable idea?”; “Is it plausible?”; “Does this concept appeal to the widest range of people (four quadrant concepts)”? “Is this a concept I want to devote twelve months of my life writing, and perhaps an entire lifetime defending and/or discussing?”
When you start with location, first think globally. I’m fairly shallow, and not well-traveled outside of this hemisphere, so naturally all of my stories take place ON EARTH and in the United States, but that’s just me. Next I think in terms of regions within the United States- north, northeast, south, southwest- you get the idea. Then I think of the area in which the story makes the most sense. If it’s a story of a Civil War family, I’ll be concentrating on the northeast or the southeast region, for obvious reasons. Sometimes, this is an area where you might consider TWISTING your story. Hundreds of stories about the Civil War used these locations, but what about a Civil War back-drop in Texas? How about the Arizona territory or Montana? I haven’t done any research on this so I’m not exactly sure which states and territories even existed at that time.
I’m working on one story now that involves a World War II and Cold War back-drop, but here in the States. Normally, you might consider Washington, D.C., Hawaii, perhaps California and New York. I’ve chosen a desert location in New Mexico, for reasons that are important to the story’s concept.
When considering locations, I also keep dollar signs in the back of my head. Personally, I target stories with three main goals-
1) I try to develop highly marketable stories, with characters that I can see being played by A-list talent;
2) I consider production costs and write accordingly (don’t use a submarine when a rowboat will do);
3) I target major roles for actors over 55 years of age.
These are MY personal goals, and I’m not suggesting anyone else needs to use these guidelines.
With that in mind, I target locations (states) that are more “friendly” in terms of production. Georgia, Louisiana, the Carolinas, all have a rich history and great track record for working with production companies. They offer financial assistance in terms of tax breaks, and less constricted rules and regulations as they attempt to convince filmmakers to use their states (benefits their local unemployment offices substantially). Toronto and Canadian locations are often used to simulate the average American city for these same reasons.
I also dig deeper in the location pool. If you have a shoot-out scene, having it take place in a bar or on an empty street, or busy street for that matter, is rather passé. Change up scene locations, as well. How about a Laundromat shoot-out? Have a car chase scene? Consider mopeds, in and out of L.A. traffic, or in a mall. I gave one writer the idea of a pursuit involving security taking place in an airport using electric wheelchairs; yes it WAS a comedy, and involved characters over 65! I try to find the unlikeliest locations, ones that are less cliché than others. It helps with the overall appeal and interest with the story.
Writing a great screenplay will solve a lot of problems, but a good screenplay can be enhanced by making these considerations throughout your writing process. I’d be interested in any of you who might have a similar process, and perhaps examples of where this process of yours has taken your story and whether you feel that it was elevated as a result.
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