Hello ladies and gents, how’s everyone doing?
I spent the last two weeks working on the video essay below, and I’m so excited to be finally sharing this with you! Not only was this a lot of fun (though time-consuming), I do see tremendous benefits for you — the future filmmakers and screenwriters of the world. This is a new series and — time permitting — I hope to be able to create other video essays like this one regularly.
The topic I chose for this essay was theme. Though I’ve talked about theme before, I thought it would be insightful to pick one movie and one theme, and show how that movie surveys the theme. The film I chose for this was Fargo, and the theme was… well, watch the video, will ya?
SPOILER ALERT: This video essay spoils major plot points in Fargo
Though theme is an important element in a screenplay (and one that academia goes head-over-heels for), it’s worth mentioning that theme is often NOT defined from the outset. If you choose a theme before you start writing a screenplay, you may be tempted (perhaps subconsciously) to overemphasize it, and that may make your story too preachy.
That is trouble because a theme is more powerful for an audience when they have to work their brains to figure out what it is. Notice that in Fargo, even when Marge delivers the life lesson, she does so off-screen. The Coen brothers knew that having a character lecturing or preaching directly to the audience was a no-no. Instead, the Coens (who also edited the movie) elected to show a reaction shot of the perpetrator in the backseat of the police cruiser. This invites the audience to reflect about consequences without being hit on the head with the theme.
On that same note, know that the word “greed” itself is never uttered in the film (at least I can’t think of it). Theme is not marketable. Studios won’t buy your screenplay or film because of its theme. Nor will they advertise the theme when promoting a film. It’s the treatment of the theme, in other words plot and characters, that will determine whether your work is worthwhile.
I hope this makes sense to you. And if not, let me know below.
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