Writing a film around a gimmick

One of the many reasons lost faith of film and TV and decided to have a crack at it myself was because of the number of shows that just seemed to be the same as the last. Unoriginality seemed to be rife, I began to notice the patterns and know the ending of the film straight away. So I decided that if I was going to write anything, I’d try and make the premise as original as possible. So I wrote down some random loglines and realised a lot of these films would be based around a particular setup or gimmick.  Like  ET, Big, What Women Want, 40-Year Old Virgin and Up are setup.

Some people frown on gimmick films, but if they are done right (like the ones mentioned) they can be very good. If the film is just about the gimmick and an old, familiar story is just hacked into it – then its pretty pointless and you can see the seams.

So one idea/gimmick/setup I came up with last year has got a producer interested but I quickly realised I only had this setup and an appropriate title in place. It started as a comedy and, given the subject matter is actually quite sensitive, soon turned into a comedy-drama. But I struggled to bring in the characters without dipping my brush into the cliché pot. I had all these characters but didn’t ask why are they there. The main two characters are obvious. They are lovers, their journey is pretty straight forward. But who are these other people that need to be in the film (because of the gimmick)?

There are many ways to tackle this situation, its the old ‘what comes first: story or character?’ debate. My answer is always: either, you need both. In this case the story came first. So the next question is: what are you trying to say with this movie? Bummer. I wasn’t saying anything apart from ‘wouldn’t it be funny if….’ So I sat down and thought about it, got nowhere, and then asked. What do I want to say? Up wasn’t about the science behind helium balloons lifting a house. Most films, even with a gimmick, can be about anything. So I thought about the main subject of my film and realised I had quite a lot to say about it, not only that I had a lot to say about certain things in general and these could easily be featured in the film. Wahay – I’m a genius. Except how do I deal with all these issues I have bursting to realise? Duh! Characters. Let them represent sides of the argument and let them fight it out. So suddenly I knew attributes, opinions and values I needed my characters to have.

Things started to take shape. Characters were born out of the need to tackle the issues that feed the story. I felt like all the books I’ve read were making sense. I am at that stage of this particular project now. Defining the characters. I sometimes feel this is all obvious advice, but then I watch a film where the writer has clearly not thought about this. Characters are clichéd and one-dimensional, others are just pointless.

So far the film is not just about the gimmick. The gimmick opens the possibilities to discuss issues that I have an opinion on and my characters will fight them out. I think this is the correct point to be at. I could be wrong. I’m sure I’ll let you know either way.

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