What a Theme does for Your Film
All great stories capture the attention of the audience almost immediately. This can happen very quickly, in just a few seconds. It usually introduces the main character dealing with a situation that helps define who he or she is, and it establishes the place and time of the story. For a short film, this can be very simple. For example, if your character is a check-out clerk, you may show her behind the register, dealing with a difficult customer or arguing with her boss.
Theme is an important aspect of great storytelling. Certain genres have built in themes and many genres share these in common. For example, social conflict, personal insecurity, failure vs. achievement, good vs. evil in fantasy, horror, or just about any other genre… the list is endless. Whatever your story, it should have a basic theme. Even if you have not intentionally written it into the script, most stories have a theme which is defined simply by the situation in which you put your characters. Identify this for yourself, then rewrite your story to play it up. This one step can improve almost any screenplay.
All stories are about conflict. We are not necessarily talking about physical conflict, although that is possible, as with war movies. Here, conflict can mean the conflict between the existing situation and the resolution of that situation. Something has to happen to the main character, something that creates a conflict, either internal or external. They must be put into a situation that requires that they do something to resolve this conflict. It might be about how they feel about themselves. It might be about how they feel about someone else. It might be about how their community, friends or family feels about them. The resolution changes either the character or their standing in the eyes of others. In other words, the main character either has to die, become transformed, change the attitudes of others, or change their attitude about themselves. This conflict is central to the theme of your film. It is a real-world example of the underlying theme, so look to the conflict you created for your main character to identify the theme of your film.
Consider joining us for our Summer Film Class and take a deep dive into the art and science of filmmaking. You will work as part of a team, creating, producing, filming, and editing our 2022 Student Film. You will be listed in the film credits, and you can bring your family and friends to the