The screenplay is the fundamental element on which a film is built, and every element that comes together to form a script (characters, plot, dialogue or context) is important in its way. However, at the foundation of this narrative construction there is, as in any other construction, the cornerstone. For the screenplay, this is represented by the message. The crucial component of the screenplay, the message, is the force element that enables the story to exist and develop.
In this article we will explore why the film message is important and how it can be built.
To understand the concept of a message, it is important to look at the scheme of communications. Essentially, the film is a way to communicate used by one or more filmmakers in order for them to send out a message to their audience from the theatres or in front of the TV.
So, the person sending out the message is the film creator (screenwriter, director or producer). The film creator codes the message under the form of the film. If we’re talking about a screenwriter, then the message will be coded in a screenplay. If it’s a director, then we will have the storyboard.
If the message is sent clearly, as it should be, then it will be received by the audience without too many obstacles. But what does “send the message clearly” mean? From my perspective, a clear message is sent when every professional working on the film does the job properly. If the screenwriter tells his story using a correctly written narrative structure, then there is a good chance that the audience will effectively receive the message. If a director knows how to transform the text in images and collaborates efficiently with all the departments, the screenplay message will be properly received by the audience.
In the communication scheme, there is the feedback, but this will not necessarily come from the receiver (in the film’s case – the audience), but through different communication channels: film reviews, blog articles, social media comments, etc.
The first step in constructing a screenplay is the message.
Before working on a screenplay, a filmmaker must decide what he or she wants to say in the film. What does he or she want to send out with this story? If this message can be resumed in a phrase, then the writer is on the good direction. For example, the message of Shawshank Redemption is that hope can help people surpass even the hardest circumstances. The film follows the story of a man, unfairly jailed for a crime he has never committed and shows us his journey in trying to find hope and redemption.
The message becomes the foundation on which the whole story will be built. Thus, the screenwriter will have a clear direction and will always know what the script’s objective is. Without a clear message, the script can lose its direction and the final product can lose its coherence.
Secondly, the screenplay’s message offers the audience something memorable that people can take away from the theatre. A film with an impact, puts a mark on its spectators, and that can be done through the message. We can talk about a message of love, friendship, family, politics or any other subject. The audience will hopefully receive a message that he will ponder on, even after the film has ended. A strong message can inspire, educate or even change the way people look at the world.
We do not have to neglect the fact that the message is important for marketing and distribution. Before the film has its theatrical release, it is important that the promotion and sales teams understand the film’s message. Hence, the marketing team will be able to create a communications campaign that will be able to efficiently convey the message towards the target audience. By understanding the film’s message, a marketing professional will know how to promote the product in certain groups or parts of the society that have a genuine interest in the film message. For example, a film that has a message about the problem of tolerance towards minorities will be able to pe promoted to the audience who has an interest in this subject, or even to those specific minorities addressed by the film.
Last but not least, the film message is important for a film that wants to stay in the audience’s memory. The supreme goal for every filmmaker is to create a film that will pass the most difficult challenge: The Passage of Time. The film message can be strong here, as it can inspire people to act in a certain way or to contribute to change the world in a better place. As a film with a powerful message can be a cultural landmark, it can start debates or discussions many years after the film had its theatrical release.
So, if you think of a film that stuck to your mind, what would its message be? Leave that message in the comments below, and let’s see if you think that the message is the fundamental element on which a screenplay… or a story, is built.