Violence and sex in screenwriting is everything that a story is. . Every scene, every line, every word in your script should be brimming with violence. In terms of violence, think the following words – taunt, tense, violent emotion, contradiction, conflict – in each and every scene, every line of your script.
These are three types of violence: Physical violence – the arming of our fellow citizens, the escalation of global conflicts leave me cold. I hate it, even though it is a part of everyday life and likely to remain that way.
Sociological violence – the violence caused by the loss of one’s place on society, at work, or at home. This violence fascinates me, partly because I am a voyeur, and partly because I love to study the structures that cause such moves, both failure and success.
Psychological violence – which terrifies me. Being put in a position where all my values and beliefs are challenged to the point where I am unable to function is my personal nightmare.
History of violence in storytelling
How one treats violence is important. Let us look at the history of cinema to see how they used violence. Take the ancient story of Oedipus Rex. How would you describe this story to someone? Write down how you would pitch this story to a development executive in ancient Greece.
What did you come up with? A story about revenge? About jealousy? About destiny? Did you mention the violence? Most pitches don’t mention the violence in a specific way.
If I were pitching Oedipus Rex to an artsy film company, it would be like this – A young man, heir to the throne of Greece, discovers that he has travelled both ways through his mother’s birth canal, and is so distraught that he pierces his eyes. The violence here is both physical and psychological.
Screenwriters are artists and do have a responsibility for the work they create. To create a screenplay that glamorizes and condones gratuitous violence or sex.
The court case of Oliver Stone being sued successfully by the families of victims killed by the copycat killings from Natural Born Killers is a good example.
How about Medea? Another extremely violent story where the Queen of Greece discovers she is being two-timed by her husband. She butchers their children, cooks them and serves them to her husband for dinner. Can you imagine pitching this story to PBS? The violence here is mainly physical with psychological violence at the very end.
Those are ancient stories. Lets move to Shakespeare, considered one of those greats, and Hamlet. Again, this is a story with epic themes of destiny, revenge, and guilt. At the end of the story, the stage is littered with the bodies of the dead and dying. Even children’s stories are extremely violent. Consider Bambi. Poor Bambi, the cute little deer sees her mother blown away by evil hunters.
In my early days at Raindance I read script after script after script – nearly 2,500 in all over the first six and a half years of the festival. Of those scripts, eight got made – one of them was Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Of the remaining 2,490 scripts i read another half dozen are in turnaround. Turnaround is that limbo where the champion of a script leaves a film company – but the rights remain in the company without a champion. Meaning the script dies a long and lingering death.
Of the remaining 2,482 scripts I read that haven’t been produced most should not get produced. And that is becasue the scripts lack violence. These stories were never bad ideas. hey were poor execution of the idea. And usually there was no violence. These unproduced scrits generally had titles like Airplanes That Land Safely.
In 1996 the iconic American film producer Roger Corman was a guest of the Raindance film Festival. I asked what he thought made a great script. He paused, scratched his head and said: It needs to have a death or sex scene every 15 pages. He paused and said that rather it should be every ten pages.
In conclusion, never forget what we expect when we go to the cinema. The most we expect is that our lives are changed forever. The least we expect is that we don’t fall sound asleep. Anywhere in the middle is fine.
Finally, everything in the film industry that I have observed comes down to one thing – a script that can attract a reader will find an audience. To attract, a script must be great, not good.
- Nobody knows anything. Remember this is designed to give you a practical plan; a method for getting your ideas onto paper.
- The quickest way into the film industry is with a script – a hot script
- Never forget the writer’s role – to inspire everyone else, then let go.
- You are an intuitive storyteller. Let nothing inhibit you.
Now, get that idea out of your head and onto paper. If you want any formal advice, check out the great screenwriting courses at Raindance’s hubs in London, Los Angeles and Toronto.