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If you are writing a screenplay for ultra-conservative Texan oil-barons, you are probably not going to have environmentalism as your theme. It’ll probably be about individuality and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps instead.

Conversely, if your script is being written for a religious audience, a theme of questioning authority is probably a bad idea. You probably want a theme about coming together as a community instead.

Rocky didn’t win in the first movie - but he still succeeded. The theme was about working hard and believing in yourself. He accomplished that. And, even though Rocky didn’t win the championship, he still won. He became a better person. He learned to believe in himself.

District 9 isn’t about aliens being oppressed, it’s about South Africans being oppressed. It’s not about inter-species oppression, it’s about intra-species oppression. The theme of District 9 is that we are all equal. ‘We’ being humans.

You probably read stories about the filming of District 9. Many of the man-on-the-street (mockumentary-style) interviews - were actually real! Only, the subjects weren’t talking about ‘prawns’ or aliens - they were talking about other ethnic groups in real-life. Many of those interviews were real, they weren’t scripted. They were real people talking (inhumanely) about other humans.

District 9 isn’t about aliens - it’s about oppression in South Africa! The theme is oppression.

Your screenplay’s theme - is what your story’s about. Deep down. It’s the message you are trying to get across to the viewer. It typically has very little to do - overtly - with the story or the plot. It’s more of an over-hanging idea that permeates everything, yet is very rarely spoken of outright. That ‘message’ can really be anything, just so long as it fits in with the ideologies of your audience. Whatever those ideologies may be.

The Theme

Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

START WRITING NOW

STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

GET COVERAGE


FORWARD Creating Your Screenplay’s Theme:

Whatever theme you choose, it should have something to do with the main plot.

In District 9, the theme of human-oppression is a direct analogue to what’s happening to the aliens. The aliens are being oppressed (in the movie), just like humans are being oppressed (in real life).

In Rocky, the theme of believing in yourself is tantamount to the entire story. If Rocky doesn’t believe in himself and work his ass off, he’ll never stand a chance.

In Avatar, the theme is environmentalism. It’s about how humans are destroying our own planet, not some far-off planet called Pandora. So, the plot is about humans destroying an extremely special environment, something that can never be replaced, on an alien world.

Interstellar has the same theme. It’s about how humans have destroyed their world so bad that everyone has to leave.

So, if your theme is about how there’s too much surveillance in our modern world, your story should be about something dystopian or criminal (something where surveillance is meaningful to the story), not about farmers taking livestock to the fair! Your theme should have some kind of direct connection to your plot or your story. It shouldn’t come out of thin-air, it needs to have a raison d’etre.

Your theme should probably be stated-outright at some point in the story. If your theme is about environmentalism, someone should probably say something like ‘My God, we’re killing everything!’ at some point in the screenplay. And, you’ll need to reinforce your theme at several points throughout your script (‘people don’t remember anything unless you tell them three times’ as the old saying goes). You want to give them hints and reminders about what the theme really is from start to finish.

You want your hints to be rather subtle though. You never want your audience to feel like they’re getting hit over the head with your message. Some themes can get pretty preachy, pretty fast. So, be careful!

Writing a Theme for Your Script:

What’s wrong with the world? What would you change? Well, not necessarily your world, but the world of your protagonist?

Well, that’s probably going to be your theme.

What’s wrong with the world? What would you change? Well, not necessarily your world, but the world of your protagonist?

Well, that’s probably going to be your theme.

Of course, you don’t just have to settle on one theme, you could have multiple. It just gets a bit trickier to write. For simplicity’s sake, beginning screenwriters are probably going to want to settle on a single theme for now.

So now that you’ve got your theme, the message you want to give to the audience, what next?

Well, keep your theme in-mind as you write your screenplay. Watch for locations in the script where you can reinforce that theme. Every time you do, your story will become deeper and have extra meaning.

And, of course, as you craft your plot, you want to make sure that your theme is central to it. If your theme is about how racism is bad, you are going to want your plot to involve the negative effects of racism somehow. If your theme is about loving-yourself, your story should be about someone whose life is being ruined by self-loathing. If your theme is about how smoking is bad, your plot should probably be about lung-cancer or something like that. You get the idea.

Your theme is not something you have to pay significant attention to the entire time you write, but be aware of it.

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