I try not to force the characters into some setting or event to accommodate what I want, but rather let them be real enough to dictate to me what setting they want to be in. - Bill Wittliff
It was Alfred Hitchcock who famously said that the three most vital elements of a film are “the script, the script, the script.” But when it comes to buying real estate, the three most important ingredients are location, location, location. And since location is a major part of any screenplay, it must be pretty damn significant.
In 2005, I had completed a high-concept commercial romantic comedy spec screenplay, which got rave reviews, until Will Smith and Kevin James hit the big screen in the successful rom-com Hitch.
My screenplay, unfortunately, was not too dissimilar. I was devastated. Countless drafts and the better part of a year, I thought, down the tubes. But my manager made a suggestion: keep the story; change the world, a world that no one had scene before, something really different. So my corporate metropolis became a Podunk Renaissance Faire. Sure, there were a ton of changes, but I solved my Hitch problem and the screenplay just kept getting better. My manager was right: same story; new location.
As screenwriters, we're often telling the same story again and again: Romeo and Juliet in World War II Sicily; Romeo and Juliet at Band Camp; Romeo and Juliet on a Mission to Mars. Same story, new character details, but often, it's the location alone that makes the movie.
Screenwriting is a visual journey. The location is integral to experience, don't under estimate it's importance.
Imagine: one story occurs on the city streets of any urban metropolis and another inside a submarine at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Clearly, the smaller world is in the sub. And because the sub is so specific, we have the opportunity to really experience it in all its complexities.
It's one thing to understand the world of the story, but it helps to explore that world in order to discover it further, both as writer (research) and character (scene). And one very effective way to research is to write a scene. Allowing your character to experience a particular environment often helps you to understand even more subtle elements of your world.
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