How To Expand Setting – Screenwriting Tips

How To Expand Setting

A current trend in screenwriting speaks directly to the need for writers to expand their thoughts on setting, specifically, how to expand setting itself. I’m talking about the appetite for “single location” scripts.

Anyone who has seen Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s “Buried” knows you don’t need an elaborate series of locations to tell a tough, heart racing thriller story. In the film (which famously cost $7,000 to produce, pointing to the reason why single location scripts are popular) Reynolds plays a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been buried alive and the entire 90-minute movie takes place inside of his coffin.

Claustrophobic? Then try Tom Hardy in 2014’s “Locke” where for a strong majority of the film we are stuck in the car with a man whose life is literally falling apart around him.

Maybe the most important factor in these films is that Reynolds and Hardy are terrific actors. They are the type of performers that can make this type of bare bones concept work.

There is something else at play though and that is a masterfully clever union of action and setting.

On the surface a coffin and a car are difficult locations to try and set an entire movie in. But, when considering how to expand setting, a closer look and careful planning expands that setting so that, while limited, it’s not going to choke off a good story.

Take Locke’s car for example. As a writer, setting an entire story in the car is a tough task. But look at the possible locations within the car to get the most out of it.

Front seat.

Floor.

Back seat.

Trunk.

If the car is parked in your script then you can make use of under the car, the hood and the roof, all while ostensibly limiting your script to the car.

The same thing can be said for that coffin.

In “Buried” the script, in the context of how to expand setting, confronts confinement head on with the obvious horrors. The story plays right into the viewer’s expectations. The writers move the character around inside of the confined space. They reveal new light and new darkness. If there are obvious phobias then go head on and show the audience or reader the desperation that the confined character feels.

Fear is, after all, one of the great motivators of action.

The success of “Buried” and “Locke” is in the bravura performances given by their actors but those performances are only possible in how deftly the writers (and directors) manipulated the space. Even if you’re not writing a single location project, look at all the ways to expand your locations to fit your needs.

The only truly limiting setting is one that isn’t adequately utilized by the writer.

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Erick Mertz is a Portland, Oregon based freelance writer. He works as an assignment ghostwriter for clients in fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. He lives in Woodstock with his wife, Lisa, his dog Boris and two cats.

Erick MertzHow To Expand Setting – Screenwriting Tips

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