Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Secrets of the Silver Screen: Imagery

I read an article recently and thought, "Damn, I wish I'd written that for WU," and then I read the footer at the bottom of the article that said I could snag it with proper crediting and thought, "Damn, that's even better." Enjoy!

The One Secret Of An Unforgettable Story

Recognize any of these images?

- Boys walking along a railroad track

- A giant gorilla perched on a skyscraper

- A ferocious shark emerging from the sea

- A man and a woman on a fog-strewn airfield, with a plane about to depart

These movie images are so well-known that they've been remembered, imitated and spoofed for decades. But for filmmakers, finding one essential image can make the difference between a plodding, unfocused film and a piece of iconic cinema.

Artist Saul Bass was commissioned to create posters for some of the world's greatest filmmakers, including Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock. His work on The Man with the Golden Arm was incorporated into the opening credits, but no matter how complex his designs became, he still liked to concentrate on one core image. For that movie, it was a crooked, grasping arm. For Vertigo, he depicted a silhouetted, faceless man caught in a swirling spiral. Two dancers on a fire escape summed up West Side Story.

Bass was appealing to something primal in his audience. He knew the emotional and psychological effect a straightforward illustration could have, and he also took the disparate elements of a movie, stripped away the inessentials and found a focus.

If your story doesn't have a core image, find one. (Here's how!)

Conjure an image in your mind, a glimpse of a scene - two people arguing, a boxing match, a romantic boat ride, anything that sums up your movie in one simple vignette. It could be a goal that your character dreams of, works towards and fights for.

Try to create that image faithfully on the page, and you'll be able to build on it, scene by scene.

By going through Bass' process of simplification and focus, you'll remind yourself of what really drives your script.

What's your image?

If you see a hero, then your screenplay's probably character-driven.

If you see a narrative twist, then maybe it's story-driven.

If you see a place, then maybe the setting has a life of its own, like a character unto itself.

Whatever your image, stick with it, use it and consider its meaning. No matter how innocuous it might seem, it will help to anchor your story, rooting it in a reality that you create.

Copyright (c) Reprinting this article is permitted with this footer included.

Written by: Nick Smith

For your free screenwriting starter kit, visit


Blogger nir said...

This is really profound. Thinking about my stories in that way is very helpful, thank you. This post's a keeper.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Therese Walsh said...

Yes! Now you know why I said, "Damn, wish I wrote that!" ;)

12:16 PM  

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