It might seem like a good idea to write a screenplay’s story using a non-specific location. This would allow the production to be filmed anywhere. However, using a known location has far more benefits. Let’s explore why location matters in screenwriting.
Using a known location creates a strong visual and a sense of the familiar that can enhance the tone, mood and atmosphere of the story.
A cottage by the sea sets the tone for a romantic comedy, while an abandoned house with cobwebs in place of windows evokes the perfect atmosphere for a horror. Location matters!
Secondly, location can be used to attract a producer. Many producers are seeking budget-friendly material. Screenplays set in ‘contained’ locations minimize the financial risks behind producing, distributing and selling a film to an audience. Most writers only consider a ‘contained’ story for horror-type films, but the professional writer realizes any genres can be used. For example, use grandma’s house at Thanksgiving to create a contained Holiday Comedy or a one-location Romance with the couple stuck on a sailboat adrift in the ocean.
The number one way to break into the industry is with a low-budget script, but many aspiring screenwriters write high-budget science fiction, action, crime stories, etc. These writers spend years on their craft and rarely get a lucky break. The best advice is take what you love the most about each story and condense it down to one-location and write a second, contained story. For example, instead of a huge science fiction epic battle between worlds, set the opposing parties against each in a space station. The writer will find the contained story will get a lot more attention from producers than the huge, high-budget spec. Later, when the writer is established, the high-budget screenplays stands a much better chance of getting made.
The aspiring screenwriters best chance at breaking in is location. Being creative using one location or only a few locations is challenging. But it proves the screenwriter has the creative chops to envision a masterful story with minimal locations. A few movies to watch for inspiration include Dead End, Phone Booth, and Liberty Stands Still. A must see is Devil where 95% of the movie takes place in an elevator! So, next time the screenwriter thinks it isn’t possible to write a compelling story in one location, then the writer hasn’t watched Devil!
Next, let’s talk about the location being the story! Earthquake in Los Angeles is a story where the location reigns king. Same goes for a volcano in Hawaii or an underwater sunken ship. At times, the location becomes a character in the story. Treat it like a character. It should create conflict that eventually results in change.
The aspiring writer ready to break into the industry will take this advice and create a compelling, contained story. But the aspiring writer ready to turn pro will give it an extra spin. For example, what if a sandstorm hits Colorado forcing the story into a mountain B&B? Or Los Angeles is destroyed by a volcano and the audience experiences the escape route with a family in an RV? Or an earthquake in Kansas leaves bitter rivals stranded on strip of land in the middle of a raging river? Or it snows in Miami and an animal kennel accidentally rescues an abdominal snowman? This stories are contained and could be horrors, comedies, adventures, romances, crimes, family, adventure, or any other genre. The trick is to add spin to the story. A dash of the unexpected combined with a contained location equals the perfect ingredients to make a first sale and become a paid screenwriter.
Most writers start with an idea or a compelling character. It’s time to think outside the box and start with the location! Build a story and characters around a specific location. This is especially important to the writer with a drawer full of medium to high-budget screenplays. If the writer is ready to break in, then write a break in script using the power of a location because location matters in screenwriting!
In summation, create a story around a location, give it a spin and use a genre that will take the producer by surprise. For example, an action movie on a submarine that takes place under the Arctic or a comedy in a space station after extraterrestrials first make contact with Earth (and the station loses communications with Houston). Mix things up, use one location or minimal locations (up to 3) and market it as a contained Action or contained Sci-Fi Comedy. The writer will be surprised at the attention the screenplay will receive. Just make sure it’s market ready before sending it out!