THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THE HAUNTING THEME FROM PIRATES 3


What is a theme? It's what your film is really about - the POINT rather than the plot. The moral of the story or the subject you are exploring. When I first started writing I didn't think theme even existed. People would ask me what my script was about, I'd answer "It's about a cop chasing a serial killer" and they'd come back with "No, what's it REALLY about?" I thought they were all pretentious artsie-fartsies looking for deep inner meaning from an action script. Next we'll be discussing the symbolism of THE FRENCH CONNECTION!

You know what's weird? Now I think theme is the most important part of a script. I think that the whole darned script comes from theme. When film stories fall apart, usually it's because there's no theme to hold it all together. It's just a series of events about a character that doesn't add up to anything. Sure, it's a story - but kind of a fast food story that may not stick with you. Fairy tales have themes, nursery rhymes have themes, so why shouldn't movies?

Theme is what attracts us to a particular story idea. We all have personal themes, things that crop up again and again in our work. Issues or personal and emotional conflicts that interest us on a subconscious level. Many of my scripts are about loyalty. Others are about doing the right thing even though you may suffer. Some are about picking yourself up off the floor after you get knocked down. When I wrote my family film INVISIBLE MOM I knew it was "really about" not taking those you love for granted. Josh thinks his mom is a pest always wanting him to clean his room. He wishes she would just disappear. He gets his wish... and begins to miss her. The theme came with the title on that one!

But what about big fun summer movies like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END? Do silly movies need theme? Do silly movies even have theme?

SPOILERS! END SPOILERS!

First let me say that is is an "unauthorized" analysis. This is *without* any inside info - I haven't talked to Terry & Ted for a while, but I did see the movie (so this is just based on whatever I figured out from the film)...

The theme seems to be about picking a side. At first everyone is switching sides - everyone has their own side and only align with others to get what they want. But there are two main sides - the East India Trading Company and the Pirates. Corporate raiders who have no code of conduct at all - backstabbing is just good business. And the Pirates who are also raiders - but they have a code (though, they seem to think it's more suggestions). Problem is, the pirates have splintered into factions and all seem to be backstabbing each other - they've lost their way. They are not on each other's side...

When last we left our heroes Jack (Johnny Depp) had been banished to Davy Jones' locker - a sort of limbo - where he isn't even on his own side. He backstabs *himself*. To rescue him, Will and Elizabeth and Barbosa and Tia Dalma form an alliance - but each is really on their own side and at cross purposes.

The story will have them on their own sides until they realize they must *actually* pick a side and band together to defeat the EIT and Davy Jones. To rescue Jack they must go over the edge of the world to the other side - death. Here is where Davy Jones is *supposed to be* escorting souls to the other side - but he's skipped out on that to pursue his own selfish goals.

Once they rescue Jack, the only way out of this world is to rock the boat from side-to-side and flip it upside down. Changing sides again and again... until the world changes sides.

Once back on this side of life, the group continues to change sides - double crossing each other to get what they want for themselves (rather than what is best for the group). Jack aligns himself with EIT... Will aligns himself with EIT... Everyone gets a chance to switch sides in order to get what they want.

But switching sides never gets them what they want.

Will's selfish goal is to rescue his father - who is part of Davy Jones' crew... Part of the crew, Part of the ship. There's a scene where Will and his father *fight* because his father is on the side of Davy Jones' crew. The father is another pivotal character who must pick a side - Davy Jones or his son?

The Pirates Court round table scene has all kinds of people switching sides - and doing it all for selfish reasons. All og the pirates vote for themselves as king - instead of doing what is best for *the pirate side*. Jack's vote is actually selfish - but this is also the scene where the Pirate's Code and the idea of a "Pirate side" is introduced to the pirates by Teague, the keeper of the code (Keith Richards). Before this they were all on their own sides, and after this they realize they must actually work together for the greater good - even if it means they must make sacrifices.

There's also a very stylized scene where the Pirates and the EIT meet on a sand bar in groups of three and people switch sides. For me, this was the "sides theme" clincher.

Also there is a scene where Elizabeth tells Norrington he must pick a side... and eventually Norrington picks a side and helps the pirates. In CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL he was an antagonist, in DEAD MAN'S CHEST he was a pirate, in AT WORLD'S END he starts out as an antagonist and switches sides when he realizes the EIT dude has been playing him - they murdered Elizabeth's father - his friend and mentor. The East Indian Trading Company will do anything to win this battle, but even though the Pirates are selfish they really do stop short of killing each other. Conning each other, sure... but Sao Feng doesn't kill Will for stealing from him, he uses him as leverage. If Will had stolen from East India Trading Company there would be a noose around his neck... In fact, there'd be a noose around his neck just for consorting with someone who steals from EIC.

When the pirates all stand together - all on the same side - they conquer the EIT... and the pivotal scene here is when the Flying Dutchman ship switches sides. The EIT guy thinks it's on their side... but it has a new captain and is on the Pirate's side. When each of these Pirates (including Jack) stops only being on their own side and join together to form the Pirates side, they can topple the evil repressive corporation that runs the government and suspends human rights and hangs children (this movie seems to secretly be about current politics).

The big moment in the movie is when completely selfish Jack - always on his own side - decides to sacrifice his immortality to do what is best for the team... and gives us a happy post-credits ending.

Even the two bumbling soldiers actually switch sides and pretend to be Pirates. That's my take. Maybe I'm wrong, but you can watch the film and get all of that. Lots of talk of sides and taking sides.

Two places to find theme:
1) The major decision your protagonist has to make in the script.
2) The main philosophical difference between your protagonist and antagonist.

Sometimes the theme in your script idea is easy to spot, other times you may have to write the script to discover the theme. You'll usually have a general idea of the theme, but it's hard to put your finger on the specifics. You need to get in there and dig around in the story to find it. Once you discover the theme, you can rewrite the script to highlight scenes that explore the theme through actions - scenes where characters change sides. Create supporting characters who illustrate different aspects of the theme. Allude to theme in dialogue - like Elizabeth and Norrington's conversations. Create scenes that illustrate the positive, negative, and different points of view of your theme. Theme is what sticks to your brain long after the house lights have gone up.

So what are you trying to say? What's the moral to your story? What subject are you exploring? What is it that your protagonist learns in the story that makes him a better person (or not) by the time we reach the end? What's the point in telling this story? What's your theme? What's your script REALLY about?


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