I confess I am a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to things touchy-feely, but here’s a really good use for Earth Day: It’s a great setting for a romantic comedy, horror or crime story, because unusual events are a great way to get your story to feel fresh.
A perfect example of this is A Walk On The Moon, a movie written by a great writer named Pamela Gray. The film, set at a Jewish summer community in the Catskill Mountains during the 1960s, tells the story of a young married woman who is separated from her husband and has an affair with a local salesman. But the title actually refers to July 20, 1969; the first time man walked on the moon, and the televised event during which the illicit love is consummated.
Little Miss Sunshine is another classic example of a film that used an event to its benefit. The Little Miss Sunshine Beauty pageant, while completely fictitious, added tremendously to this great story.
More recently, Run, Fat Boy, Run, which stars the hilarious Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame), centered on a Marathon Charity race in London.
Another way of improving a screenplay is to create an event specific to your character. A good example is Sideways, when the two main characters set out on a bachelor week of golfing before one of them gets married. Or in Se7en where Det. Somerset’s (Morgan Freeman) upcoming retirement frames the entire story.
This leads me back to Earth Day. The one problem with this particular event is that there is no real “ticking clock,” no deadline, which would create suspense. Sometimes just adding an event isn’t enough, and you must add another element (in this case, perhaps an eco-terrorist will blow up Central Park if something really “green” doesn’t happen) to create the appropriate amount of suspense.
Next time you’re stuck when plotting a script, ask yourself if there is an event that can help you create a deadline, which will in turn create suspense.