Posted by: michellemuldoon | December 4, 2010

Location, Location, Location

It’s an odd world when real estate is as important in the creation of fictional worlds, as it is in real life financial affairs. The truth is, I think it’s more important. I don’t have to own a home to have a good life, but I had better find a great location for my script. The setting is another character in the story, and that character enhances everything, and everyone, around it.

I think you can come up with a number of films to prove this point. Shirley Valentine, Lawrence of Arabia, Blade Runner, and Amelie are but a few that come to mind. They are all very different films and very different locations. Yet, in each of those films, you can’t help but pay as much attention to the location and the scenery, as you do to the actor. The other very special point about each of those settings is, that in all their grandeur, it never diminishes the actor. In fact, I think the locations enhance and sometimes sharpen the performance.  I think the scale, scope, beauty, and detail applied to the location brings a sharp focus on the human element. They are the canvases that a powerful actor displays their art on.

So, I keep talking about the actor, and you’re probably wondering why I’m not talking about the story. Well, the story is a part of a jigsaw puzzle of efforts that culminates in an image on screen. Give the actor a backdrop for great dialogue.  Let the tone of the story be reinforced by where the story takes place. Use the location to emphasize what it is you want to convey in the final cut of the film. Share the important details in your script, but not every detail. Economy of words is a rule of scene direction that should never be sacrificed.

As writers, we set the foundation for everyone else’s contribution to the creative process of film.  Our job isn’t just writing a story, it’s helping our teammates, our co-creators, elevate their contribution to the project. We do that by creating a great story, with riveting dialogue, in a place that leaves an indelible impression in the minds of the people who read the script, and those who see it on screen.

So, next time you eavesdrop on someone’s conversation, also take note of where they said it, and what was so attention grabbing about the big picture, because the scope of a story, is written in the details of the location it takes place.



  1. Funny that you should bring up the idea of location while writing scripts, because I find that when I come up with an idea it is usually organically attached to a specific location!

    For example Manchester Reunited which is a “football” movie is set in where else, Manchester UK. My Absolutely Fabulous Gay Wedding (which pivots on the use of commonlaw partnerships for immigration purposes) is set in London, Don Wong’s Driving School is set in Vancouver, Run (which has the opening chase scene set on the metro) is set in Toronto (or could be NY, Chicago, any big North American city with an extensive subway system), Masala Movie is set in India and Red Card in Stoke on Trent.

    Take any of these stories out of their location and they just don’t work. I’ve tried! So trying to alter a script to a specific local that a producer may be looking for is in most cases not a viable option. The story dictates the location.

  2. I think you’re right, however, I wasn’t just talking about the overall location of a city or part of the world. Locations aren’t just the city it takes place in. Every scene has a location and that’s why I brought up Amelie as one of the film examples. Amelie’s bedroom is a location that really sharpens our view of her; a small setting, with a big impact.

    While the city, or desert (Lawrence of Arabia) may be an organic part of the script, how you flesh out the actual locations within the overall location isn’t. I think there’s a difference between a location being organic to the story, and the location being alive within the story. For a location to be a character, I think it has to feel like it breathes and has something to say. Settings may be organic, but it doesn’t mean they come alive, and have something to say about the story.

    I suppose I could have been a lot clearer. Sorry. 🙂


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