Visual Storytelling 9

Lesson Nine | Visual Storytelling Course


Lesson 9: Setting

Why is setting a vital visual element in a script?

  1. It will show the time and place of your story.
  2. Setting is also an opportunity to expand the genre you’ve chosen.
  3. And it will help show your how characters move your plot forward. 

Time & Place

The setting in your script is about the location of your story, and it is also about the period in which your story takes place.

For example, the iconic TV series ‘Mad Men’ (2007) takes place in the world of media and advertising. Most of the action happens within the walls of a New York ad agency. Set in the 60s, the heyday of advertising, the series perfectly captures the clothes, cars, attitudes, and moods of the period. 

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Choosing The Parameters Of Your Setting

In the epic ‘Titanic’ (1997), the action is contained to a single but multi-faceted setting, the doomed White Star liner. The ship becomes a microcosm of society in Europe and the new world of America in the early 20th century.

‘Gravity’ (2013) is set in space as two astronauts struggle to survive when disaster strikes after a routine spacewalk. A large part of the heart- wrenching film ‘Room’ (2015) takes place in a confined location.

Your setting can be as narrow or broad as you want it to. It can encapsulate 24 hours in 2020 or tell of a future yet to come. Or it can show a swathe of history, like ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939) or ‘Dances With Wolves’ (1990).

The backdrop to your story is like an omnipresent and vivid character. Most new screenwriters ignore setting to their own detriment. If you focus on setting, you can make your story stronger. 

Interiors: A Lesson From Film Noir

During the early 1940s, film noir made its appearance on our screens. Films like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941) and ‘Laura’ (1944) reflected the darker side of a disillusioned society.

The reason for interior locations and studio settings was because outdoor filming was discouraged during the war.

The genre, brought about circumstance, endures in film today. It is a visual palette many writers like to experiment with.

The movie ‘Brick’ (2005) takes the shadowy world of crime prevalent in film noir and transplants it to a US high school in the new millennium.

Scandinavian TV crime shows, likewise, have borrowed from the genre to create a stylish new genre called ‘Nordic Noir’.

It is always a good idea to bring an original element to your screenplay.

  1. It can be a contrast: a love story set in a war zone.
  2. It can be a hybrid genre: a detective show set in a retirement village.
  3. It could even be a reimagined period: Ancient Egypt populated by intelligent aliens.

Exercise 20:

Write 5-10 screen pages in the style of a film noir using one of the following interior settings as a prompt. Focus on the setting and characters.

  1. An airport departure lounge.
  2. An illegal casino or gambling den.
  3. A music recording studio.
  4. A 24/7/365 forecourt mini convenience store.
  5. A rundown/seedy mid-town hotel.

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