One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your script, once you get past the standard formatting concerns, is to have everything in your story be exactly as it seems. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m advocating for every script to have a Shyamalanesque (new word alert!) twist ending. What it really means is that your story themes should be about something more. There should be a layer beneath the plot. Something you’re trying to say. If there’s not; If everything in your script only goes skin deep, and if you have nothing to say about your characters, their position in the world, or the conflict you’re putting them through…then why bother to tell the story?
Call me “Kitty Cat”.
This also isn’t an argument for a Cineplex full of art-house films. Take a look at a film like Wedding Crashers. It’s raunchy and hilarious, but it’s also about that moment in your life where you realize it’s time to grow up. How a random occurrence can change your priorities. Sure, it’s wrapped up in debauchery and punctuated with a high enough BPM (boob-per-minute ratio) to rival a Marilyn Chambers soft-core porn, but it’s also about that other stuff too.
You need to know what your story is about, in order to steer your script in the right direction.
So how and when do you work a theme into your story? I’ve seen people argue for establishing your theme up front and working it into the story during the outline phase, and I’ve seen others claim to not even think about theme during their first draft. As with most things, I think the best path probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Personally, I think you do need to think about theme up front. When I’m deciding what my next script is going to be, I think about the themes that I’d like to touch on while I’m brainstorming, just like I think about great action sequences, blurbs of dialogue, or great quirks that I can give characters to make them unique.
But as I move through the outlining and first draft phases, I tend to put detailed thoughts on theme to the side. I won’t purposefully exclude it, but I spend that first draft getting down the basics of the plot. That “vomit draft” is, in turn, my guide during subsequent rewrites. I go back through to tighten plot, fix continuity issues, and yes, evaluate the script in terms of theme. This is when I work in additional scenes, or tweak existing ones, in order to explore the deeper meanings that I’m looking to address.
Remember though: while I think it’s sound advice not to get too bogged down in thoughts about theme during first drafts, ultimately it’s just one guy’s opinion. Everyone has their own process. In the end, all that really matters is that your process works for you.
Aside from the question of when to work thinking about it into your process, the biggest theme-related issue I’ve come across is actually a conceptual one. For some reason, I’ve seen a number of people get confused about the difference between theme and the concept of subtext. While the best script will employ both, they’re not the same thing. Here’s a quick run-down. Subtext will generally relate to your script in terms of dialogue and is the underlying or implicit meaning behind the words that are being spoken. When someone says “Would you like to come up for a nightcap”, but really means “Would you like to come up and have sex?” – that’s subtext.
Theme, on the other hand, relates more to a scene (or more than likely, several scenes) which tie in to a deeper meaning or larger statement than is being addressed by the plot. It’s the “point”, for lack of a better word, that the writer is trying to make by telling their story.
For a better idea of exactly what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at…
Theme and ‘Road To Perdition’
Best known as that depressing Sam Mendes movie with Tom Hanks, Road to Perdition is one of my favorite films. The plot is relatively straightforward. Michael Sullivan (Hanks) is a hit man who works hard to keep his kids from knowing what he does for a living, but that life is shattered when his son witnesses something he shouldn’t. Most of the film is spent with them on the run, dealing with each other, and the new realities of their strained relationship.
It could have been a simple, “by the books” gangster flick, but the script (based on a graphic novel of the same name) delves deeper. In Mendes’s own words, “[What’s] important, in this story, is what the violence does to the person who pulls the trigger, and what it has done to them over the years. How it has gradually corroded them. It has rotted their insides.” This idea of the consequences of violence is one of the two main themes in Perdition.
The script plays into the exploration of this theme in its choice of how to deal with the violence in that world. While there is a lot of violence on screen, the story focuses less on the victims and instead follows those who either perpetrate or witness the violence.
Perdition also explores the theme of father and son relationships. This theme is explored by having numerous different types of these relationships woven into the film, all of which have different dynamics and play out in different (but equally dramatic) fashion. The story not only contains the actual father/son relationships between Sullivan and his son, as well as mob boss John Rooney and his son Conner, but also explores the surrogate father-son relationship that Rooney has with Sullivan. By establishing multiple relationships that explore the same concept from different angles and sub-plots, the story deftly uses the core plot to explore this theme in great detail.
I think the bottom line is just this: while there’s no set way to develop or utilize theme in your screenplay, it’s something that you do need to think about and work to incorporate into your script. Without it, your script is just a shell, and no matter how beautiful that shell may be, readers (and ultimately, audiences) won’t be able to get past the fact that there’s nothing inside.
So get deep, grow that gangster mustache (even you ladies out there), and keep writing!
Tools to Help:
How to Write a Screenplay, Identifying Theme, Premise, Plot, Screenwriter Blogs, Screenwriting How-To Articles, Specs & The City by Brad Johnson
FILM REVIEW: ‘The Big Short’
FILM REVIEW: ‘In The Heart Of The Sea’
FILM REVIEW: ‘Creed’
SPECS & THE CITY: Character Introductions and ‘Silence of the Lambs’
SCRIPT INDUSTRY EXPERT Q&A: Meet Brad Johnson of ‘Specs & The City’
For other people named Thomas Newman, see Thomas Newman (disambiguation).
Newman at Classic Brit Awards in 2010
|Birth name||Thomas Montgomery Newman|
|Born||(1955-10-20) October 20, 1955 (age 62)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Origin||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Occupation(s)||Film score composer|
Thomas Montgomery Newman (born October 20, 1955) is an American composer best known for his many film scores.
Newman has been nominated for fourteen Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, and has won two BAFTAs, six Grammys and an Emmy Award. Newman was honored with the Richard Kirk award at the 2000 BMI Film and TV Awards. The award is given annually to a composer who has made significant contributions to film and television music.
Born in Los Angeles, California, he is the youngest son of Martha Louis Montgomery (1920–2005) and composer Alfred Newman (1900–1970), who won nine Academy Award for Best Original Score. He is a member of a film-scoring dynasty in Hollywood that includes his father Alfred, brother David Newman, sister Maria Newman, uncles Lionel Newman and Emil Newman, cousin Randy Newman (also known as a singer and songwriter), and his first cousin, once removed, Joey Newman. His paternal grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and his mother was from Mississippi.
During their upbringing, Martha herded her sons into violin lessons in the San Fernando Valley every weekend. Newman later studied composition and orchestration for two years at the University of Southern California, before transferring to Yale University, where he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1977 and a Master of Music in 1978. While at Yale, he met composer Stephen Sondheim, who became an early mentor.
Newman and his wife, Ann Marie, have three children. They reside in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Film scoring career
At first, Newman was more interested in musical theater than in film composition, working with Sondheim in Broadway plays. Lionel, who succeeded Alfred as music director for 20th Century Fox, gave Thomas his first scoring assignment on a 1979 episode of the series The Paper Chase. In 1983, John Williams, who was a friend of both Alfred and Lionel, invited Newman to work on Return of the Jedi, orchestrating the scene where Darth Vader dies. Afterwards Newman met in New York producer Scott Rudin, who invited him to compose the score for Reckless (1984). Newman said that he thought "it was a tough job, at first" for requiring him to "develop vocabularies and a sense of procedure", only getting comfortable with writing scores "and not fraudulent in my efforts" after 8 years.
In 1992, Newman composed the score to Martin Brest's film Scent of a Woman.
In 1994, he got his first Academy Award nominations with the scores to The Shawshank Redemption and Little Women. He also scored the film The War. In 1996, he scored Diane Keaton's Unstrung Heroes, receiving yet another Oscar nomination. In 1998, he scored Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer as well as Meet Joe Black. In 1999, Newman composed the score to Sam Mendes' first feature film American Beauty, created using mainly percussion instruments. Newman believed the score helped move the film along without disturbing the "moral ambiguity" of the script, saying "It was a real delicate balancing act in terms of what music worked to preserve that." This was his first collaboration with Mendes, and he would go on to score all of the director's subsequent films except for the comedy-drama Away We Go, which featured songs instead of a score. He received a fourth Oscar nomination for this score, and although he lost again (to John Corigliano for The Red Violin), he did receive a Grammy and a BAFTA.
His critical and commercial success has continued in the following years with his scores for films such as Meet Joe Black, The Green Mile, Erin Brockovich, In the Bedroom and The Salton Sea. He was nominated consecutively for a further three Academy Awards, for Road to Perdition (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004). However, he lost on each occasion to Elliot Goldenthal (for Frida), Howard Shore (for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), and Jan A. P. Kaczmarek (for Finding Neverland) respectively.
He was again nominated for an Oscar for scoring Steven Soderbergh's The Good German (2006). At the Oscar ceremony, he appeared in the opening segment by Errol Morris, who jokingly stated that Newman had been nominated for and failed to win an Oscar eight times. Newman replied: "No, I've failed seven but this will be my eighth", and indeed, he again lost, this time to Gustavo Santaolalla for Babel.
His first score since The Good German was for the 2008 animated film WALL-E, collaborating for the second time with director Andrew Stanton (with the first collaboration being Finding Nemo). The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (as had Nemo). Newman received two Oscar nominations: one for Best Original Score, and another for Best Original Song for "Down to Earth", which he co-wrote with Peter Gabriel. He was nominated in the Original Score category with two other veteran composers, James Newton-Howard and Danny Elfman, both of whom have also been nominated for several Oscars but each time unsuccessfully. Newman lost both the score and song nominations to A R Rahman for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. He and Peter Gabriel did however win a Grammy for "Down to Earth".
In 2008, Newman scored Towelhead and Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road and in 2009 he scored Brothers. In 2011 he scored The Help, The Debt, The Iron Lady, and The Adjustment Bureau.
In 2012, Newman scored The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He also scored the 23rd James Bond movie Skyfall, directed by his longtime collaborator Sam Mendes, which celebrates the film franchise's 50th anniversary. His work on this film earned him his eleventh Oscar nomination and a second BAFTA win. During 2013, he scored Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects and Saving Mr. Banks. The latter score was very well received by film music critics, earning Newman BAFTA and Oscar nominations for the second consecutive year, both of which he lost to Steven Price for Gravity.
Newman's 2014 projects included The Judge and Get on Up. He scored 2015's The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, marking the first time Newman has scored a sequel to a film he also wrote the score for.
In 2016, Newman scored the motion picture "Passengers" starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
Newman likes to vary the instrumentation in his scores, ranging from full orchestra to percussion-only music. He is also fond of incorporating unusual instruments such as the zither, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery and hammered dulcimer, or unexpected sounds, like Aboriginal chants and the chirping of cicadas. The composer declared that he has "an interest in mundane experimentation."
Newman has composed music for television as well, including theme music for the seriesBoston Public and the miniseriesAngels in America. His theme music for the television show Six Feet Under won two Grammy Awards in 2003, for Best Instrumental Composition as well as Best Instrumental Arrangement. Newman also wrote a commissioned concert work for orchestra, Reach Forth Our Hands, for the 1996 ClevelandBicentennial. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has commissioned a new work by Newman to be performed by the Kronos Quartet and Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, during the orchestra's 2009–2010 season.
He composed the incidental music for the Washington Shakespeare Theatre Company's 2014 production of As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough and starring Zoe Waites.
Awards and nominations
As of 2017, Newman has received a total of fourteen Academy Award nominations, however he has yet to win the award, making him the most nominated living composer to have never won an Oscar, and behind Alex North, who received 15 unsuccessful nominations. Thirteen of his nominations are in the Best Original Score category, while one is for Best Original Song.
His first major successes for which he was recognised, came in 1994, when he earned two Academy Award nominations for his scores to Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption; he was the only double-nominee that year, although he lost to Hans Zimmer for The Lion King.
He received his third Academy Award nomination in 1996 for the score to Diane Keaton's comedy Unstrung Heroes, but again lost, this time to Alan Menken for Pocahontas.
He has also received three Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Original Score for 1999's American Beauty and two for Best Original Song, as well as nine Grammy nominations and five wins.
|Academy Award||1995||Best Music, Original Score||Little Women||Nominated|
|Best Music, Original Score||The Shawshank Redemption||Nominated|
|1996||Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score||Unstrung Heroes||Nominated|
|2000||Best Music, Original Score||American Beauty||Nominated|
|2003||Best Music, Original Score||Road to Perdition||Nominated|
|2004||Best Music, Original Score||Finding Nemo||Nominated|
|2005||Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score||Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events||Nominated|
|2007||Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score||The Good German||Nominated|
|2009||Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score||WALL-E||Nominated|
|Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (with Peter Gabriel) for "Down to Earth"||Nominated|
|2013||Best Music, Original Score||Skyfall||Nominated|
|2014||Best Music, Original Score||Saving Mr. Banks||Nominated|
|2016||Best Music, Original Score||Bridge of Spies||Nominated|
|2017||Best Music, Original Score||Passengers||Nominated|
|Annie Award||2004||Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature Production||Finding Nemo||Won|
|BAFTA Award||2000||Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music||American Beauty||Won|
|2009||Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music||WALL-E||Nominated|
|2013||Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music||Skyfall||Won|
|2014||Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music||Saving Mr. Banks||Nominated|
|Classical Brit Award||2010||Soundtrack of the Year||Revolutionary Road||Won|
|Emmy Award||1991||Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music||Against the Law||Nominated|
|2002||Outstanding Main Title Theme Music||Six Feet Under||Won|
|Golden Globe Award||2000||Best Original Score – Motion Picture||American Beauty||Nominated|
|2009||Best Original Song – Motion Picture (with Peter Gabriel) for "Down to Earth"||WALL-E||Nominated|
|2012||Best Original Song – Motion Picture (with Mary J. Blige, Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas) for "The Living Proof"||The Help||Nominated|
|Grammy Award||1995||Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television||The Shawshank Redemption||Nominated|
|1997||Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television||Unstrung Heroes||Nominated|
|2001||Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or other Visual Media||American Beauty||Won|
|2003||Best Instrumental Composition for Title Theme||Six Feet Under||Won|
|Best Instrumental Arrangement for Title Theme||Six Feet Under||Won|
|2005||Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media||Angels in America||Nominated|
|2009||Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media||WALL-E||Nominated|
|Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (with Peter Gabriel) for "Down to Earth"||Won|
|Best Instrumental Arrangement (with Peter Gabriel) for Score Track, "Define Dancing"||Won|
|2014||Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media||Skyfall||Won|
|2015||Saving Mr. Banks||Nominated|
|2017||Bridge of Spies||Nominated|
|Best Instrumental Composition for End Title||Bridge of Spies||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||1999||Best Film Music||Meet Joe Black||Nominated|
|2000||Best Film Music||The Green Mile||Nominated|
|2004||Best Film Music||Finding Nemo||Nominated|
|2017||Best Film Music||Passengers||Nominated|
|World Soundtrack Awards||2003||Best Original Soundtrack of the Year||Road to Perdition||Nominated|
|2005||Soundtrack Composer of the Year||Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events||Nominated|
|2008||Best Original Song Written Directly for Film (with Peter Gabriel) for "Down to Earth"||WALL-E||Won|
|Best Original Score of the Year||Nominated|
American Film Institute
Newman's scores for American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption were nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.
- ^ abc"Richard Kirk Award: Thomas Newman Fulfills the Promise of His Legacy". bmi.com. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
- ^ abGroves, Martha (December 3, 2009). "A member of a musical dynasty writes a postcard about the past". Los Angeles Times.
- ^"OnMusic Dictionary". Music.vt.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- ^"YaleNews | Yale Alumni Go to the Oscars". News.yale.edu. 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- ^ abcWallace, Amy (March 22, 1998). "The Newman Conquests". Los Angeles Times.
- ^"When John Williams Can't Go, Whom Does Spielberg Call? Thomas Newman". NPR.org. 17 October 2015.
- ^"Oscar Watch: 'Skyfall' Builds Academy Support, Composer Thomas Newman Overdue for Oscar|Thompson on Hollywood". Blogs.indiewire.com. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- ^Burlingame, Jon (January 20, 2000). "Spotlight: Thomas Newman". Variety. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
- ^Burlingame, Jon (December 16, 2011). "Newman: 'Help,' 'Iron Lady' exhibit contrasting styles". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
- ^"Thomas Newman to compose Skyfall score". MI6-HQ.com. 4 January 2012.
- ^"Thomas Newman to Return for 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2' - Film Music Reporter".
- ^Barcomb, James (June 6, 2014). "Thomas Newman to score Finding Dory". The Whale. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
- ^Marks, Peter (November 4, 2014). "Into the often drab woods with Shakespeare Theatre Company's 'As You Like It'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 11, 2014.