Most directors that I’ve met can quickly tell you how to direct an action sequence, but few can elaborate on developing the subtle nuances of the theme. Thankfully, 70-80% of a movie is driven by the action plot line and most writers create a theme that finds its way to the surface regardless of the director’s experience level. There is, however, a significant difference between great films and the not so great, which can be attributed to directors who strengthen their story by nurturing their themes.
I recently read about a wedding party where the host miscalculated the number of guests or the amount of wine they would drink. The party was about to see an embarrassed host, but thankfully the hero quietly arrived in the background. Once requested, he told the servants to fill the five empty ceremonial vases with water, dip a cup into it, and take it to the head server.
The head server tasted the “batch of wine” and was startled. He made a big deal of the great tasting wine because the culture always switched out the great wine for some two-buck chuck after everyone was tipsy, figuring that no one would notice. But, this host held back the best for last, which was worthy of praise. The crowd loved it and the host was held in high esteem.
Aside from the mysterious miracle performed by the hero, the story has a great subplot that carries a strong theme. It’s about a hero coming to the aid of someone in need. Not someone who lost their house in a flood, or barely survived a blood curdling car wreck, but someone who was about to be embarrassed based on their own shortsightedness. The hero had a great deal of empathy and was very diplomatic on behalf of the host.
Our hero didn’t grandstand and perform the miracle for everyone to see, which would have put him in a great place in the public eye and devastate the host who had botched up. But instead, the hero kept everything low key and allowed the host to take the credit. In other words, the hero was more concerned about the emotional well being of the host, than meeting the needs of the crowds. We learn that our hero is very personable and interested in the little things in life — A great role model.
When a director focuses on the action to the detriment of the theme, he misses some of the most important life changing moments that can give the audience a reason to contemplate the movie time and time again. By focusing on the theme, a director can bring the humanity of the film to life. Without it, the film is left only with the fun factor and visual energy of the story, which can actually get old at times.
Have you ever gone to a movie that was really well made, but it didn’t compel you to think about anything or inspire you to take some form of action? Those movies are typically helmed by directors that lose sight of their theme or allow it to be overshadowed by gimmicks and effects in order to bring in larger audiences. It’s important to note that only theme enriched films plant the seed of life changing ideas in the audiences mind, giving them food for thought and a desire to watch the movie again.