How to write a movie script: The return of R.O.O.T.

Reading back my last blog, it occurred to be it was a tad negative. Dwelling as it did on all the things that were wrong with Paul Haggis’ In The Valley of Elah. This time I thought I’d turn that negativity upside down and focus instead on movies that got the R.O.O.T. right.

Die Hard Movie PosterDie Hard. 1988. Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza.

Synopsis: Bruce Willis’ New York cop, John McClane, travels to Los Angeles to see his estranged wife, Holly, in the hope that they can settle their differences and reconcile. His plans are derailed when a group of thieves, posing as terrorists, take control of the Nakatomi building where his wife works. It is up to John to save the day.

Risks – What is at stake for John McClane if he just hides in a broom cupboard and waits it out? McClane knows Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is ruthless and the lives of all the hostages – including his estranged wife and mother to his children – is in danger.

Objective – To thwart Hans Gruber’s plans to rob the Nakatomi building’s vault and save the hostages.

Obstacles – Numerous. To begin with he’s one man against many heavily armed and merciless individuals. He has no weapons and no shoes.

Time – McClane has to work to Gruber’s timetable because he knows Gruber has planned this to perfection. Time’s up when Gruber’s done.

Back To The Future. 1985. Written by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale.Back to the Future Movie Poster

Synopsis: Teenager Marty McFly travels back in time from 1985 to 1955 in a time machine built by his friend, Dr Emmett Brown, and accidentally disrupts his parents’ first meeting. Marty has to find a way to get back to the future.

Risks – If Marty was to fail then he would be wiped out of existence.

Objective – Marty wants to get back to his own time of 1985 but has to get his parents to fall in love first.

Obstacles – Numerous. His father is a coward. His mother has inadvertently fallen for him instead of his dad. The technology does not exist in 1955 to power the flux capacitor (the device that makes time travel possible).

Time – His older siblings are fading from existence and he will too. He only has till the night of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance because that’s when lightning hits the clock tower, which is the only way to power the DeLorean, which in turn is the only chance he has to get back to the future.

Memento Movie PosterMemento. 2000. Written by Christopher Nolan, based on a short  story by Jonathan Nolan.

Synopsis: A story told backwards. Guy Pearce’s Leonard is hunting for his wife’s murderer but he is unable to make any new memories so leave himself elaborate messages in an attempt to solve the mystery and find the killer.

Risks – His wife’s killer will go free and Leonard will never be able to have any sort of life.

Objective – To find his wife’s killer.

Obstacles – Leonard’s short term memory is damaged so he can’t retain any new information.

Time – A ticking clock is less relevant here because the story is circular. However, the film never feels stagnant.

The Terminator. 1984. Written by James Cameron & Gale Ann Hurd.Terminator Movie Poster

Synopsis: A cyborg is sent back in time from the future to kill the mother of its enemy. Now it could be argued that the Terminator is the protagonist of this film. He has a clear cut objective that drives the narrative (to kill the mother of his enemy) but for the sake of this we’ll say Sarah Connor is the main protagonist or Sarah and Kyle as they share the same objective/goal.

Risks – The future of mankind is at stake. Pretty big.

Objective – To defeat the Terminator and survive in order to give birth to the saviour of mankind.

Obstacles – The Terminator is unstoppable. Sarah is a waitress and incredibly ill-equipped to defeat an unstoppable killing machine.

Time – No ticking clock here either but the film never stops.


Taken Movie PosterTaken. 2008. Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen.

Synopsis: Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills daughter is kidnapped in Paris by people traffickers. Mills heads to France knowing he only has 4 days to find her or else she will disappear forever.

Risks – If Bryan fails he will never see his daughter again and her life will become a living hell.

Objective – To rescue his daughter.

Obstacles – To begin with Bryan’s in Los Angeles when his daughter is kidnapped in Paris and the clock is already ticking. When he gets to Paris he has very little to go on. His one and only lead dies almost immediately. The task ahead of him is nearly impossible. Dozens of bad guys stand between him and his daughter.

Time – There is a real urgency to this one. Bryan knows that he has at most 96 hours/4 days after which time his daughter will be sold on and moved to another part of the world never to be heard from again.

About David

Screenwriter and Novelist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *