Some Quick Tips for Establishing Setting

Written by: Charlie Matthau

Summary: Setting is an important aspect of scriptwriting that is easily overlooked.

Establishing setting is one of the hardest tasks a screenwriter has to accomplish, and they have to do it within the first few pages or beats. The director is going to need those opening moments to establish the world, the characters and everything else pertaining to the film that isn’t plot. Here are some thoughts on setting, how it works and how to help build the world.

Using Tropes

Audiences are familiar with certain concepts, such as the mysterious object in Sci-Fi. Consider how most sci-fi films open: some kind of mysterious object or event is witnessed, but there is little significance to the audience at first. Prometheus is a good example. We see the pale bodied creature toss something into the water and it’s not until much later in the film (if at all) that we are clear on what that event signified.

Drawing on those familiar tropes helps your audience become acquainted with the subject matter, without having to establish a lot of facts about the world up front.

Before Production Begins

Screenwriters, directors and producers should be clear on a few concepts before filming begins. Time period is first and foremost. Next, consider the people who live in this world that we do not see on screen. Their lives and customs should help inform the aesthetic of the film, and some potential choices about locale.

Consider who these people are, and what most of them do for a living. This can be very frustrating for people watching post-apocalyptic films, where it’s not entirely clear how characters have been able to survive.


 

Bio: The Charlie Matthau Company is a production company based out of Los Angeles. The Matthau Company will be responsible for producing the upcoming show “Mexican High,” which will debut in 2015.