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The Art of Screenwriting: Stanley Kubrick

Screenwriting is an arduous effort that requires absolute patience from the mind of the writer. Whether it’s a short script for a school project or a larger application for a full-length feature screenplay, all of it is a challenge. No matter what someone’s expertise is in the matter, it becomes especially inspiring to view the masters of the screenwriting spectrum.

Stanley Kubrick certainly falls under that role of being a masterful screenwriter and filmmaker with an extensive list of groundbreaking films. With this in mind, below will examine the art of screenwriting from Stanley Kubrick. We’ll discuss how Kubrick approached and developed a script and conclude on a few of his best scripts. Let’s take a look!

Photo credit: Picture Alliance / United Archives

Not Every Scene Needs to Have Meaning

Contrary to what most people think of when discussing Kubrick, Kubrick believed that not every scene needs to have meaning, going on record stating that if the scene is truthful and exciting, it’s a much more intuitive process. Oftentimes, novice screenwriters are led into believing every scene needs to have meaning or a point to the script.

For example, in A Clockwork Orange, the scene with Alex (Malcolm McDowell) having sex with two women he met at the record store doesn’t add much to the actual story. It’s just a point to show Alex’s day-to-day life and lifestyle before being arrested. The scene was truthful to the character and had enough of a reason to be added.

While writing a script, overanalyzing every finite detail is a bit of a misrepresentation with Kubrick. He was meticulous with his craft and demanded near perfection from his actors, but it wasn’t a matter of putting meaning in every scene. It was a place to examine what could be done in the best way without putting a hidden message in everything he does.

An Adaptation Doesn’t Need to Be Loyal

Much of Kubrick’s work was derived from a previous effort, falling under the adaptation umbrella. However, unlike most adaptations, Kubrick tended to shift significantly from the source material, making it his own vision of the story rather than a direct representation of the story.

For example, that same scene with Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and two women in the record store is much darker in Anthony Burgess’ novel. The details in the book would’ve been too gritty for the film, so Kubrick purposely made the scene just a consensual scene to further the story of Alex without a heavy focus on it.

That’s just one scene that Kubrick tweaked, while some of his other work varied greatly from the source of the material. The most outstanding example is The Shining, where Kubrick completely re-wrote Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), so much so that Stephen King hated the film upon its release.

Enjoy the Experience

Kubrick’s success in filmmaking is essentially thanks to his love for cinema. Although it’s challenging to find a filmmaker who doesn’t love cinema, Kubrick is genuinely a fanatic in the best sense. He’s gone on record stating the filmmaking experience, and the finishing product is what should drive every writer and filmmaker.

If a screenwriter doesn’t enjoy the process of writing in the slightest, it’s possible that effort isn’t worth exploring for them. It’s a dedication and craft that should be loved by whoever is involved in the subject. Issues like writer’s block can hinder the love for the experience, but those roadblocks are meant to occur with any endeavor.

A Script is a Progression Of Moods

Kubrick was of the belief that a film should be more closely aligned to music than fiction. More or less stating that a script is a progression of moods. It isn’t necessarily only about telling a story for a reaction. It’s showcasing a group of characters and advancing them throughout it to evoke a specific emotional response.

That emotional response is what drives the best scripts. No one will want to read or produce a bland script with conflict and the point of it all. It’s a matter of telling a story with the intention for characters to change significantly throughout it. Whether it’s a comedy or a sci-fi drama, it’s applicable.

Plan Meticulously

Although we’ve covered the notion that Kubrick didn’t believe that every scene needed meaning, Kubrick also meticulously planned his films. Even the stories of him shooting scenes repeatedly were thought out to make the actors more frustrated and irritated for the film.

He applied that same process to his scripts as well, from dialogue to character choices. Planning is an integral part of writing a script and thoroughly examining what you can do better, is a great way to get the most out of your script.

Best Films:

● Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

● 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

● A Clockwork Orange (1971)

● The Shining (1980)

● Full Metal Jacket (1987)


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