Movie Monsters: Learn to Write with Scope and Scale
Does your monster give your movie or tv show scope and scale?
We've all spent countless hours watching fun monster movies and tv shows. When it's a rainy day, one of my favorite things to do is find the biggest, dumbest, and craziest monster movie and throw it on. That's how I found gems like Troll Hunter, Super 8, and Deep Blue Sea.
Are these movies going to win any Oscars? Probably not.
But who cares?
We watch these movies because they give us a perspective we don't get in reality. And they give us a reason to head to the theater and see these movies on the biggest screen possible.
What I love about these movies is that they provide scope and scale to our world.
What are Scope and Scale?
When I talk about a movie's scope, I'm talking about the amount of time and space your story covers.
Scale refers to the size of the story. Movies like Blue Jay are very small concerning scale whereas something like Star Wars has massive scale.
Do movies with more scope and scale have more worth? No. But as theatrical releases change with the onset of bigger TVs at home, studios are focusing more on making tentpole films that drive audiences to the theater.
I want to examine how we are using larger than life monsters to show the scale and scope of the action and the stakes. Most of the time, huge monster movies give the beast an origin and then flash later when it's getting big or fully grown. Other times, these movies choose to make the origins of these beasts a mystery. All we know about Jaws is that it came up the coast looking for a good meal.
No matter what, a great monster movie is not only fun to read, but it also a blast to write.
How Can You Add Scope and Scale To You Writing?
I have typed the sentence "writing is hard" so many times that you're probably sick of it. But one thing that writing with scope can do for you is make things fun again.
Think about it, how often do you get to describe a giant beast?
A building toppling?
A footprint that takes up the whole screen?
To master scope and scale, you have to work through your idea from the ground up. That's why I recommend doing a treatment first, and working your scope out before just writing. You can get your idea down on the page and then examine what matters in the story's scope.
In a movie like Jurassic Park, the scope of the story is what happens on the island. And the dinosaurs provide scale.
Screenplay Examples of Scope and Scale
No matter what, once your idea is solidified, the fun part is writing with scope and scale.
I like the 2014 Godzilla movie because it gives a really accurate depiction of how a giant monster would move across the world. It's crazy to say, but the movie feels so realistic. And it says a lot about humanity as well. When you write with scope and scale, you can show the insignificance of humanity, and the significance of human characters, all at the same time.
Take a look at another excerpt from the 2014 Godzilla film. It pops off the page and reads so fun.
Scope and scale are not always about huge monsters, either.
Look at this battle from The Last Jedi. We get the scale of the odds against the characters. And then have to figure out the scope of what it means if these two could possibly team up to save the galaxy.
What about the scope and scale of a dystopian future?
Mad Max: Fury Road is constantly upping the ante when it comes to the epic chase at the center of the movie.
Still, I love a good monster. Let's take a look at a cool infographic that shows the size of recent movie monsters.
How Big is Your Monster?
I came across this helpful monster infographic that Micah Mertes had made for an article he did on monster size and scope. I think it's really helpful when coming up with your ideas. Some of the analysis here of the size and height of the animals put writing monsters this big into perspective.
This illustration by Michael Boehnlein of the World Herald gives scope to the beasts you see on screen. The information below was researched and estimated by Micah Mertes.
1. Hannibal Lecter
Height: 5 feet, 9 inches
2. The T-Rex from “Jurassic Park”
Height: 16 feet
3. Great white sharks
20 feet. The majority of experts agree that 20 feet are around the maximum length for great whites, which, on average, range from 13 to 16 feet long.
4. The great white shark in “Jaws”
25 feet long
5. The sharks in “Deep Blue Sea”
26 feet long. The movie made them one foot longer than the shark in “Jaws.” Because of course, they did.
6. The Carcharodon megalodon shark
Approximately 59 feet long
7. Mosasaurus in “Jurassic World”
Approximately 70 feet
8. The Megalodon in “The Meg”
9. “King Kong” (2017)
10. The Fighting Machine in “War of the Worlds” (2005)
11. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters”
12. The Mega Shark in “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus” (TV movie)
240 feet. This is an estimate based on some Googling.
13. “Cloverfield” monster
14. “Godzilla” (2014 version)
355 feet. King of the monsters, indeed.
Summing Up Monster Scope
If you're suffering from Writer's Block or just want to try writing something new, see how big you can go with your next story. When you're working on your next screenplay, think about scope and scale. They can help you dictate your story and give studio execs a solid reason your story should be on the big screen.
Got an idea but don't know how to execute it?
Let your inner monsters out on the page.
I can't wait to see what you come up with.
And if it gives me nightmares.