I’ve been a huge fan of Luc Besson since I was a teenager in the 90s and THE FIFTH ELEMENT came out (“I am Corbin Dallas!”) so I was delighted to receive KT Parker’s guest post on LUCY, which obviously Luc named after **me**! Thanks KT and enjoy, everybody …
LUCY hit the screens in Paris last week and Luc Besson, who both wrote and directed it, was doing no less than 6 “avant-premières” all over town. Those of you who don’t live in France may be wondering, what on earth is an avant-première? Well, it’s like a première minus the glitz of the red carpet and the flashbulbs of the paparazzi, but with the added bonus that the director often stays to chat with the audience after the screening.
Yours truly was very fortunate in that I got to walk in with Mr. Besson himself . I joked with him that I was LOVING the headlines in American publications saying “Hercules is getting beaten up by a girl!” That made him laugh. He said it was probably because Lucy had a nicer dress than Hercules…
1) LESSON N°1: The Judicious Use of Humour
So right off the bat I learned that Luc Besson is a funny guy. He knows how to use humour. At times the Q&A was like a stand-up-comedy routine. He made us laugh and had us hanging on his every word.
Likewise, in the film, here and there a note of humour is injected when you least expect it. Then, in the very next moment, the tension is ratcheted up, and you gasp all the more because the humour made you drop your guard. As writers, we are responsible for designing the emotional ride the audience will go on. No matter what your genre, use a dab of humour now and then as a counterpoint to the primary emotion you’re eliciting. (Or pathos if you’re writing a comedy.) MORE: All About Genre & Craft
2) LESSON N°2: Be Open
LUCY is the story of a young woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is kidnapped by Korean gangsters and forced to act as a mule for a new super drug. The sachet containing the drug bursts inside her and unlocks her full potential, so that she can control first her own body, then those of others, then all matter and finally time itself.
The genesis of the idea occurred about twenty years ago. Mr. Besson, invited to dinner by the mayor of a small town, was seated next to a young woman. Our favourite French filmmaker was immediately wary. He often finds himself sitting next to the daughter or the niece of the host of a dinner party, and by coincidence she just happens to be an actress who would love a part in his next film… Nevertheless, Mr. Besson was very gallant and engaged his dinner companion in conversation.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I work in cancer research,” she replied.
He wasn’t expecting that. There then followed a three-hour conversation about cells and neurones and the brain. She was the one who told him the line that Morgan Freeman delivers in the film: cells select one of two strategies, immortality or reproduction, depending on the harshness of the environment they find themselves in.
The lesson here is openness. Mr. Besson could have closed himself off and avoided an encounter he assumed was going to be banal, even boring. Instead he chose to be open and GENEROUS with himself, and he was rewarded with the gift of a great idea. MORE: Connecting With Writers, Filmmakers & Producers Online, plus 10 Ways To Kill Your Writing Career Dead by Linda Aronson
3) LESSON N°3: Do Your Research
After meeting the young scientist, Mr. Besson sought out other scientists and gradually built up his knowledge. He set to writing the screenplay of LUCY NINE YEARS ago. This was a passion project and he wanted to craft the screenplay so that the science and the philosophy it contains would be presented in a way that was fun and entertaining.
Research then, is essential to create a sense of authenticity and emotional truth in a screenplay. But note, this is not necessarily the same as factual truth! MORE: The Importance Of Research
4) LESSON N°4: Make Your Story Accessible
Some American critics have beaten up on Luc Besson because one of the central ideas behind the film – that we only use 10% of our brain capacity – simply isn’t true. Mr. Besson KNOWS this. He’s done the research. Two decades of it. He even helped found the ICM, an international research institute focusing on the brain and spine.
What is true is that we only use 15% of our neurones at any given time. Mr. Besson worried audiences might not be familiar with the workings of neurones, whereas just about everybody knows what a brain is. So, to make the story accessible to the widest possible public, he made a CHOICE to use the brain as a metaphor… In the film it works beautifully.
The “truth” in your script can be anything you want it to be, as long as you CLEARLY set up the rules of the world of your story, and you do it in a way that is comprehensible for the audience. MORE: Sacrificing Facts For Drama
5) LESSON N°5: Challenge Yourself
There is an extraordinary car chase in LUCY. I guarantee there are shots and angles you’ve never seen before, even if you’ve watched every one of the dozens of car chases that have been shot on the streets of Paris over the years.
Mr. Besson asked himself, “what would be the most DIFFICULT circumstances for a car chase in Paris?”
He came up with rue de Rivoli, at noon – equivalent to Oxford Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York. The scene was shot over the long weekend of August 15, which is when Paris is at its emptiest. It covers the distance of approximately one kilometre and lasts only a few minutes of screen time, but it took four days to film and for safety reasons 25% of the cars are CGI. The result is breath-taking.
In your screenplay, don’t take the easy way out – ever. Challenge yourself to put your protagonist in the most difficult situation possible. That’s where you’ll find the drama or comedy or thrill or chill with the most impact. MORE: Writing, Selling & MAKING Thriller Screenplays with @jkamalou
It’s amazing what you can learn in ten minutes, isn’t it?
BIO: KT Parker is an emerging screenwriter and producer. She likes to travel, both in the real world and through fiction, and when she’s not busy working on a writing project, she has been known to sneak a peek at cute pictures of cats on the Internet. Follow her on Twitter HERE and see her on About.me HERE.