I remember being in one of Karel’s seminars once when he said that most movies were ‘the same, but different’. It was something that stuck with me ever since.
by Jamie Campbell
There is only one Hero’s Journey, it’s a tried and true formula that has been around for ages. So if we all know of the journey and are all writing to the same format, then how are movies different? Same, but different?
Every time I get a new idea, I have to run through my database of movies, television shows, and books to see whether it’s been done before. Most of the time, it has. But instead of discounting my idea, I think how can I make it different? What twist can I apply so that it’s new? I don’t proceed until I can answer that question.
I was watching The Vampire Diaries recently, yet another show revolving around teenagers and vampires. I’m completely over the whole Twilight thing so I was trying to work out why I was so obsessed with The Vampire Diaries. Then I realised, it was the same but different.
How can I make it different?
Vampires are not new, far from it. They were telling tales of Vlad the Impaler while he was still alive. So the concept wasn’t new so the story had to be. In The Vampire Diaries, they focus on the two vampire brothers, one is a reformed bad boy, the other just a bad boy. Throw in a girl and they’ve got a love triangle to keep us hanging. But the crux of the story is always down to the brother’s relationship – they just happen to be vampires.
True Blood is the same. A sexy vampire attracts a beautiful girl, there is a controversial relationship with a love triangle, and lots of blood. The difference is that vampires are out and proud. They’ve taken the traditional story and placed it in a different setting – in a world where everyone knows about vampires and they openly live amongst us. They don’t go around biting people (well, aren’t supposed to anyway), but rather buy their blood at the store. It’s new and unique, something we are intrigued by.
And not to forget the one that started them all – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cue vampires, werewolves, and witches. Throw in teenagers and wackiness ensues. The difference here? It’s not about the vampires but the vampire slayer. We follow her life as she kills the demons and fulfils her life’s purpose. Same, but different.
The show’s spinoff, Angel, is yet another example. Here, the story is about a vampire with a soul, one that broods over his evil past and fights to rid the world of darkness. It still had vampires, still had humans seduced by them, and it still had a lot of blood, but it’s a different twist on the old story by giving him a soul.
I guess I should mention Twilight. While I would argue it has the least amount of differentness, it is still there. The vampire the human falls in love with cares about her too much. It’s the vampire putting the brakes on the relationship, maintaining his grip on a traditional courtship. Instead of the dream-filled human wanting to get married, it’s the vampire.
The concept wasn’t new so the story had to be.
Of course, in all of these shows there is a human girl who meets a handsome vampire guy. They struggle with their relationship, try to fight their attraction, try to overcome their differences, and ultimately fall in love. Yet we don’t seem to mind the pattern. To be ‘the same, but different’, there has to be some sameness.
So before you go throwing away your idea for the next big blockbuster, try to work out how you can make your story different. Twist the idea so that it’s unique and interesting – something no-one has ever tried before. I challenge you.
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