BREAKING IN: Dream, Vision, or Fantasy?

BREAKING IN: Dream, Vision, or Fantasy?


Image: The Wizard Of Oz, MGM

In any given year, I read so many screenplays as a professional “reader” that you could pave the Yellow Brick Road with them and still have enough left over to start a recycling program in the Emerald City. Okay, so most of the scripts I read are in digital form and aren’t on paper. But you get the idea.

One of the screenplay errors that I see again and again shows me that many writers don’t understand the differences between and among dreams, visions and fantasies. These scripts get readers really mixed up about what’s “real” in the story … and what isn’t. But clarity is a writer’s most important mission. There’s a big difference between keeping your audience guessing about what’s coming next and confusing the heck of them.

To quote song lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (“Do-Re-Mi” in The Sound of Music), “Let’s start at the very beginning …”

The History of the “Dream Sequence”

“Dream sequences” in movies and plays are nothing new. According to NPR film critic Bob Mondello, the first dream sequence was probably in a Greek play called The Persians by Aeschylus, way back in 472 B.C. Unless I miss my guess, that was a long time before Inception writer-director Christopher Nolan was born. And Mondello says that the first famous movie with a dream sequence was Buster Keaton’s technically and conceptually brilliant Sherlock Jr. (1924), which featured Keaton as a movie projectionist who falls asleep and dreams that he is walking “into” the motion picture screen in his theater and becomes a character in the movie-within-a-movie. Woody Allen used the same idea for The Purple Rose of Cairo decades later, only in reverse (a movie character steps off the screen and joins the real world).

Dreams, fantasies and visions have all been ingredients in many a classic movie. One of my favorites is Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), which introduced the average American to the notion of dream interpretation and psychotherapy.

But just because dream or fantasy sequences can be a great tool for screenwriters doesn’t mean that these tools don’t have to be handled properly. And the biggest mistake screenwriters make in using these techniques is that they use them haphazardly and interchangeably. If you don’t learn to distinguish visions from fantasies, and fantasies from dreams—and master their correct functions in stories—your screenplay just may turn into some professional script reader’s worst nightmare.

So, let’s try to sort it all out.

Read the full article on Scriptmag.com

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