10 Screenwriting Lessons You Can Learn From Something Wild

Jonathan Demme's underrated flick is packed with great lessons for aspiring screenwriters.

For Christmas this year, I was treated to a slew of Criterion releases and spent the week between then and New Year's cataloging the ideas and lessons learned from these almost always brilliant films, some of which seem to have been forgotten by the greater social consciousness. One of these apparently "forgotten" films is Jonathan Demme's (Director of Silence of the Lambs) 1986 flick Something Wild. I feel obligated to state that some of these lessons are taken from the final version of the film and are not included in the actual screenplay for the movie (which can be found as a .pdf here). Still, these moments highlight important elements of the craft of screenwriting and are things a writer could employ in their work. Also, this is the obligatory "no particular order" clause. These points are presented in a way that links themes, rather than orders them by a hierarchy of "importance" to try and communicate the tools a writer can use for his craft...

10. Write Within Genres

This doesn't mean play by the rules. In fact, it's just the opposite. One of the things Something Wild does is take the expectations of the genres it's operating in and then turn them on its head. To do this, a writer really has to understand the conventions of the genres and the audience's anticipations brought on by a collective culture of epic proportions. Sure, there are rules to writing in a genre, but as Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix: "Some of their rules can be bent, others can be broken." What's important? That you get a firm understanding of these tropes before you start manipulating them. Something Wild primarily operates in two main genres: A romantic-comedy and a psychological-thriller, each breaking the movie into two halves (more on this later). This makes it an interesting study of tropes, especially since one end of the film is regarded by some as more successful than the other. The film opens with the small, defiant act of Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) walking out on a check. Barreling down the sidewalk and away from the scene of the crime, he's approached by Lulu (Melanie Griffith), a diner who witnessed his theft of service. She manages to seem like an employee at first, building up his nerves before revealing she's not just a diner, but an admirer of his small act of rebellion. This first moment sets up a series of events that pull Charles Driggs deeper and deeper, to places no one can suspect, bringing us to the next point...

While studying English and Philosophy at Rutgers University, Andrew worked as a constant contributor to the The Rutgers Review. After graduating in 2010, he began working as a free-lance writer and editor, providing his input to numerous areas including reviews for the New York Film Series, The Express-Times, and private script and story consulting. He is currently the Director of Film Studies at The Morris County Arts Workshop in New Jersey and publishes essays on the subject of film and television at his blog, The Zoetrope.