Is Message the Most Important Thing?

I ran across this Tweet this morning:  @NYFA “That’s the most important thing for any movie. #Screenwriting is where the message is.”


Is message the most important thing? Over character? Story? Journey?

Do we reduce a script to one particular ingredient? And, if so, is message the singular most important flavor? What if the message is one that you may not agree with? Does this redact the quality of the script? Message is subjective – how does this affect how your story may be perceived? Is the message of the story more important than the story itself?

Triumph of the Will is seen by many critics of art as a masterpiece; however, the message of the film is quite unpalatable.

Hmm. What are your thoughts?

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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24 Responses to Is Message the Most Important Thing?

  1. ahamin says:

    I do think that the message is very important, but it shouldn’t affect the flow of the story. Good stories has multi-factors. Readers come in different clays, so I believe the only thing in common between most readers is the message of the story, that’s what they meant in the tweet I presume… good message in any story, fantasy or romance or what ever, means more readers.


  2. John Arends says:

    Just saw “Prometheus” this weekend and came away thoroughly disappointed. Why? Perhaps your post here, your Highness, puts a royal thumb on it — it was a message/metaphysical idea that drove the story, and it insisted on implanting it in a rather horrifyingly clumsy way — via a paint-by-numbers genre exercise. It was missing what is, for me, the most important thing for any movie — EMOTION. If you’re not in this medium to create an emotional experience for the audience, you’re not going to succeed in any meaningful way, in terms of making a dent in the universe. Messages go for the head. Emotion’s aim is higher. It goes for the heart.


  3. Another reason for me to love you! Personally, I think that a film’s IMPACT is how it should be judged. Does it involve all of the senses? Will it be indelibly imprinted on the viewer’s mind? Is it of lasting merit? Movies which are message driven — in my opinion — tend to date themselves. I am much more interested in a STORY than a message. Great subject, kiddo! 🙂


    • Thanks, you!

      It’s an interesting subject. My nephew has been commenting on Malick on Twitter *hint, SAM, comment on the blogsite, hint* and how he wants more than a series of images… but his message tends to be subjective to the viewer as opposed to the “message” film which I abhor, so in that regard, I have to respectfully disagree with @NYFA…


  4. dehelen says:

    Maybe @NYFA meant to say more than s/he could in 140 characters and message became a shorthand? For me story is paramount, and in the story someone I care about has to undergo transformation. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the story.


    • I don’t know! I’ve included @NYFA in the tweets… result… silencia…

      Too bad. This was not an attack upon @NYFA, it was an opening up of dialogue and an opp for them to to into it further.

      Like HRH’s blog would be worth it, lol. Um, not.

      I agree with you!


  5. Ron Tatar says:

    What I have learned is that you don’t come up with a message and try and wrap a story around it. You come up with a story, and then find the message in the story. It is there you just have to look for it. Besides that is a lot more fun. I didn’t even have a message in mind at all when I started my script then one day it let me know what it was.


    • I agree! I remember reading about when John Guare wrote “House of Blue Leaves.” Around the same time that the play launched, Time magazine launched the “Is God Dead” cover. He was asked if Leaves was a response to that… and told what his play “meant.” He was most amused by the perception. He felt that he was just trying to write an interesting story.


  6. Ron Tatar says:

    I could just as easily substitute the word theme for message. I have had my story idea for years, and continue to work on it. Thanks to one line of dialogue I discovered I had a key character that originally was just mentioned in passing. It was after that I realized what the theme or message of the story was. Up until then I was just trying to tell a good story. It has gotten richer, and as I work on it I can’t wait to find out what the story will tell me next. It keeps evolving in interesting ways.


  7. Ron Tatar says:

    A very abbreviated version is that in passing it is mentioned that the main character’s wife had died. I intended that to be the trigger that caused him to commit a major crime. The more I thought about it the more I realized that a character who was dead was a major character in my story. She had loved him for who he was, but also loved him for who she thought he could be. He finally realizes he wants to become the man she thought he could be.


  8. Melody Lopez says:

    Is a message really the theme? I’m not sure. I think of great movies and whether or not their message is distinguished from the theme. Could it be that we all receive a story differently and will pick up from it a different message based on hour personal histories but that the theme itself is the one thing that is universally understood and indisputable?

    I think of the YAKUZA that Ron Tatar recommended to me- it’s theme is keeping promises… but if I were to guess the intended ‘message’ of the movie- it may be that the film maker wanted to show the different ways different cultures will honor their promises. But that’s not a message is it? I don’t know if it had a message- all I know is that as the credits rolled I was so invested in the main characters that I invented a little fantasy of their happily ever after… clearly the movie spoke to me and something resonated for me on a very deep level- so if it had a message- I got it…I just am not sure how to write it out…and I think that’s true of a lot of movies with strong themes and are excellent stories driven by well crafted characters with plot twists that are surprising and meaningful…like Braveheart…like Avatar… they had strong themes…but can you really define their message?

    maybe you have one that implies the other…but only if it means something to you will the theme imply a meaningful message?

    tough topic…not sure the answer but am anxious for the opinion of others..


  9. Frank Wood says:

    I’ve just completed my second script, and something different happened this time. In my first script, my sustaining motivation was primarily the message. Since it was a historical drama, history dictated the writing of the story, and remarkable as the story is, to me, the message is profound. This time, I made up the story. I was attracted to this idea because of the story, and I really gave little thought to the message. However, a message emerged from my made up story as profound to me as my first idea. This is not to imply that anyone else would like it.
    But, maybe writing a screenplay, to convey a message and or to tell a good story, is often not always controlled by a writer’s conscious effort.
    I think everyone is different. What attracts us to a movie or an idea for a movie reveals something about us individually. I think there is a moral question a writer must ask himself: Am I writing to say what I think people want to read, or am I writing to express my individuality. Ironically, saying what one thinks people want to hear is often off the mark. Our individuality never is. However, despite ones motives for writing, in the course of a screenplay, it is difficult to hide ones personality and beliefs. I believe our uniqueness is our primary mandate to express ourselves. It is the only thing at which we are truly expert.


  10. “Do we reduce a script to one particular ingredient?”
    I certainly don’t think that makes sense as a general rule. My only real writing rule is “does it work?” – the rest is guidelines and principals, not rules. And the determination of whether it works or not depends in part on what the writer is trying to accomplish with a particular script.

    I’m pretty sensitive to obvious messages, and don’t like it when a story forces one on me. This includes Spider-man’s “with great power comes great responsibility” classic, which I am happy not to have seen in any trailers for the new film.

    Despite that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a script having a message. I just like it better when the message comes from the storytelling, and not from a narrator or a character’s preachy dialogue. I think that’s a more effective approach, in general.


  11. Kelly Kerr says:

    I find character development to be more important than a film’s message. If characters aren’t believable, or audiences don’t care about them, the message is lost anyway.


  12. Steve Vidler says:

    We can only know character in film through events, which is, well… story. If those characters and their events move us emotionally, then they are meaningful… even if we can’t quite intellectually articulate that meaning. Theme is nothing more nor less than the meaning of a story.
    Character is story is emotion is theme is message is character is story… and around we go.
    Samsara, anyone?


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