10 February 2012

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Essentials For Writing A Coming Of Age Film

Cover of "Stand By Me (Deluxe Edition)"
Cover of Stand By Me (Deluxe Edition)


If you’ve ever wanted to write, direct or produce your very own coming of age movie then this article is for you.

What you’re going to need are a few tried and tested methods to get you on track with: location, characters and storyline.

Below are a few ideas and examples to help inspire and motivate you before you start.

Good luck and in the words of the greatest inbetweener of them all: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."


Location – this is key to showing how far your characters have developed during the course of the film i.e. they arrive as someone, mature over the course of the film and depart as someone else.

Classic locations for coming of age films: summer camps, abandoned mines and remote woodland retreats. Alternatively, set your film in a small American town such as Oregon (Goonies and Stand by Me) or Maine (anything by Stephen King, especially IT).

The journey that your characters take is a really important part of the film and establishing a metaphorical link between where they started out and where they’ve finished, is essential for letting your audience know exactly how far they’ve come.

Characters you’re going to need a fairly even split of personalities so each character can go on their own personal journey throughout the course of the film. 

For example: in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, there’s a wide variety of ages and character traits and from the young and sensitive Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) to his elder, muscle-bound brother Darrel (Patrick Swayze), it’s really interesting to see how character storylines entwine and unravel before our very eyes. 

Creating backgrounds for each of your protagonists e.g. comes from a broken home or has just moved to a new town, allows audiences to immediately identify with characters and the challenges that they’ll need to overcome.

Storyline – of course, the progression from youth to adult is essentially what coming of age films are all about; learning life’s lessons over the course of a summer or during Saturday detention (The Breakfast Club).

Facing up to challenges and overcoming personal issues help our characters and storylines to develop. From the wimpy kid who makes the team at youth camp to the bully discovering their leadership qualities whilst lost in the woods, this is your chance to give your characters the building blocks they need to help them get through their teenage years.

I hope some of the tips above have helped to inspire you to create your own coming of age movie but if you’re still stuck for ideas, check out six of the best below for more inspiration.


Six examples of classic coming of age films

Risky Business
Tom Cruise plays a high school student who’s left home alone by his rich parents. With the help of a few entrepreneurial skills and Rebecca De Mornay, Cruise quickly discovers what it’s like to lose, and then find himself in a very short space of time.

Almost Famous
Touring with a 70’s rock band gives a wannabe music journalist, William Miller, the chance to experience more than his fair share of highs and lows. However, when he’s faced with important decisions that affect new found relationships such as with idealistic groupie, Penny Lane, will he choose career over friendship? Awesome soundtrack!

Stand by Me
Almost the definition of a coming of age film – Stand by Me has the lot: great soundtrack, distinctive characters and a story written by Stephen King.

It’s Labor Day in Castle Rock Oregon and four friends, Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy, set off to find the body of a young man who has been hit by a train. As the group wander further along the tracks, away from their small town, they open up to each other about their thoughts and fears as only 12 year old boys can.

Carrie
Based on yet another King novel, Carrie is a slightly more supernatural offering that doesn’t hold back from describing the metamorphosis from girl to woman. If you’ve ever experienced high school bullying and fancied a bit of revenge, then this one is for you.

Empire of the Sun
A young Christian Bale plays an English boy who becomes separated from his family in WWII ravaged Shanghai. As with most coming of age films, our chief protagonist, Jim, has to learn quickly to adapt and survive in an adult world. This is a beautifully told, semi-autobiographical work from the pen of J G Ballard and from lost innocence to finding companionship in the strangest of places, Empire of the Sun is an absolute belter.

Dirty Dancing
The summer of ’63 finds an 18-year old ‘Baby’ finding herself through some low down and dirty dance moves whilst she’s away at a holiday resort in the Catskill Mountains.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey combine effortlessly to ensure that Baby grows up and never gets put in a corner, ever again.

I hope this article has left you with a few ideas for writing your own coming of age film and who knows, in the future, perhaps your offering will crowbar its way into the list above.


About today's Guest Writer:
Chris is a writer and film lover who is currently working on his own novel and screenplay.


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