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How to Capture the Essence of Summer in your Script

August 8, 2016
3 min read time

Ahh summertime. For many people summer means vacations, trips to the beach, and some much deserved time off. For others, it means everything stays the same except now it’s really hot and sticky. Whether or not summer means leisure time for you in your adult years, it is usually associated with some strong core memories – the smell of seawater, family picnics, the much anticipated ice cream truck music that nowadays sounds a little creepy thanks to horror movies.

We don’t always think about seasons when writing scripts. But in the same way a specific location can almost be a character on its own (I’m looking at you, New York City), seasons can play a major role in our work as well. A great summer movie is like a breath of fresh air. You may not have two months off, but you can have two hours of sweet escape in an air conditioned theater.

Dirty Dancing is a terrific example of a movie capturing the heat and spirit of the season. Doesn’t it make you want to put on some jean shorts and sensuously dance your way up a set of stairs? Taking place over the course of the summer in 1963, it celebrates a young woman stepping out of her comfort zone, rebelling and discovering a whole new side of herself. It’s that break between high school and college, that summer when you feel like you can and should do anything you want, because life is about to get a whole lot more serious.

This classic summer film is light, fun and sexy, while still touching on very real topics like class, abortion, and wanting our parent’s approval. Through the intoxicating music, the racy dancing, the secret forbidden romance, it takes us on a journey with Baby and leaves us changed. All of this unfolds beautifully as Baby’s individual choices create a ripple affect changing every character in its wake. Even the management style at Kellermans gets shaken up! And to think it all started because of a watermelon…

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983 and 2015) are both summer road trip movies, focusing on family and our deep desire to create meaningful memories that shape our lives. Framed perfectly with a hilarious collection of nostalgic family photos, and taking us across the country to some of our nation's most memorable destinations, Vacation celebrates the fact that we are not perfect, and that our expectations don’t always meet reality (but that life can be a lot more interesting and humorous when things go wrong).

It is a pretty remarkable feat: to create a comedy born from the constant escalation of circumstances into its worst possible outcome, while still remaining heartwarming, sweet and incredibly funny. Because at the core, these movies are about parents who will do anything for their families, and will not give up in the face of adversity. As kids, we may not fully appreciate all they have to go through to give us these memories, but hopefully when we are older, and we watch these movies, we think back to some of our own summer trips and remember how much fun we had spending time with people we love.

And then, of course, there’s Wet Hot American Summer, the ultimate summer movie and one of my favorite movies in general. Though only spanning the course of one day, it captures the sweet essence of summer ending, the nostalgia of the season and the past in a way that is contemporary and relevant no matter what year you live in (or whether you're watching the original film or the new Netflix series). You can almost smell the trees surrounding the camp, the lake that kid drowned in, and the barbecue sauce on Elizabeth Bank’s face.

It encapsulates the innocence of childhood, and allows you to feel like a kid while enjoying the outrageously adult content and cool 80’s saxophone. Even though these are adults, playing teenagers caring for children, there is a childlike quality to the characters and sequences. It’s just pure, silly fun. Another summer essential.

When you think about a season playing a major factor in your work, think about what that season means to you. What associations do you make when you hear the word "summer"? What images and sounds come to you? What memories does it bring up? Take all of that and then allow us, as readers and viewers, to experience it through your point-of-view.

Also, take a break, go to the beach, spend the day hiking, do something cool this summer. You may be an adult, you may have to work, you may not be able to take a vacation. But you can still take a day to feel like a kid again. Don’t forget to have fun. Fun stimulates creativity, making you a better writer. Also, don’t forget sunscreen. Very important.

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