Rules for Writing Classic Teen Movies

This is my own notes from my notebook on the subject. I'd love to know if anyone disagrees with my take on it...

It's not high drama. It's comedy or melodrama. The problems are not life threatening - nor should they be. Suicide is not to be included. Death can be. But on the whole, the movie should be light in tone.

The teens must create the scenario they're in themselves - they drive it all.

Weird Science - the teens create Lisa,
Ferris Bueler's Day Off - he decides to take a day off school and play hookey
Explorers - they build a ship based on their dreams

If it's a fantasy piece, their home life must be equally evil/morbid/bleak/unenjoyable to balance it out.

The factors which make it unenjoyable must be overcome by the end of the movie in a "coming of age" plot.

Their arrogance once they discover they have power must be enough to nearly trip them completely. However, it is kept in check and they learn the error of their ways.

They must be the underdogs. They are not the cool people in school. They are not the desirable ones. They may be bullied. Or they may just be outcasts. Either way, they're not part of the "in-crowd". (In other words, the majority of teens will feel this way and will identify with it).

Similarly, the "in-crowd" must get their comeuppance. People who ostracize them get an equivalent penance. People who bully them get shown to be cowards. The high road or the slapstick one is always taken, as an eye-for-an-eye drags you from comedy to drama.

Conflicts include:

  • The desire to find a girlfriend
  • The desire to have sex / kiss / make out
  • The desire to look cool
  • The desire to be popular / have friends
  • The desire to be talented, or considered to be skilled in some way - special.
  • The desire to have one's dreams come true as a career (science, music, whatever… but the dreams are caricature broad strokes - astronaut / magician / rock star / secret agent - not accountant, scientist, engineer or line cook)
  • The need to have a part time job to get money
  • Access to independence - car, private space/territory, no curfews
  • Restrictions because they're not yet adults or old enough - age limits in bars, voting (becomes more important later, but is still an issue), pornography, sex, drinking, dancing, driving, smoking
  • Ultimately, the importance is that of being able to control one's own destiny, instead of being at the whim of adults.

      The scenario must provide them with things that they dream about. This can include the resolution of any of the above conflicts. However, it doesn't have to come easy. Or it can come easy, but arrives with strings attached. The resolution of these strings or the price that has to be paid drives the majority of the plot.

      Any rules or restrictions which are broken (smoking, drinking, etc) must come with consequences to show why they are rules in the first place. The teens must then deal with the consequences. Eg. drinking = hangover. Smoking = coughing. Partying = the place gets trashed. Driving = the car crashes, or the police chase them for speeding. The resolution can be unlikely or impossible - but they must deal with the consequences of their adult acts and find a way to get rid of the negative effect. The only case where this doesn't happen is sex, which is never committed - it's just not tasteful to admit that teens have sex. Softcore porn and lust? Fine (as long as it's not a teen character getting naked). Kissing? Sure! Go for it. Sleeping in one another's arms, tastefully fully clothed? Absolutely! But no real sex. However, the set up for it can be there...

      The scenario should follow the traditional hero plot curve, except that unlike the major hero arc (eg. Indiana Jones, where the hero does not get what he wants at the end and is thwarted once more), they kids do get what they want - and learn their lesson to boot.

      As part of this, at the end of the film, the teens must be recognized to have gained at least some part of their adulthood. (Ferris Bueller is different in that in this movie, Ferris essentially takes the part of Lisa from Weird Science, or Loki from Greek Mythology - he is the trickster, and he sets up everything for Cameron's journey - not his own. This is also borne out in the fact that Ferris is universally liked by the other students - he is the joker in the class, and not an outcast or outsider).

    About the author

    Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

    The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

    Archived Wordpress comments
    jce wrote on Tuesday, March 15, 2005:

    You should rent “mean girls” it is your poster child for teen movies.

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