Saturday, 2 May 2009


Genius or nutter? It's hard to say, really, but Stanley Kubrick knew how to make a movie.

He was naturally obsessive, which is probably no bad thing when it comes to making movies. Even us writers ought to be obsessive about our scripts.

One of Kubrick's obsessions was with Non-Submersible Elements.

Now, I'm sure you've all heard of these things. No? Weird.

Actually, Kubrick's 'Non-Submersible Elements' is just a fancy phrase for a fairly straightforward thing.

No movie should be without its non-submersible elements. These are those stand-out moments which make the movie memorable.

A non-submersible element can be a sequence or a scene, it can be a moment, a line, a shot, an image. Whatever. It is one of those things which makes that particular movie unique.

And Kubrick seemed to be of the opinion that every movie should have roughly eight of these NSE's.

Now, how often, when we're devising, developing, writing and rewriting our screenplays, do we stop to consider the non-submersible elements? How often to we pause and ask ourselves, 'Which are the eight-or-so moments in my script that will really stand out?'

We should do. Because it's those moments which matter. They are designed to stick in the mind. Non-submersible elements are what set your script, your movie, apart from all the others.

And they're something we ought to be bearing in mind right from the very start of the screenwriting process.

What's a script (or a movie) without non-submersible elements? The chances are it's a fairly mundane piece of storytelling. You may well find that a particularly memorable line, exchange, moment or sequence happens naturally in your script. Whether you manage eight or so of those moments naturally, without thinking about them, is another matter.

But knowing that a script, or a movie, should have those stand-out moments is essential if you are going to make those moments shine.

As you work on your screenplay, you should have a good idea about which moments, which elements, in your script are the non-submersible ones - and you should treat them with great care. They are the high points, the classic moments, which make your script unique. They need to be nurtured, polished, carefully set up and brilliantly executed.

Think about some of your favourite movies. What images, which moments, instantly spring to mind? Chances are, they're the non-submersible elements.

So - does your script have non-submersible elements? Does it have anything up to eight moments which stand out and shine? Is each one different, unique? Have you given each one of them its full impact and value?

What's a screenplay without classic moments? It's probably a waste of time.

Remember your non-submersible elements, and send a little prayer of thanks up to Mr Kubrick for giving them such a useful if, at first glance, baffling name.

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