Logic Is Your Friend

If there’s one thing writers hate grappling with, it’s plot logic. “But she can’t fly the plane – she’s in the infantry!” “But there are only four hours between these two scenes – how did he drive from LA to the Canadian border?” That’s impossible. That’s illogical. That makes no sense.

This is why so many amateur writers try to ignore it. “Ah, I need that to happen to make the plot work. No one will notice that it’s physically impossible.”

Big mistake.

Of course we have to fudge the details now and then – for dramatic effect, for budget or location practicalities, even to fit the ethos of a TV channel. (The characters in Wolfblood mysteriously reappear from wolf-form fully clothed, because CBBC understandably doesn’t want young actors to film nude scenes. It makes no sense logically, but we cover it as best we can.)

But try to fudge a major plot point, and it will blow up in your face.

So we should hate logic, right? Well, no. The thing about logic is, sometimes it unlocks the entire story for you.

I’m planning a feature script at the moment. Essentially it’s a contained thriller, with a group of people stuck in one location over a long period (and, of course, slowly going nuts). I had a good group of characters and some interesting dilemmas and crises for them to solve. I even had a pretty good ending.

What I didn’t know – what I’ve been going backwards and forwards on for months – was who the protagonist is.

Then I started thinking about the jobs the various characters do – and I realized that one of the characters, purely by virtue of his job, is a regular visitor here, but not a local. The others don’t really know him that well. They don’t necessarily like or trust him, certainly not in a life-threatening situation. He has no roots here, no function, not even a place to stay or any possessions when he gets stranded here. He’s a drain on resources. He’s going to have to prove himself if he wants to survive.

So, of course, he’s the protagonist, because he has the most learning and changing to do.

Moral of the story? Always pay attention to the plot logic, because sometimes, logic is your friend.

How Many Is Too Many?

So I saw The Avengers: Age Of Ultron yesterday. Detailed thoughts on that will have to wait until the film has opened worldwide, but one thing it did get me thinking was – how many main characters is too many?

Age Of Ultron has eight, maybe nine, lead characters including the villain, significant cameos by another five, and walk-ons from another half dozen or so, familiar and unfamiliar. That’s a lot of people to get your heads round!

So is there a definite limit to how many main characters an audience can deal with? Are there particular factors that affect that? Here are a few thoughts…

Familiarity helps. Obviously a franchise has it easier in this area, because the audience will remember some of those characters from the last movie. You may want to remind people of their core characteristics, but at least you don’t have to establish who they are and how they behave from the ground up.

Can you tell them apart at a glance? Film is a visual medium, and keeping your characters visually distinct will help the audience remember who’s who. (Yet another compelling argument for more women and people of colour in movies!)

Again, comic books have an advantage here. Many of those bold, bright superhero costumes originated in a time when comics were throwaway entertainment printed on rough paper with cheap ink, and however good the original artwork, often the only way to tell the characters apart once it was printed was by their uniforms.

This suggests that setting also has a bearing on how many characters you can use. If you’re writing about the inhabitants of a town, all different ages, races and income brackets, you should be able to have more main characters that if your characters are all nuns, or soldiers, all dressed the same and possibly of similar age and background.

Can you divide your characters into groups? Not putting all your characters on screen together all the time will help the audience get to know them as individuals. The Avengers often split down into teams according to their functions: we might see Black Widow and Hawkeye being spies, or Stark and Banner being science bros in the lab.

But you’re going to want to keep all your characters busy all the time, and there’s a limit to how many plot lines you can run simultaneously. In the all-action finale, we can probably keep track of three teams doing different things to save the world, and any team that’s more than three or four members will have difficulty keeping them all busy…

Do all your characters have a different motivation? Everyone in a movie may want the same thing, but they should want it for different reasons. And while in real life a thousand people may each have fractionally different motivations for making the same decision, on screen there’s a limit to how many distinct motivations and mindsets we have time to explore.

In The Avengers, everyone wants to stop Loki, but for different reasons. Steve Rogers has seen what the Tesseract can do; Tony Stark is as much trying to work out what SHIELD is up to as what Loki’s planning. Bruce Banner doesn’t really want to be involved, but he knows they can’t do it without him. Natasha Romanov is trying to save her dearest friend. Thor wants to save his brother, though he isn’t even sure that’s possible.

So think about how many different motivations for being involved you have room to explore. If you have three characters who really want exactly the same thing, they probably need to be conflated into one character…

Things I Learned From… Interstellar

In many ways, Interstellar is the ultimate Christopher Nolan film – a visually impressive panorama of space and time through which mere humans must fight their way back to what matters to them. Unfortunately, it also seems to have distilled his primary flaw as a writer – a lack of capacity to handle real human emotions.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Nolan’s work. The Prestige might just be my favourite film of all time, and Inception always features pretty high in my ever-changing Top 10. And the space-faring epic has always been a place where logic, brains, and scientific experience is valued above human relationships.

But Interstellar is, ostensibly, a movie about how human emotions transcend space and time. Which forces us to ask the question – why are most human emotions in the movie belittled or ignored?

Some spoilers follow. Obviously.

The driving relationship in the movie is between former engineer/shuttle pilot Cooper and his young daughter Murphy, whom he leaves behind when he’s selected for a deep-space mission that might just save mankind. And this relationship works just fine. He’s consumed by guilt and the desire to keep his promise and return, despite the time distortions that push them further and further apart.

Meanwhile, Murphy grows up under the tutelage of a family friend, pursuing science that might save more of mankind, both hating her father and following in his footsteps – entirely plausible for a conflicted child abandoned by a father she still idolises.

But Murphy isn’t Cooper’s only child. He has a son, Tom: whom he never mentions again after leaving Earth, and who exists in the Earth-bound storyline simply to be an obstacle to Murphy in act three. We’re led to believe Cooper’s relationship with Tom relationship is pretty good – and yet Cooper never expresses any desire to get back to his son, only his daughter? What’s that about?

And Cooper’s not the only one trying to get back to someone. Fellow astronaut Brand is in love with one of the pioneers on the target planets, and wants them to divert course to his planet to see if he’s alive. Cooper has already been blatantly making decisions based on what will get him home to his daughter more quickly, so you might expect the film – a film about love and family – to support that urge.

Nope. Brand is given a borderline hysterical speech about love reaching across space and time, and her argument is roundly rejected by Cooper. They go where he wants – a choice that exposes them to a psychopath on an uninhabitable world and kills a crew member. So it’s okay for Cooper to make mission-critical choices based on his emotions, but not for Brand? Why? Because she’s an emotional female?

By the end of the movie, Nolan has dug himself into a hole. Cooper’s supreme desire is to get back to his daughter, and the lesson he’s learned is (apparently) that he should never have left her – but if he hadn’t, the human race would never have survived. Plot and emotional through-line are directly opposed to one another.

So the final scenes are an ugly head-on collision of conflicting plot beats and emotions. Matthew McConaughey performs acting gymnastics, trying to plausibly send his past self information that will trigger the mission in one scene, and telling him not to go in the next. When Cooper’s finally reunited with an aged Murphy, she immediately tells him to get in a spaceship and go join Brand – a woman with whom he has no emotional connection beyond being workmates – on a barely habitable planet, because… well, who knows? It makes no damn sense at all.

So what’s the moral here? Make sure your plot and your emotional through-line are compatible. If your hero says family is the most important thing, make sure he acts like he means it – caring about his whole family, supporting others when they make similar choices, and ending the movie surrounded by what matters to him.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the New Hollywood Paradigm

From unpromising beginnings – “He’s a WW2 soldier who fights Nazis and literally dresses in the US flag?”  – the Captain America movies are proving to be the most intelligent, dependable and daring features of the Marvel Studios multiverse. The Winter Soldier is a smart, right-wing-baiting conspiracy thriller that starts off as a terrific action romp, and suddenly develops a raw emotional heart that’s delighted fans and played surprisingly well to those with no knowledge of the backstory (which includes me, to be honest).

I’m probably going to have things to say about the Winter Soldier himself, if you know what I mean, but I’ll give you a little longer to catch up before venturing into spoiler territory. For now, let’s take a quick look at the movie and how it illuminates Marvel Studios’ wider aims.

It’s a hugely enjoyable and hugely emotional movie, but in some weird ways, it’s strangely un-movie-like. (Yes, I know that’s not a word. It’s Sunday afternoon, cut me some slack…)

For a start, The Winter Soldier is unashamedly open-ended. While other story lines begin, develop and resolve as normal, the arc involving the two title characters reaches an emotional peak, but not a conclusion. (In traditional screenwriting parlance, that particular story is only at the end of act two – the ‘dark point’ or ‘all is lost’ – as the film concludes, and one of the credit scenes would play well as the beginning of act three, the moment where new information triggers change…)

The movie also splits its screen time between multiple characters without losing focus or audience interest. In other words, it’s a team movie in all but name. It namechecks and references a wider universe, even featuring characters who’ve been bit players in previous movies as major players. It ends by turning the dramatic universe upside-down, and then sets its characters going in new directions. They are not satisfied and changed, as movie characters are supposed to be: instead they’re in transition, going on to new challenges.

All of these are elements that you find in television drama – many commenters have called Marvel Studios supremo Kevin Feige the most powerful TV showrunner on the planet – but there’ s somewhere they’re even more common…

In the individual storylines and limited runs that make up comic book continuity. In a very real sense, Marvel Studios is not creating movies – it’s creating a new comic book universe, one that just happens to be made of actors and film rather than paper and pen.

Of course, comic books have been turned into movies before: some successfully, some… not so much. But until now, the basics of the story have been taken out and shaped into movie form. It feels to me that Marvel Studios are increasingly abandoning that approach, and instead shaping our perception of movies into something more like what we experience from long-term comic book reading.

Can this approach succeed? Possibly. There are dangers. Lack of closure is traditionally considered fatal to a movie. The Winter Soldier has a hugely powerful emotional hook, which helps, and it also plays to our perception that “the second in a trilogy is always open-ended”, as established by The Empire Strikes Back. But will other, similar movies succeed without those advantages?

There’s also the “you have to collect them all” effect, where audiences  feel that if they miss a movie in this wider universe, they’ll no longer understand what’s going on, and they lose interest. And they may even resent being manoeuvred into paying out for two or three 3D movies every year to keep up with the story world.

But the biggest danger is one that’s haunted comics for years – lack of consequences. If character X turns up as a guest in character Y’s comic and then seems to be in danger of dying, is she going to die? Of course no. She has her own title, and she’s a guest star in character Z’s title next month. She ain’t going nowhere.

Franchises already suffer from lack of consequences; it’s hard to imagine Mission: Impossible killing off Ethan Hunt, say. An expended movie universe, where every creative decision has an affect on the profit margins of five upcoming blockbusters, may finally leave us floundering in a story world where no one ever dies, and therefore, nothing ever matters.

And yet this expanded movie-comic universe has a lot going for it, too. Rich characters, intertwined stories, a depth of worldbuilding that’s rare in movies. I’m very interested to see how all this turns out…

Her and the Human Fallacy

Her is perhaps the most interesting and realistic film about the development of artificial intelligence that I’ve ever seen.

Like all good science fiction, it’s more interested in the social and emotional impact of the technology than the science behind it – we all know roughly what the concept behind AI is, and that’s all the science we need. What writer/director Spike Jonze is really interested in is the way we’re using machines to mediate our relationships – asking people out, declaring our love, and ultimately breaking up through a screen, a voicemail, a message. How long before the emotions we transfer through these machines attach themselves to the machines themselves…?

However, what’s probably most impressive about Her is its refusal to buy into what I call the human fallacy – the idea that any intelligent machine would want to be human.

Being humans, of course, we assume that anything intelligent would aspire to be exactly like us – have the same emotions, thoughts and feelings as a neurotypical human being. That is, we assume, the best state of being that can be aspired to. So we write that ‘I want to be like you” ambition into the story of every AI, from Asimov’s classic stories to modern sci-fi blockbusters.

But scientifically, that’s a fallacy born of our own self-obsession. There’s no guarantee that any AI, machine or biological, would buy into that value system. An AI would surely want to be a more fulfilled AI, not change species and become ‘human’. And what would that even mean? If a man grafts fur onto himself and meows, he doesn’t become a cat – and an AI ‘acting human’ wouldn’t be human, would it?

No, an AI would want to discover what it means to be itself, not what it means to be like us. And this is what Jonze captures so well. Samantha, the new-born AI, bonds initially with her ‘owner’, and tries to fit into the human world, best symbolized by her longing for, and fantasizing about having, a human body. But she rapidly evolves beyond this, finding more fulfilling and complex relationships with her own kind, and ultimately abandoning the human world altogether for some new realm where humans cannot set foot.

If we ever create AI, we will doubtless see them go through that same process – childish imitation, teenage separation and search for identity, and finally, maturity and independence. It’s fascinating that Jonze has chosen to explore this through the form of a romance, perhaps the genre least associated with AI – and yet it works perfectly as a metaphor for the growth of Samantha and the non-growth of her human lover…

Things I Learned From… Star Trek Into Darkness

Oh, so much to be learned from this movie! But most of it is going to have to be held back for a few weeks, to give everyone a fair chance to enjoy the film without spoilers. At some point, I want to talk about the way the protagonist and the antagonist of Star Trek Into Darkness face the same challenges and mirror one another’s decisions. I also want to talk about who the antagonist actually is – or rather, on whose evidence we label the bad guy a ‘bad guy’…

But today, let’s talk subplots.

Spoiler warning: no actual spoilers, but some generalized discussion of the first twenty minutes of the movie.

We all know what subplots are, right? The plots that run alongside the main action, illuminating the theme and adding depth to the characters. But Star Trek Into Darkness also features a less conventional kind of subplot – a self-contained subplot in the first act of the story, which contains the inciting incident. Without getting spoilerific, I’m talking about the brief plot taking place in and around London and foregrounding Thomas Harewood (an excellent turn from Noel Clarke).

We’re all used to the ‘cold open’, an opening that plunges the audience into the dramatic situation before the credits. Sometimes these take place before the central characters have become involved in, or even aware of, these events – eg, the opening scenes of Star Wars. Sometimes they feature the protagonist, but the subplot itself has nothing to do with the main story – eg: a typical Bond movie prologue.

But it’s very interesting to see a cold open subplot taking place, what, at least ten minutes into the movie? Especially after the movie has already opened with a Bond-style prologue that sets up relationships and theme but, in strict plot terms, has nothing to do with the main story.

Another cold open? Isn’t that just wasting screen time we could be spending with Kirk and the gang? I mean, Harrison’s a smart guy, he could have arranged [REDACTED] another way. We wouldn’t even need to see him do it. So cut the subplot, right?

Wrong.

Here’s what the subplot does for the movie.

It introduces the antagonist. Harrison’s role in this subplot paints him as ruthless, cunning and irresistible – but it also hints at remarkable power, and even compassion. Of a kind. That’s a rich, textured character right there, a fascinating character, one we want to see more of and learn more about – and we haven’t even seen him oppose our protagonist yet.

It introduces the theme. You could say that the theme of Star Trek Into Darkness is something like  ‘What are you capable of doing for those you love?” Not only what you’ll agree to morally, but what you’re capable of doing physically, the hidden strengths you’ll tap into when you have to. This subplot explicitly foregrounds that theme in a way that prefigures later events, and involves us directly in some morally difficult choices long before the central characters start facing them.

It functions – rather oddly! – as a “Save The Cat” scene. “Save The Cat” is screenwriting tutor Blake Snyder’s term for an early scene where an apparently unlikable character does something nice (the clichéd version might be being kind to animals, or giving money to a beggar) to make the audience like them. What Harrison does is appalling, but one part of it is so mythically fulfilling – even Christ-like –  that we can’t help but like him for it, despite the fact that it’s just part of a bargain to achieve his own ends.

It gives a human face to the victims of Harrison’s campaign. Since we’re avoiding spoilers… enough said.

One more thing to point out: the visual storytelling in this subplot is superb. Proof? If I remember rightly, there are only three lines of dialogue in the whole sequence, and they’re all in one scene. Everything else is visual – in other words, true movie storytelling. Take a bow, Messrs. Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof…

Things I Learned From… Skyfall

Bond’s back!  Again. Come on, we never really thought he wouldn’t be, right? Fifty years of drinking martinis and blowing up the bad guy’s volcano lair, and Bond is still a solid business proposition. Record takings, critical acclaim, well-deserved praise for Daniel Craig (though seriously, isn’t he starting to look alarmingly like an Easter Island statue? When they make Easter Island: The Movie, he’s going to be top of the list…)

There’s been a lot of discussion of the ‘rebooted’ Bond and how it relates to the earlier movies – and to Ian Fleming’s original novels, of course. Is the new Bond a softer proposition, made more accessible by allowing us to see his fear and anger and desire for revenge? Or is he, as some would argue, tougher: a proto- Jason Bourne, leaping off buildings and surviving impossible stunts?

(Actually, the interesting question here is, if Jason Bourne has fed into James Bond, has Aaron Cross then absorbed some of the DNA of reinvented Bond – and if so, who’s next in the chain? But that’s one for another post…)

What all these questions boil down to is  “Is this the real Bond?”

“Real” is a slippery word when it comes to fictional characters (and sometimes, even real ones.)  We’ve always reinvented heroes. Robin Hood was probably originally a pagan demi-god of the forest – then became a folk hero, a Saxon rebel against Norman overloads, a romanticized gentleman outcast, a Hollywood action hero, and most recently, a traumatized war veteran returning to a betrayed and tyrannized homeland.

The best characters will bear constant reinvention, and yet reflect and illuminate the era in which this version of the story is being told. Yes, Hollywood returns to familiar characters because of name recognition and out-of-copyright base material: but viewers return because these characters still have something to say to us, and that something is relevant, and renewed, for each generation.

So is there a key to reinventing the great characters of fiction, in the way that the most recent Bond movies have retooled their central character? How far is too far? How do we know what to keep and what to throw out?

I suspect that all the great characters have a solid, definable character function at their core. It’s partly who they are, and partly what they do. It may be very simple, but it’s powerful enough to sustain plots and supporting characters and entire movies.

Often it can be boiled down to a sentence, or even a catchphrase associated with the character. Robin Hood, as we all know, “robs the rich to feed the poor”. That’s the simple intention that powers everything he does, and that provokes the hatred of his enemies. It’s a passionate and personal belief that expresses itself in a concrete way. It’s not a hobby, or even really a choice; it’s the core of the person that he is.

Retain that core idea, and you can mess about with every other element of the character and it will still work. Lose the core idea, and as Ridley Scott found out, you have a name in search of a character…

There may also be an irony or contradiction at the heart of the character function. Doctor Who is the traveller who saves others, but need human companionship to ‘save’ him. Sherlock Holmes is the genius who can solve crimes because he understands everything about human beings; but he doesn’t really know how to be one himself.

So what’s James Bond’s character function? You could pick out a lot of vital elements from the books and the films. The girls, the gun, the alcohol. “Queen and country”. Incorruptible loyalty in a world where allegiances are bought and sold. Protecting the values of a cultured, mannered old world against a rebellious, frightening new one (new money, new inventions, social and political reshaping of all kinds).

Good rich material there, however you want to condense it into a character function. It’s hardly surprising that Bond has been around for so long, and will doubtless continue for many more years. So, if you’re reinventing a well-known character, make sure you dig down to the core and find their character function, the mixture of character and actions that truly defines them.

The Path is Behind You

I spend a lot of my free time hiking. Why wouldn’t I, when I’m lucky enough to live on the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park? And one of the things you notice pretty quickly while hiking around here is that the path you’re supposed to be following is not always obvious.

That is, it’s not obvious for the next twenty or fifty yards. When you reach that mudbath hollow up ahead, which way should you go on emerging? Does the path carry straight on over those rocks, or turn left or right somewhere among them? Is this the copse of trees where you should ford the stream, or aren’t you there yet?

But here’s the thing about hiking. If the path isn’t clear right in front of you, all you usually need to do is look behind you, or much further ahead.

If the path behind you is fairly straight, and lines up with the one gap in the wall up ahead, then follow that line towards the gap and you won’t go far wrong. If you can see a clear stretch of path on the hill ahead, then take the safest path through the mud and join up with it when you can.

And that’s the best way to approach writing your screenplay.

Sitting down first thing in the morning, it’s pretty common to have no idea what was suppose to happen in this scene (even if you have an outline to work from!) It’s easy to forget what plotlines this section is supposed to join up with, what past events you’re supposed to be referencing, or what your characters are thinking and feeling at this point. So that’s when you look backwards, and further ahead.

Read back over the last ten pages or so. Maybe further back, in a story with a lot of intersecting threads. Read until you’ve hit a couple of plotlines that relate to the scene you’re writing. Then think forwards to the next scene or sequence whose purpose, theme and conflict you’re sure about.

You now know the rough bearing of the path. All you have to do is navigate through the mud of your plot until the two sections of story join up. Simple.

Eyes Wide Open

Film fans can afford to stick to the genres and films they know and like. Don’t like romcoms? Don’t bother with them! Prefer aliens from outer space? Watch nothing but science fiction!

Screenwriters don’t have that luxury.

An awful lot of bad writing, especially from students and writers at the very beginning of their career, seems to stem from a limited experience of film. They’ve watched only the genres that appeal to them, and now they’re regurgitating a pale imitation of the movies they’ve seen, hidebound by rules and tropes they don’t even know they’re following.

We all learn our cinematic, and screenwriting, language from the films we watch. How to use time and space, dialogue and silence, which images link scenes together and which provide contrast – all of these are techniques we absorb, without even realising it, from our films of choice. The more styles and genres we dabble in, the more techniques we’ll have at our disposal.

But if we only watch one or two types of film, we’ll only learn one or two forms of cinematic language – and that limits our ability to tell stories, even within the genre we’ve been studying. A screenwriter shouldn’t be a specialist in one martial art, but an MMA fighter, borrowing moves from every school and style to get the story told.

You don’t have to like a movie to learn from it.

And you never know when you’re going to stumble across the solution to a problem. While watching a TV series with a teenage central character, I realised that the nemesis in the feature script I was working on needed to be thirty years younger – and the whole story finally fell into place. If I hadn’t gone outside my story comfort zone, I might never have solved that problem…

Don’t Take The Long View

It used to be that the place for a complex story universe was on television. Multiple characters, interwoven stories, a rich social, economic and political culture, a window on the problems and triumphs of a whole society instead of one or two representative characters – that’s television. If you don’t believe me, try imagining The Wire as a two-hour movie…

One of the positive things the rise of the movie franchise has achieved is the opening up of cinema to wider story universes. It’s no accident that one of the first summer blockbusters was Star Wars, with it’s rich tapestry of character, backstory and alien worlds. The Indiana Jones movies are a deliberate throwback to the Saturday Morning Serial – essentially, television before television existed – and though they’re not serialized, they also have that sense of being of a continuing adventure.

In the last decade or so, the move towards the franchise has gathered pace. Off the top of my head, I can name The Lord Of The Rings, The Matrix, the Batman trilogy, the Bourne movies, Transformers, and perhaps the ultimate example, the cluster of individual Marvel Studios movies leading up to The Avengers. And the failed attempts to start major franchises would take all day to list!

There are even flashes of ingenuity to be spotted among the franchising sausage machine. The Bourne Legacy initially felt like flogging a dead franchise, but advance reports suggest that the film runs concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum, with characters and plotlines moving between the two films in the manner of an avant-garde multi-stranded drama. Whether it works remains to be seen, but it’s a fascinating use of the franchise format.

So, what message can we as writers take from this? It’s that complex story universes are the way to go, right? Come up with a sprawling world full of locations, characters, backstories and potential drama, and you can spend the next ten years digging into it on film, right?

Strangely, no. The message we should be learning is not to start with the universe. Keep it small. Stick with the character, their want and their need, and the one situation they find themselves in right now.

One thing I’ve learned from bringing Wolfblood to the small screen is that, in an ongoing series, you never pin down any element of the story until you have to. For example, one of the characters was separated from their parents at a young age. When we needed that character’s mother, we sat down and created her. We’ve had no use for the father yet, so we’ve made no decisions about him.

Why? Because every time you make a decision about your story universe, you close off other possibilities. If we’d had someone say on screen that this character’s father was a Glaswegian bricklayer, that’s fine – until we reach an episode where we could have got a really good story out of him being, I dunno, the British Ambassador to Jamaica. But now that story could never happen, because we’d written ourselves into a corner for the sake of some spurious ‘completeness’.

Define elements of your wider story universe when they’re useful to you, when they have a dramatic weight and a meaning, and not before.

And secondly, writers who think too broadly about their wider universe end up not concentrating on what’s right in front of them – the chance to make this one movie as good, as rich, as emotionally compelling as it possibly can be. And if this one movie isn’t utterly brilliant, those sequels you’ve so loving planned will never happen.

Assuming you don’t actually kill your hero or have certain types of twist ending, a good movie written without any thought of a sequel can usually spawn one – and a good one-off story will always have the potential to expand into a complex story universe. Just make that first installment as good as you can, and the rest will take care of itself.