Not too long ago, the movie “Deep Core” came up in the rotation on a cable movie channel. I had low expectations but decided to watch it (to feed my geeky affection for Wil Wheaton). As it progressed, I found myself drawn into it, fascinated by its striking similarity to another movie which I had already seen several times: “The Core“.
Watching this unfold, I just assumed that “Deep Core” was a low-budget rip-off of “The Core”, the kind of movie which shows up on the SyFy channel on Saturday nights. So many of the scenes and story beats matched up, I wondered how they could get away with plagiarism. It was only later, when I looked up the screenwriter credits for each movie, that I realized that the lesser-known title actually preceded the blockbuster by more than three years (at least based on release date).
The two movies had different directors and writers, completely separate origins it would seem. I don’t know anything about how Hollywood assigns the labels for credits, so I can only guess at why it matters that one movie pairs two people with “written by” for their names while the other specifies its two writers individually, giving one credit for “story” and the other for “screenplay”. No, I won’t try to guess (and I won’t bother to look it up right now) because this started my brain down a tangent path instead.
Basically, I started to think about what constitutes a story. To me as a viewer, I was experiencing the same core story — pun unavoidable — reenacted with minor differences in the details. Both movies had a team in an experimental vehicle, drilling thru the Earth’s crust, hitting a pocket of geodes, killing off one member by extreme magma heat, letting another be sacrificed so they could ultimately save the world by doing some techno-jargon procedure. How was it that the “story by” person did not get credit for both films?
Again, what constitutes a story? In the era of reboots and remakes, we’ve gotten used to seeing the same story retold from a new perspective, with characters tweaked (hello, Starbuck!) and locations transported (remember “Treasure Planet”?) and settings moved through time (have you *seen* the new Sherlock on PBS? Awesome!). I have lost count of how many different versions of “Alice in Wonderland” have been written, adapted, published, recorded, filmed, animated, reimagined, and turned into games. Aren’t they all the same story?
I have written characters and scenes of my own, but have failed to come up with a plot to drive them, so their stories are incomplete. I can describe where they are and what they are doing, I can give them dialog and feelings, but I cannot see where to take them next. My characters are stuck at a single point on a timeline. Even if I imagine them at another point in time, I don’t know how to move them from point A to point B. That gap is the core; their travel is the plot, and what happens along that path is the story.
The craft of story-telling is like playing in a sandbox compared to the magic of digging to find the core of a story.