Science fiction often provides a stark lens we can view the world from, as well as amazing special effects. But one thing I enjoy the most is seeing new takes on one gritty detail: weapons. If your chosen genre is sci-fi (check out our article on how to pick a genre for your script), then here are a few films you should take notes from.
The first ten pages of the original Star Wars script describe the iconic blasters very little. Instead, they focus on the results: the “Rebel troopers aiming their weapons,” “laserfire,” and “deadly bolts.” One reason for that is to streamline the script to keep the action flowing.
While it’s difficult to say how much theorycrafting went into creating the blaster, they do offer a few advantages over today’s weapons:
The first two factors alone might convince soldiers to throw away their slug throwing weapons in exchange for the red blaster bolt.
Set in the year 2104, you would expect Alien: Covenant to feature advanced weapons like the M4A1 Pulse Rifles of Aliens. As a big fan of the franchise, I sure did, only to be disappointed by the security officers of the ship carrying off-the-shelf AR-15s and bullpup rifles.
That thought stuck with me throughout the scares and well after the movie. Why weren’t these civilians using the same weapons I had grown to love? Then it hit me: because they are civilians. The Covenant is a corporation owned ship, it only makes sense that they wouldn’t be equipped as well as the Colonial Marines.
Surely they’d have developed something else for civilians in the eighty-plus years between today and when it’s set, right? Not exactly. Modern weapon design has plateaued with only a few minor changes over the last few decades. There are even some militaries that use the seventy-three year old AK-47 design.
While today’s military is experimenting with telescoping ammunition, I can only imagine that what we have now will be around well after 2104.
The Mad Max universe runs on three things: water, gasoline, and bullets. All three are made very apparent from the onset, but the latter is made a key point in Fury Road. The cars and guns that are needed to thrive are readily abundant, but the consumables they run on are heavily limited. This scarcity is apparent in the scene where Max tries to take out the Bullet Farmer (a man who rose to power monopolizing ammunition) with only a few rounds. Instead of wasting the last shot, he hands the SKS semi-automatic rifle off to Furiosa, a better sharpshooter.
This helps develop a sense of desperation: the characters need to make the most of the limited resources they have. Doing this brings the post-apocalyptic setting to life, and helps establish the film’s stakes.
While we can see swords in the promo images for the new movie, the original Dune stuck to knives and daggers. Normally, blades have a limited place in modern or science fiction movies, but Dune provides a valid justification for their prominent place. Most nobles wear a force field that protects them from fast projectiles like bullets, but “the slow blade penetrates the shield.”
Not only is this a great way to add some melee fight scenes that would otherwise be out of place in sci-fi movies with advanced weapons, it also pulls from the arms vs. armor race of today. We’re constantly coming up with new ceramic and plastic armor plates for soldiers, and then with new bullets to defeat them. Everything has or will soon have a countermeasure.
Also, blades are able to penetrate some body armor when some bullets can’t.
Okay, I may like these movies too much, but the lightsaber could easily be the ultimate blade. It’s compact and easy to carry, can effectively cut and thrust (most blades focus on one or the other), and it’s equally potent against flesh and armor. The only downsides are no hand protection and the iconic noise they make.
You may have heard the advice to make your main characters “unusual and above average.” Captain America, a supersoldier who uses a shield as a weapon, sure fits the bill.
While we don’t have combat drugs just yet, shields have historically been used as weapons. The Spartans often employed their 14 kilo aspis to attack and push enemies away as well as block. The Vikings did something similar (though theirs weighed half as much), and they were even known to throw their round shields. However, theirs never bounced back.
Modern police forces employ a ballistic shield that is rated to stop pistol rounds. These weigh about 9 kilos, so they’re not used or carried day-to-day. Captain America’s shield provides him with a great amount of protection like those do, but at a reduced weight. They can also focus his considerable strength to the shield’s hard vibranium edge.
Interestingly, there have been recent developments in using plastics for body armor. A UHMWPE ballistic plate weighs 1/3rd the amount of the standard steel one. Using that technology, we’ll soon be able to make Captain America’s shield a reality.
As I mentioned before with Dune, every weapon, no matter how powerful, has a countermeasure. The lightsaber resistant sword/whip wielded by the Praetorian Guards was their method of combating Force-sensitive enemies with lightsabers.
While you should have a firm grasp on what types of swords or firearms you want to feature in your screenplay, and why you’ve chosen those, you need to limit the amount of exposure and exposition they receive.
Let’s take a look at a full excerpt from the Star Wars script.
The nervous Rebel troopers aim their weapons. Suddenly a tremendous blast opens up a hole in the main passageway and a score of fearsome armored spacesuited stormtroopers make their way into the smoke-filled corridor.
In a few minutes the entire passageway is ablaze with laserfire. The deadly bolts ricochet in wild random patterns creating huge explosions. Stormtroopers scatter and duck behind storage lockers.
Lucas doesn’t take a moment to explain the mechanics of blasters. He doesn’t even explain what they look like, but it’s very clear what they do.
A good approach is to look at weapons in a script like an iceberg. You, the author, need to know as much as possible, but only the most important ten percent of that should show in your script. The function, limitations, effects, and outcomes they produce are the most important points to convey.
However, you should keep the remaining ninety percent of your information handy. You could accomplish this by keeping a separate document with technology and worldbuilding notes. Or you can use Arc Studio Pro’s commenting feature to keep everything in one easy place without detracting from your script.
Either way, following this method will keep your script streamlined, yet fully realized.
Free trial, no credit card required