It needs repeating again and again – every script needs conflict!
If you’ve been reading our articles on how to write conflict in a screenplay, then you know conflict (and obstacles for your characters) are essential to character development.
You can either employ external conflict or internal conflict. For more info on internal conflict, here’s our article on how to inject your screenplay with internal conflict.
In this article, we further explore the finer points of using external conflict in a movie script.
Examples of external conflict include the following:
And in this article, we go sci-fi on you and show you how to inject your movie screenplay with man vs. technology.
In a man vs technology conflict, our protagonist comes up against technology of some sorts.
As the name suggests, man vs. technology involves a human (male or female) in a battle of wits or brawn versus a technological obstacle – whether it be a robot or a computer software.
The protagonist can take the shape of “good” technology looking to stop “bad” technology. It is a common theme explored not just in modern sci-fi, but in many films even from the past century.
Audiences have always been thrilled by the possibility of humanity standing up to machines, and directors such as James Cameron have stretched the imagination with blockbusters like The Terminator.
The man vs technology angle is often used to explore the alternative of technology going wrong. Its subtext typically teaches to exercise caution with AI and forebodes the possibility of technology getting the upper hand.
It also answers concerns on what would happen if technology breaches its purpose while teaching viewers the essence of being human.
Existential questions can be the backbone of a thrilling man vs. technology conflict. Figuring out where strange objects, or life, for example, comes from is good fuel for a sci-fi thriller. The 1968 revolutionary sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey takes the audience on a bizarre origin story:
The film starts out with a showing of an ancient human civilization, whose life is changed and shaped by a strange alien monolith they discover. Humanity encounters the monolith once again millions of years later.
A team of astronauts comes across the artifact during an investigative space trip to a lunar crater. The origin of the monolith takes center stage in the story, as humans battle to figure out where it’s from and what it means.
🤖 HAL 900, an intelligent supercomputer that guides the trip, is the antagonist of the film.
He kills off the crew members in a bid to keep a radio message secret, instructing on a mission to investigate the monolith.
A total of three monoliths appear throughout the film, driving the entire plot. Made by an unknown extraterrestrial species, the protagonist of the film, Dr. Bowman is the only one who sees all three.
He successfully stops 🛑 HAL 900 and eventually winds up in a cosmic zoo where he interacts with the third monolith.
It shifts him through past and future versions of himself, and the experience turns him immortal.
Existential questions play out wonderfully, especially when left unanswered as in this classic.
At the end of the movie, we still don’t know where the monoliths are from. However, it is hinted that they are responsible for life as we know it.
Finding your theme
2001: A Space Odyssey deals with the existential question of life.
❓ Is life defined as being sentient?
❓ If so, should we fault a sentient computer program for wanting self-preservation?
This awakening or evolution of computers is the central question (and one of many themes) in the movie.
When approaching a man vs. technology narrative, identify the existential question that arises from your technology. If it’s dealing with AI, then explore the ramifications of a sentient computer, like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Deal with it on a small scale, like humans trapped in a space station with HAL.
Or go big and write an entire new world, like The Matrix, and have your protagonist fight armies of robots.
Big or small – always have a theme or a that lingering existential question that arises as a result of the technology explored in your movie screenplay.
Speaking of the The Matrix 👉👉👉
In this kind of plot line, the monsters or villains of the story are the big bad robots with big guns and lasers.
They are not looking to serve a higher being, the goal is clear and they push their own agenda. Humanity is the enemy and the machines will not rest until they are all dead.
A great movie where technology despises humanity is an all-time favorite, The Matrix.
After the world is taken over by machines who use human beings like a battery for their power source, a group of fugitives leads the war to take back what is theirs.
The war manifests in an artificially constructed world, the Matrix, where the protagonist “Neo” and his friends face off against technology’s minions.
Eventually, the battle also traverses into the real world in the last remaining human refuge city of Zion.
In the first Terminator movie, we learn that the machines believe humans to be their greatest threat.
The latter’s existence on the planet threatens theirs, and so the machines start a war before push comes to shove.
Having lost the war due to the heroics of resistance leader John Connor, the machines send a cyborg assassin back in time.
His mission is clear 👉👉👉
❌ Terminate John Connor’s mother before he is ever born.
The humans also send back a soldier of their own, Kyle Reese, after infiltrating a terminator base to get access to the technology. Kyle and Sarah Connor evade and eventually fight the terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, throughout the movie. In the second installment of the
Franchise though, the humans manage to get a terminator on their side.
That leads us to the next method of how to frame a man vs technology story 👉👉👉
Robots are often painted as the big bad in a man vs technology conflict, but sometimes writers can go the other way.
Exploring the “we’re not all bad angle,” such a film deconstructs the narrative that all technology is bad. It passes subtext that technology can be destructive, but useful at the same time.
Additionally, it can also be deciphered that not everyone is a certain way because they are from a certain place.
Such movies are usually a metaphor for stereotypes and tell the story from the discriminated side.
In Will Smith’s I, Robot, technology is on the side of humanity, at least one robot anyway. The plot follows the life of an advanced futuristic society in 2035, where humanoid robots are everywhere.
Helping with keeping the people safe and menial chores, the humanoids are a part of everyday life.
Detective Spooner is not too trusting of the machines due to a past encounter where a robot saved him over a 12-year-old girl as per cold logic.
He is called to investigate the murder of the CEO of the robot-manufacturing company, and he is soon proved right. He unwillingly partners with “Sonny,” a curious robot who is different from his blood-thirsty colleagues.
Together, they fight hordes of machinery and eventually win the war against the machines and the super-intelligent AI that controls them.
Alternatively, a robot or some technology can be the lead character in a film, but not necessarily a hero.
In the sterling HBO series Westworld, a virtual world is created to realize the fantasy of guests. Dolores is a charming robot that plays one of the hosts.
Her creator puts her through misery in the first season, ending with her killing the inventors in the finale. Starting out good and later turning bad, she embarks on a path of villainy over the following two seasons.
The story serves to show us how she was corrupted by the torture she endured. How someone can change from good to bad based on past experiences.
Once naïve and easily trusting, Dolores is now a cold-blooded killer with a fiery hatred for humans. The antihero variation is a popular technology vs man conflict that works for showing a common story from a rare side.
Finally, Dolores Abernathy should remind you of this 👉
The term “man vs. technology,” but the proper term should be “human vs. technology,” as in treat the narrative technique as gender neutral.
Dolores Abernathy is an example of an amazing female protagonist in a sci-fi screenplay. Another one is female bad arse Ripley from the classic Alien.
The #MeToo movement has had a major impact on Hollywood. More and more producers are looking for that next great script with a female protagonist.
So if you’re looking to sell you sci-fi script, consider using a female human or even better yet a female robot.
Whatever heroes you use for your man (or woman) vs. technology script, make sure you have a compelling central theme to go along with your laser busting plot.
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