Theme vs. Story

When I started the first draft of Indy Film, all I really wanted to do was tell a story I thought was worth telling. I thought the story of two guys making a film against all odds would connect with people so I wrote it just the way it first came to me. It didn't quite land the way I wanted it to. First of all, it was over 140 pages long. That's an immediate red-flag. Then there was also the fact that it didn't seem to flow all that well. It felt disorganized. It felt choppy. It felt like it needed a theme.

Between the first draft and the second draft, I developed the theme. I narrowed it down to its simplest form and planned to focus on that in every scene of the script. The story would still be there, but it would be unified by this theme. It could still be a personal story, but with a universal theme, right?

Apparently not yet, no. The story still came out too personal. Too "inside joke." Too one-sided. The theme didn't fix that any more than tightening up the story points did.

So I'm left asking myself what's the answer? Is theme more important than story? Is story more important than theme? Are they equally important? Which one should I write from?

Maybe it's just that the theme didn't work well enough with the story. My idea was that the overriding theme would be one of self-worth. It would be a story about two guys (hopefully) learning their value. Maybe the self-referential format doesn't fit with that theme too well.

Or maybe it's not an issue with the theme at all. Maybe I'm just too caught up in the meta storyline. Maybe I need to focus less on how it turns in on itself and focus more on the theme. Maybe too little theme is still the problem.

But I've always heard "if you want to send a message, try Western Union." So I'm supposed to know my theme and follow it, but don't try to convey it, I guess.

Boy, and they said writing was easy.

What do you think? Do you like a story that's clearly "about" something or do you want the message to get out of the way and just let you watch the explosions?