A SCRIPT WRITER’S DILEMMA
On a recent day off, I realized I had a problem – I had two movie vouchers that were about to expire, but a glance at my Flixster app revealed there wasn’t much on that was worth seeing. What’s a script writing cinemaphile to do? Loath to waste the vouchers, I went for the two best rated films I hadn’t seen yet. Their ratings weren’t high, but I figured, hey, sometimes everybody else is wrong and I’m right, right?
Well, kiss my grits! Everybody else was right.
THE FIRST 15 MINUTES ARE CRUCIAL
There was plenty wrong with both films, but I’m not here to bash the blood, sweat and tears of fellow filmmakers. Instead, I want to muse in general on a critical part of screenwriting that I think could have been done better. To that end, I will talk about the beginning.
The first 10 minutes of a screenplay (and thus a film) is the most critical part of the whole enchilada. This is where the everyday life of a hero is revealed. This is their world. The writer is inviting the audience in to have a look around… and to give a shit. To care. To get emotionally invested in the hero before their world is turned upside down by events in the film.
Have you ever walked into/ turned on a movie more than 10 or 15 minutes into it? Bet you felt lost, huh? Of course you did. I bet you didn’t really end up caring that much about the hero, even if there were specials effects and boobs.
What about walking OUT of/ turning off a movie after 10 or 15 minutes? Ever done that? Bet you did it for the same reason: you just didn’t care about the hero.
Usually around that point in a film is when the crapola hits the fan. Something big happens to the hero and they end up spending the rest of the film trying to make things hunky-dory again. If the writer hasn’t done their job properly – or if you missed the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film – you won’t really care. Oh, you might care on some kind of primal level (gee, I hope that baby doesn’t die) but you won’t understand the beating heart of the story that was setup (or was supposed to have been setup) in those vital first minutes/ pages.
Screenplays and films that do succeed in making you care by that point are the ones you can watch over and over again. The ones that win awards and people talk about many years later.
This terrific video by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) reveals how Pixar does it: http://tinyurl.com/screenwriting-michael-arndt
HOW DO SCRIPT WRITER’S DO IT?
Listed below are a few examples of what some great movies/ tv shows did to introduce their heroes. Maybe it’ll give you an idea of some of the things a writer needs to do to capture the hearts of their audience.
Breaking Bad – Walter is left out in the desert in his broken down caravan dressed in his underwear. We see how he’s passionate about his job and loves his wife and handicapped son. That’s when he gets hit with the news he has cancer. By then we like him, so WE CARE.
Gladiator – Maximus is liked by his soldiers for being a skilled general who cares about and inspires them. He is liked by the emperor’s daughter and makes the emperor’s son jealous. He misses his family and keeps wooden carvings of their likeness. Then he’s betrayed and must flee for his life. WE CARE.
Casablanca – Rick is the owner of the hottest café in town. People want to know him. Women want to sleep with him. He says he “sticks his neck out for no one”, but he has a warm relationship with his black piano player and helps a young couple desperate for money to win at his casino. Then the old girlfriend who dumped him walks into the bar. WE CARE.
Rocky – He’s a blue-collar everyman, struggling to get by. He gets his face bashed in boxing for nickels, but he loves it and he’s pretty good at it. He collects debts to pay his own bills but doesn’t like being the bad guy. He has a crush on nerdy girl at the local pet store and he loves dogs and turtles. He’s such an underdog, that when the world champ gives him a shot, WE CARE.
The Godfather – Vito Corleone holds a lavish party for his daughter’s wedding. He is feared and respected by all who seek his favors. He holds loyalty above all else and rewards those who show him the same. His love for his family and his status in life makes us (God help us) CARE. Oh, and he likes his cat. So he can’t be all bad, right? (*choking on fur ball)
For some in-depth tips on how to create great characters like these, I recommend having a look at Michael Hauge’s book “Writing Screenplays that Sell”. You can read it online here: http://tinyurl.com/zd9ryzn
After reading the examples I’ve given above, the techniques in Chapter 3 – Character Development – will make more sense. They’ll definitely get you excited about making your own characters come alive.