Vulnerability Scenes

Everyone who has heard me speak or teach knows how fundamental vulnerability is to making a movie or television show memorable. The way an audience BONDS with a character is through scenes where the character is vulnerable. Here are some of my favorites– what are yours?

something-about-mary-etbscreenwritingHumiliation Scenes

SOMETHING ABOUT MARY: The scene starts with Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) gazing out a bathroom window, it appears he is window peeping, he panics and then his zipper gets embarrassingly (and painfully) stuck.

MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING: The scene starts with Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) stirring up trouble by taking Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) and fiancee Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz) for a drink at a Karaoke Bar. Kimmy is pressed into singing possibly the worst Karaoke debut in history. She completely “owns” it and turns everyone’s groans into cheers. This is also a great example of a comedic turnaround.

BRIDGET JONES: The scene starts with Bridget (Renee Zellwegger) showing up at a party in an embarrassingly tight Bunny costume scene. No one else is wearing a costume. She was never told the party plan was changed.

8068-19818Rejection Scenes

TOOTSIE: The scene starts with a montage of Michael Dorsey’s (Dustin Hoffman) audition scenes. He is told he is too short, too tall, too young, too old etc.

JERRY MACGUIRE: The scene starts as Jerry (Tom Cruise) is frantically watching the lights blinking out on his phone as all his old clients hang up and avoid him.

WITNESS: The scene starts as Det. Capt. John Brook (Harrison Ford) stumbles on Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) bathing in her room. She drops her towel and he turns away. The next scene finds him in agony in his room.

et5Unfairness Scenes

ET: The scene starts with Elliot (Henry Thomas) spotting the strange creature E.T. No one believes him and his brother makes fun of him.

TITANIC: Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) is framed for stealing a jewel. He protests his innocence. No one believes him except Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) He is taken away in handcuffs.

HOME ALONE: The scene starts with Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) fighting with his brother. He is blamed for creating a mess, despite his protests, he is sent to his room.

WIZARD OF OZ: The scene starts with Mrs. Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) reporting Toto attacked her cat. Despite Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) protests Toto is taken away.

casablanca-train-rain-etbscreenwritingAbandonment Scenes

CASABLANCA: The scene starts as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is waiting for Ilsa. He gets a goodbye note from her and is left at the station to board the train without her.

ET: The scene starts as the Mother Ship leaves and ET is left behind.

Taking Woodstock – Bummer

taking-woodstock-etbscreenwritingThe 40th anniversary of Woodstock, which took place from August 15 to August 18, 1969 is being marked forty years and eight days later by the release of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock. Reviews are not quite groovy. I concur with the downbeat analysis. Here’s what the major critics had to say:

Lou Lumenick in The New York Post complains that Lee “turns the fabled music festival, a key cultural moment of the late 20th century, into an exceedingly lame, heavily clichéd, thumb-sucking bore.” Likewise Rafer Guzmán in the New York Daily News calls the movie “frustratingly sedate, more opiate than hallucinogen.” Taking note of Lee’s assertion at the Cannes Film Festival last May that “I wanted to make a comedy after making so many tragedies,” Claudia Puig in USA Today comments, “He has done that, but he also has made a surprisingly bland film.” She concludes: “Lee’s movie captures the mellow mood and mud-caked faces of the crowd but misses the reverberations of the counterculture revolution.”

But Stephen Holden, who calls the movie “likable, humane,” suggests that such a task was never the object of the filmmaker. “Taking Woodstock,” he writes, “is a gentle, meandering celebration of personal liberation at a moment when rigid social barriers were becoming more permeable, at least among the young.” Several reviewers also find much to praise about the movie even while giving it barely passing grades. Betsy Sharkey comments in the Los Angeles Times that the movie amounts to “a meticulously rendered and achingly authentic portrait of a time and a place that is, by turns, sweeping and intimate, poignant and painful, funny and flat, emotional and emotionless. It’s a frustrating complication of a movie with a sprawling story and grand ambitions — and some truly grand acting — that stumbles almost as often as it soars. Bummer.”

I agree. Take away the residual nostalgia factor and the story just doesn’t stand on it’s own. The main character simply meanders through his Coming of Age choices. His choices cost him very little so his actions (or actually reactions) are robbed of meaning.  To see how examples on how Coming of Age films should be constructed check out the article in the Power of Idealism section.

The Queen – Power of Conscience

The Queen, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, is a pitch perfect character study.  Anyone interested in writing complex, interesting characters that are fully formed three-dimensional human beings must see this film. The Queen is a masterful example of character development.
The film takes place in August 1997, in the days after Diana (divorced from Prince Charles), dies as the result of a car crash in Paris.  At the same time, Tony Blair settles into his new position as Labor Prime Minister.  Blair makes a stirring and immensely popular speech in tribute to Diana, no longer the Princess of Wales but forever “The People’s Princess.”
The Queen and Royal Family, at Balmoral Castle for the summer, opt to maintain royal protocol in seclusion.  They are publicly silent about Diana’s death. Many people felt Queen Elizabeth acted in a cold and disconnected manner immediately after Diana’s death. They saw her as a villain in Diana’s story.  But there are two sides to every story.  And…
Every Antagonist is the hero of his or her own story.
Stephen Fears’ brilliant film looks at the story from what was the commonly supposed antagonist’s point of view.  We see behind the stiff royal veneer and into the heart of the complex human being that is Queen Elizabeth.
In the film, the Queen has her own emotional journey during the tragic events that ended Diana’s life.  She wrestles mightily with her own internal values.  Queen Elizabeth makes a leap at the end of the story that requires as much strength and courage as any epic physical battle.
Her action in making that leap defines what it is to be a good leader.  In what must have felt like a moment of personal defeat, Queen Elizabeth emerges publicly triumphant, her reign is secure.
General writing note:  It is a great exercise to look at how your story might play out from the antagonist’s point of view.  What is his or her emotional journey?  If it is just a one-note descent into evil, your antagonist is a cardboard cutout rather than a real human being.  With what competing internal values does your antagonist wrestle?
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Great characters wrestle with competing internal values.
Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as a Power of Conscience character.  (In my view of television and film there are Nine Character Types, each with their own internal competing values, worldviews and emotional journeys.)
Power of Conscience characters function as the voice of moral authority in a story.  That clearly is how the character of Queen Elizabeth sees her role in the world.
The Queen says repeatedly that dignity, reserve, proper conduct and devotion to duty define the good example that exemplifies her moral authority as a leader.
Her restrained actions in all things are perfectly in sync with her philosophy.  Her formality, insistence on protocol, and proper conservative dress physically define who she is and what she represents.
When Diana dies, Queen Elizabeth’s subjects require something more from her.  They need emotional solace, personal connection and a sense of shared grief.
Tony Blair suggests that to be a good leader, in this particular moment, Elizabeth must reach out in a way that is the antithesis of how she sees her role and how she defines her own good example and leadership.
His advice flies in the face of everything the Queen believes is right.  He suggests that her definition of her duty and what is proper must now give way to the actual needs of her subjects.
Her choice, as presented, is  will she serve royal protocol or truly serve her subjects?  Blair believes the survival of the monarchy is at stake.  Her own survival as a leader is at stake as well.
Great characters have mixed motives.
When Queen Elizabeth returns to Buckingham Palace at Blair’s very insistent recommendation, she sees the angry notes left on the flowers at the palace gates.  We watch her begin to comprehend how out of touch she is with the sentiments of her people.
We also see the potential reservoir of good will she can tap, when the little girl offers the bouquet of flowers.  After Queen Elizabeth offers to place the bouquet at the gate, her people finally show their respect, by bowing and curtsying as she passes.
Queen Elizabeth sees that she has no moral authority if her subjects dislike and resent her.  She cannot be any kind of a leader if her people abandon her emotionally.
Against every instinct that was born and bred in her, against all her past experience and against all the advice given to her by both her husband and mother, Queen Elizabeth makes the speech that she must make to reconnect with her subjects.
Is her leap also an act of personal survival?  Absolutely.  People rarely have singular motivations in the choices they make.  Most motives are mixed.  Queen Elizabeth’s choice isn’t any less courageous and requires no less strength for being mixed.
Her action is also a classic paradox of great storytelling.  In what Queen Elizabeth views as a moment of personal defeat is, in fact, a moment of public triumph.
She gives her subjects what they truly and deeply need in a time of trouble and turmoil.  Her action is the definition of good leadership.  She emerges triumphant and we can’t help but love and respect her for it.
General writing note:  Actions that spring from motives that are purely noble don’t contain the shades of gray that depict both the shadow and light in every human being.  Actions that spring from mixed motivations are much more fascinating to watch.  A bit of shadow often makes the light more clearly visible.
A character’s greatest strength is also his or her greatest weakness.
Queen Elizabeth’s sense of decorum, dignity, reserve, devotion to duty and her sure sense of what is right and proper are her greatest strengths  as a monarch.  These great Power of Conscience qualities helped her lead her people though good times and bad.
In this moment of crisis, however, she relies on  these strengths to a fault.  These very traits cause her trouble because, in the extreme situation of Diana’s death, they make her appear as if she is cold, lacking in human care or feeling, rigid and inflexible and is simply substituting stiff and stuffy standards of protocol for genuine human connection.
Diana’s death creates the crisis that forces Queen Elizabeth to surrender all those qualities that had been her salvation in the past.  The public response Tony Blair suggests would make her feel exposed, open and vulnerable.
The crisis demands she surrender all her strong defenses.  By allowing herself to be more open, and therefore more vulnerable, she emerges stronger than ever.
General writing note:  Find ways to turn a character’s best qualities against him or her.  Explore the dark or troublesome side of your character’s strengths. Discover ways to create a crisis situation that force your character to sacrifice or surrender those qualities.
Make your character take some significant action that makes the character feel open, exposed and vulnerable.  Turn that openness and vulnerability into the character’s ultimate salvation.
For more information on how to create the internal dynamic tensions that make characters complex and fascinating order the Character Map eBook.
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The_Queen_etb_ScreenwritingDecorum is the Highest Duty

The Queen, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, is a pitch perfect Power of Conscience character study.

Anyone interested in writing complex, interesting characters that are fully formed three-dimensional human beings must see this film. The Queen is a masterful example of character development.

The film takes place in August 1997, in the days after Diana (divorced from Prince Charles), dies as the result of a car crash in Paris.  At the same time, Tony Blair settles into his new position as Labor Prime Minister.  Blair makes a stirring and immensely popular speech in tribute to Diana, no longer the Princess of Wales but forever “The People’s Princess.” Read the full story »

John Hughes – Power of Idealism

prettyinpink-etbscreenwritingJohn Hughes died today at age 59. His movies Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club are iconic Coming of Age Films. Below are some great quotes from these two films and why this particular dialogue represents the emotional power of this kind of story.

I just want them to know that they didn’t break me.  Andie Walsh 
(Molly Ringwald) in 
Pretty in Pink

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john-bender-breakfast-club-etbscreenwritingRichard Vernon: You’re not fooling anyone, Bender. The next screw that falls out will be you.

John Bender: Eat my shorts.

Richard Vernon: What was that?

John Bender: Eat… My… Shorts.

Richard Vernon: You just bought yourself another Saturday.

John Bender: Ooh, I’m crushed.

Richard Vernon: You just bought one more.

John Bender: Well I’m free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I’m going to have to check my calendar.

Richard Vernon: Good, cause it’s going to be filled. We’ll keep going. You want another one? Just say the word say it. Instead of going to prison you’ll come here. Are you through?

John Bender: No.

Richard Vernon: I’m doing society a favor.

John Bender: So?

Richard Vernon: That’s another one right now! I’ve got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don’t watch your step. You want another one?

John Bender: Yes.

Richard Vernon: You got it! You got another one right there! That’s another one pal!

Claire Standish: Cut it out!

Richard Vernon: You through?

John Bender: Not even close bud!

Richard Vernon: Good! You got one more right there!

John Bender: You really think I give a shit?

Richard Vernon: Another! You through?

John Bender: How many is that?

Brian Johnson: That’s seven including when we first came in and you asked Mr. Vernon whether Barry Manilow knew that he raided his closet.

Richard Vernon: Now it’s eight. You stay out of this.

Brian Johnson: Excuse me sir, it’s seven.

John Bender (Judd Nelson) Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) in The Breakfast Club

Andie Walsh and John Bender are Power of Idealism characters. Young Power of Idealism characters play the role of the rebel, the romantic, the outsider, the iconoclast, the artist, or the maverick. They are the angry young man or the passionate young woman in a Coming of Age Film.

These characters struggle to grow up, distinguish themselves as individuals and find their place in a world where they just don’t seem to fit. They wrestle with the question of how to fit into an established society that always values conformity, cooperation and continuity over what is challenging, new or different.

Adults want to impose discipline, counsel moderation and contentment with one’s lot in life and urge conformity to the traditional norms. But adolescence is defined by an intense longing to burn brightly, change and challenge the world and follow one’s own destiny regardless of the risk or cost. Both of the iconic films written by John Hughes are perfect examples of Coming of Age Stories.

This is from The New York Times— It’s a spot on description of the Power of Idealism Coming of Age character.

“Molly Ringwald, the ginger-haired teenager who, from 1984 to 1986, was for Mr. Hughes what James Stewart had been for Frank Capra at the end of the Great Depression, and what Anna Karina had been for Jean-Luc Godard in the mid-’60s: an emblem, a muse, a poster child and an alter ego. Especially in Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (directed by Howard Deutch from Mr. Hughes’s script), she represented his romantic ideal of the artist as misfit, sensitive and misunderstood, aspiring to wider acceptance but reluctant to compromise too much.”

Pelham 123 and Duplicity – Unsatisfying Endings

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a fast-paced stylishly-directed thriller with riveting performances by Denzel Washington and John Travolta. It is also deeply unsatisfying. I felt the same way about Duplicity starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen– great performances and a great disappointment. The endings of both movies left me shrugging and saying “Huh?” Both were box office duds. The lesson from both films is “earn your ending.”

travolta-pelham123-etbscreenwritingIn The Taking of Pelham 123 Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, an ordinary man caught in the extraordinary circumstance of a subway hijacking. The film moves briskly along until the ending. Washington has absolutely no motivation and no compelling personal reason to go after the hijackers once he escapes the train. The car with the hostages exits the tunnel and races toward Coney Island. He can do nothing further there. He immediately alerts the cops to the hijackers’ whereabouts as they escape. The cops are already swarming the area. He no longer has any personal stake in their apprehension. He has a wife and family who depend on him. Earlier in the film, we learn is willing to do anything (even commit a crime) to provide for them. Suddenly, that is of no concern to him? After he hijacks an SUV, he gets to the remaining hijacker just as the cops are closing in. He has no purpose in the scene.

It’s incredibly easy to commit “suicide by cop.” All Travolta has to do is wave his gun around or fire at the on-rushing cops. That in fact, is what the other hijackers do and they are blown to bits. There is no reason for Travolta to fear jail time– the cops will gladly shoot him if threatened. The final discussion between Washington and Travolta is false, contrived and doesn’t ring true on any level.

The original film, released in 1974, starred Walter Mathau in the Walter Garber role. Mathau is a transit cop, also an ordinary man caught in the extraordinary circumstances of a subway hijacking. He uses dogged police work to capture the remaining hijacker (the only one who isn’t killed in the heist). Mathau is motivated, methodical and clever. He gets his man with skilled investigative work and his knowledge of the subway system. The original had a ending that was clever, satisfying and well-earned.

In Duplicity the ending comes out of no-where. In the last few minutes of the film, a larger conspiracy is revealed that was hidden from the mutually double-crossing-duo of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Neither one saw it coming and neither did the audience. All of the duo’s scheming, plotting, lying and effort is undone at last minute by invisible forces, leaving the audience wondering why we watched the two jump through meaningless hoops (to no apparent effect) during the film. A simple test applied by the insurance company quickly spotlights the ruse. None of the characters thought to ask this question over the course the movie’s 125 minute running time. This makes them look stupid and make the audience feel stupid for watching a plot that goes nowhere and sideswipes the us with a trick ending. It’s the same fury-inducing effect as the infamous shower “it was all a dream” season of the television series Dallas.

To learn how to write endings that feel authentic, earned and true check out The One Hour Screenwriter eBook.  Learn everything you need to bring your story to a deeply satisfying conclusion.

#TypesTuesday – Land of The Lost and Power of Reason

Land-of-the-Lost-etbscreenwritingI am a Will Ferrell fan. I found Land of the Lost goofy and absurdist but certainly not his best effort. But there is an important lesson to be learned here about Character Types— Intelligence is not a specific attribute of any Character Type. Let’s look at this in relation to Will Ferrell’s character in the film.

Ferrell stars as discredited has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall. He has written a book on “quantum paleontology.” This new branch of science is a way to explore and find energy sources in an alternate dimension in which past, present and future mix. In an appearance on The Today Show, Matt Lauer reports that respectable scientists think Marshall’s ideas are mad. Like who? ” Marshall asks. “Stephen Hawking,” Lauer replies. Marshall goes nuclear: “You promised you wouldn’t mention that!”

Dr. Marshall is a Power of Reason character like scientists Dr. John Nash (Beautiful Mind) Dr. Gregory House (House), Dexter Morgan (Dexter) or Mr. Spock (Star Trek). Marshall is an expert in his field, even if it is a seemingly crack-pot area of inquiry.

Power of Reason characters tend to be portrayed as extremely intelligent. Dr. Marshall doesn’t have the usual penetrating insight, incisive wit and intellectual firepower present in those other character examples. What’s the lesson here?

Intelligence, like altruism or the capacity for evil, exists on a continuum in each Character Type. Any character, regardless of type, can be an idiot, of average intelligence or a genius. Any character, regardless of type, can be a force for good, apathetic or outright evil.

Seemingly idiotic or “mad” Power of Reason characters, like Dr. Rich Marshall, are often crack-pots whose theories just happen to be right. These characters usually work alone in a field no one is interested in, has dismissed, is discredited or is of dubious value. In Marshall’s case his social awkwardness and inability to read the subtleties of social or cultural situations combined with his arrogance and superior attitude (typical Power of Reason problems) tend to make him look even less intelligent than he is (and provides much of the humor in the film).

On the drama/horror side, Dr Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) is another Power of Reason character. He works alone in his lab mixing up chemical cocktails that will help him explore the nature of evil. He is warned against pursuing such a “mad” area of inquiry. Likewise, Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein) works alone on theories about the origin and transferability of human life. His work is held in contempt, distaste and ridicule by other scientists of the day.

When pressed about his “mad” ideas, Dr. Frankestein explains: “Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have your never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.”

Issues concerning the boundaries of sanity, the limits of order or of reason, the genesis of evil, the ever-present potential of chaos of time or nature and the perils of technology are very much at the center of all Power of Reason films, even comedic ones.

The Power of Reason eBook explains these characters in great detail. It discusses how all the character examples above are alike and how they are made distinctive or different.

Terminator Salvation vs Star Trek – What Is Fair?

Terminator_Salvation_John_Connor-etbscreenwritingThe Importance of Worldview

I had an interesting question forwarded by a reader on FaceBook. I described John Connor (Christian Bale) in Terminator Salvation as a Power of Conscience character. Power of Conscience characters are most deeply concerned about rightness, fairness and the higher duty involved in anything they do. (See Conscience Blog Posts). The question was: Aren’t all characters to some degree “fair.”

The answer of course is, yes! But the key factor is: How does that particular Character Type define “fair.” That definition varies widely. Each Character Type views the concept of fairness very differently and acts accordingly. Let’s look at Terminator Salvation and Star Trek for examples.

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Power of Conscience

A Power of Conscience character (John Connor in Terminator Salvation) values doing good, the higher duty and moral correctness most highly. Fairness for this character is doing right by others. Fairness means taking the moral high ground in any decision.

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Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism

A Power of Idealism character (Marcus Wright in Terminator Salvation and James T. Kirk in Star Trek) values individuality, personal excellence and authenticity most highly. Fairness for this character is persevering the unique rights of the individual. Fairness means allowing each person to decide his or her personal destiny according to one’s own uniqueness and standards of excellence (even if the individual choice rebels against the rules, norms or morals of society).

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Power_of_Reason ETB ScreenwritingPower of Reason

A Power of Reason character (Spock in Star Trek) values objectivity, expertise and rationality most highly. Fairness for this character is deciding purely according to the facts and not being swayed by emotion. Fairness means looking at a situation objectively and proceeding logically (even if that decision is personally or socially painful).

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Power_of_Will ETB ScreenwritingPower of Will

A Power of Will character (Nero in Star Trek) values strength, power and territory most highly. Fairness for this character is what preserves the strong, culls the weak and decisively leads the pack. Fairness is the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest. Fairness means the biggest most powerful dog wins. (“Win or die there is no compromise”).

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Fairness Depends on Point of View

These are four very different ways of looking at and defining “fairness.” Each of these characters would make a very different determination about what is fair and would take very different actions given exactly the same set of circumstances.

It is very tempting, individually, to believe that everyone views “fairness” exactly as “I” do. In fact, different Character Types view philosophical concepts like fairness, love and social or personal responsibility very differently. They each have very distinct ideas about how the world works and very specific ideas about what is owed to the self and to others. It is this distinctiveness which will clarify, sharpen and set your characters apart from general stereotypes when you are clear about your character’s type.

Terminator Salvation – Idealism vs. Conscience

terminator-salvation-etbscreenwritingTerminator Salvation is a solid satisfying summer hit. It’s also a great illustration of the difference between a Power of Idealism character, Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington) and a Power of Conscience character, John Connor (played by Christian Bale). Although both men (and both Character Types) are honorable, how each views honor is different. Each man’s emotional journey therefore is distinct.

We first meet a morose Marcus Wright on death row. Dr Serena Kogan (played by Helena Bonham Carter), a researcher who is dying of cancer, makes a passionate appeal to him to be part of a larger project or greater vision. Marcus agrees to “sell” his body to science for a kiss. He kisses Dr. Kogan deeply and says, “So that’s what death tastes like.” This doomed romantic moment is exactly what appeals to and defines a Power of Idealism character.

When Marcus awakes decades later, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a vicious, relentless, red-eyed mechanical army churning through the remains of human-kind. Marcus begins a long tortuous journey to discover who and what he is and how he fits into this horrifying new world.

Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism characters are most deeply concerned about authenticity, personal identity and the individual vs. society. These characters strive to find their place in the world— Who am I and where do I fit in?— while being acknowledged as unique, special and one-of-a-kind.

When Marcus discovers his extraordinary but horrific nature, he rebels. Dr. Kogan tells him he was designed for a unique purpose and that there is only one of him. He is indeed one-of-a-kind. Marcus refuses to be defined by his circumstance or situation. He will not submit to a larger crushing authority or an inescapable technological imperative. He will define himself.

In true Power of Idealism fashion, Marcus defines himself and becomes the stuff of legend through sacrifice. What makes him human is his heart— both metaphorically and literally. He sacrifices his heart so that the Resistance might live. It reminded me of one of the Psalms: “I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.” Marcus Wright’s heart melts and he pours his life into John Connor and the hope of the Resistance.

We meet John Connor as the voice and moral authority of those fighting against the machines. At the climax of the movie, the larger Resistance leadership argues to strike a death blow against Skynet when Skynet’s defenses are down. John refuses to do so because such an attack would result in the deaths of masses of human prisoners trapped inside Skynet’s fortress city. John argues that if the Resistance fights with the same cold calculation as the machines– they are no better than machines.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingPower of Conscience characters are most deeply concerned about rightness, fairness and the higher duty involved in anything they do. Although he wants desperately to end the war, John is not willing to do so at the expense of what he believes is mankind’s higher value of respecting human life. No one is expendable. All human life is precious. He tells those under his command to stand down. They respect John’s moral vision and choose to obey.

Power of Conscience characters believe they are their brother’s keeper. They feel responsible for the greater good and for doing good. These characters wrestle with how far they should go in seeking justice and fairness for others or in standing up against evil. They worry about and struggle with what is the higher duty and what exactly is required of them in response.

Star Trek 2009 – Spot On Character Types

James-Kirk-etbscreenwritingThe big summer hit, Star Trek, (directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) is a great opportunity to see the Character Types in action. Character Type consistency is a crucial reason why the film has played so well with new audiences and long-time fans of the venerable franchise.

Yes, the slick production values and special effects wizardry are important to the film’s success, but the new envisioning of the story ultimately succeeds because the characters are so true to the original. The creative team took the established Character Type of each well-loved individual and then wrote a younger version of the type.  For example:

James T. Kirk is a quintessential Power of Idealism character. This Character Type is the angry rebellious young man or the passionate idiosyncratic young woman in a Coming of Age Story. Star Trek is fundamentally a Coming of Age story. Although it features a strong ensemble cast, it is primarily the story of how Kirk becomes Captain of the Enterprise and assembles his famous crew.

Power of Idealism Coming of Age stories are about the struggle to grow up, distinguish one’s self as an extraordinary individual and find a place in a world where, at the beginning, the young person just doesn’t seem to fit.

We first meet young Kirk in an act of rebellion. He is a pre-teen speed demon racing down an Iowa road. Kirk grows up to be an intelligent, rebellious and somewhat cynical, young man. He is out of place in the flat Iowa landscape and hangs out at a bar near the Starfleet Academy.

When Kirk takes on a group of young Starfleet Cadets in a bar fight over a girl (Uhura), Captain Christopher Pike recognizes him as the son of an old friend. He challenges Kirk to do something “special and extraordinary” with his life. Kirk, as a Power of Idealism character, cannot help but rise to challenge of a higher calling.

Kirk is determined to distinguish himself in the Academy by beating a test Spock devises. After Captain Pike tells Kirk he could be a Captain in 4 years, Kirk responds to in typical Power of Idealism fashion:

Kirk: I’ll do it in three.

In fact, he earns his Captain’s Chair in the space of a single mission. He cements his place as a legend in the Federation and begins his extraordinary mission to “go where no one has gone before.”

The Power of Idealism eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and the book specifically describes and quotes at length how James T. Kirk is defined as an adult in the television series.

Young Spock is a spot on Power of Reason character. These characters play the role of the expert, the technician, the problem-solver, the diagnostician or the analyst in a story. They dominate a story situation by force of their special expertise, independent thinking, superior knowledge, keen analysis and cool self-sufficient self-containment. They are inherently socially awkward, aloof, shy or superior. They dislike or disdain what they would term excessive emotion.

The following exchange with Bones demonstrates Spock’s character:

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: Are you out of your Vulcan mind? Are you making a logical choice, sending Kirk away? Probably. But, the right one? You know, back home we have a saying: “If you wanna ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prized stallion in the stable.”

Spock: A curious metaphor, doctor, as a stallion must first be broken before it can reach its potential.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: My God, man, you could at least ‘act’ like it was a hard decision…

Spock: I intend to assist in the effort to reestablish communication with Starfleet. However, if crew morale is better served by my roaming the halls weeping, I will gladly defer to your medical expertise. Excuse me.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: (as Spock leaves) Green-blooded hobgoblin.

The Power of Reason eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and the book specifically describes and quotes Spock as an adult in the television series.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy is a Power of Truth character. These characters believe danger and disaster potentially lurk everywhere. They wary and skeptical. They are often the voice of potential doom and gloom. This exchange with Kirk demonstrates Bones’ character and his view of the world.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait till you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Kirk: Well, I hate to break this to you, but Starfleet operates in space.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: Yeah. Well, I got nowhere else to go, the ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.

The Power of Truth eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and as an adult.

The clarity and consistency of the characters are what make this summer’s Star Trek such an enjoyable voyage. A final thought– “Nature magically suits a man to his fortunes, by making them the fruit of his character.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

New In Town – Credibility Problem

renee_zellweger-new-in-town-etbscreenwritingIt is rare that I walk out of a movie. I know the amount of work that goes into making even a mediocre film– so out of respect for the writer I stay put until the end. Not so on Saturday. I went to see New In Town and left after about 20 minutes.

I was looking for a cheerful Romantic Comedy for Valentines Day. It was like getting a heart-shaped box of chocolates filled with empty candy papers. The movie was disappointing, condescending and completely lacking in any emotional credibility.

Big city Miami corporate executive Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) comes to small town New Ulm, Minnesota, to cut the workforce and retool a food processing plant. She is set up as high-powered and ambitious but she does no background research on her assignment.

She doesn’t seem to know it is snowy and cold in Minnesota in the winter. She arrives without a coat or boots or even sensible shoes to wear on the plant floor. She is clueless about all the employees and completely ignorant about the union rep, with whom she will have negotiate to terminate the jobs.

All the townsfolk are stereotypically thick, simple and buffoonish. There isn’t an ounce of affection anywhere in the film for small towns or the people in them. Despite an impassioned speech near the end of the movie, it’s impossible to believe the filmmakers aren’t laughing at the local characters instead of allowing us to laugh with them.

The lesson here is make the world real. Keep your character credible or they won’t connect emotionally. Treat everyone in the film as a real live three-dimensional human being. If you want to see how it’s done, rent Local Heroes. In that film, the comedy comes from characters who seem real.