Creating a New Character – Fear

edvard-munch ETB ScreenwritingI have been silent on the blog these last few days because I’ve been struggling with a terrible cold.  Not a pleasant way to spend a romantic holiday in Paris with my husband (he’s been sick too)– but there you have it.  It’s a good thing we are staying with loving family members who have taken good care of us.

I am now preparing for a television show I’ll be working with in Europe. I just received a bio which describes a new character soon to be added to the show’s ensemble.  It is a male character, a father, whose greatest fear is described as the terror that something might happen to his daughter.

When I first developed the Character Map I asked writers “What is your biggest fear?”  This kind of answer would often come up.  As adults we often fear most for those we love, especially our children.

I realized this was the wrong way to ask the question.  I then asked “What was your biggest worry as a child?”

This question yielded much more useful answers.  How do we turn around the character’s natural fear about a child’s welfare into something more specific to that particular character?

We must look at the ways the character is most worried about failing others and becoming unloved or unlovable.  This often is traceable back to the character’s own childhood fears.  These early fears powerfully stay with us and color our adult lives.

The question to ask the character (a father) in this case is– “How do you fear you might be the cause of something terrible happening to your child?”

This makes the fear specific and personal and keys it directly to the Character Type.  Here are some examples:

I fear I am not strong enough to protect my child.  If I show any weakness my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Will father (like Tony Soprano on The Sopranos).

I fear I am not good enough to protect my child.  If I don’t judge correctly or make bad choices my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Conscience father (like Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights).

I fear I am not cautious enough to protect my child.  If I don’t see all the hidden dangers my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Truth father (like the father fish, Marlin, in Finding Nemo).

I fear I am not extraordinary enough to protect my child.  If I don’t act with honor and heroism my family might be exposed to danger.  This at the root of the fear for a Power of Idealism father (like William Wallace in Braveheart).

I fear I am not objective enough to protect my child.  If I don’t act rationally my family might be exposed to danger.  This at the root of the fear for a Power of Reason father (like Dr.Matt Fowler in In the Bedroom)

I fear I am not successful enough to protect my child.  If I don’t have enough money my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Ambition father (like Fletcher Reed in Liar Liar)

I fear I am not responsible enough to protect my child.  If I don’t have enough maturity my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Excitement father (like Samuel Faulkner in Nine Months).

I fear I am not useful enough to protect my child.  If I my family doesn’t realize I know best they might be exposed to danger. This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Love father (like Stanley Banks in Father of the Bride).

I fear I am not significant enough to protect my child. If I am too simple my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Imagination father (like Guido Orefice in Life is Beautiful).

The trick is to make the fear personal to the character and fit the Character Type.  Simply fearing for a child is too general.  The fear must speak directly to the character’s own Worldview, View of Love and how one protects and cherishes those one loves.  Or how specifically one might fail to do so.

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Coming of Age Films and Power of Idealism

400blows ETBScreenwriterComing of Age films, as I define them, are Power of Idealism films.  Anyone telling stories about young people should see a wide selection from the following films.

They offer a broad diverse but incredibly consistent view of the struggles, values at stake and conflicts involved in growing-up and defining one’s self as an individual.  Get out your Netfilx list!  Drop me a line if I’ve missed one of your favorites.

▪  The 400 Blows
▪    8 Mile
▪    Almost Famous
▪    Amarcord
▪    American Graffiti
▪    Angus
▪    Au revoir, les enfants
▪    The Basketball Diaries
▪    Bend It Like Beckham
▪    Boyz n the Hood
▪    The Breakfast Club
▪    Breaking Away
▪    The Chosen
▪    Cinema Paradiso
▪    Dead Poets Society
▪    Dear Frankie
▪    Diner
▪    Dirty Dancing
▪    Donnie Darko
▪    Driving Lessons
▪    East of Eden
▪    Educating Rita
▪    Endless Love
▪    Footloose
▪    Giant
▪    Girl, Interrupted
▪    The Graduate
▪    A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
▪    Juno
▪    The Karate Kid
▪    Labyrinth
▪    The Last Picture Show
▪    The Lion King
▪    A Little Romance
▪    Little Women (1949 film)
▪    The Lost Boys
▪    Love & Basketball
▪    My Brilliant Career
▪    My Girl
▪    Old Yeller (1957 film)
▪    The Outsiders
▪    Pretty in Pink
▪    Real Women Have Curves
▪    Reality Bites
▪    Rebel Without a Cause
▪    A River Runs Through It
▪    Say Anything…
▪    Sixteen Candles
▪    Sounder
▪    Splendor in the Grass
▪    St. Elmo’s Fire
▪    Stand by Me
▪    Summer of ’42
▪    A Walk to Remember
▪    Whale Rider
▪    What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
▪    The Wild Ones
▪    White Oleander
▪    Y tu mamá también

Second Hand Wedding

secondhand ETBScreenwritingAs a frequent flyer on Air New Zealand (my favorite carrier to Australia/New Zealand AND from LA to London) I have the opportunity to see regional films that don’t ever make it to the US in wide distribution.

My favorite film this trip was the delightful and heartwarming Second Hand Wedding.  It’s everything one would want in comedy.  Laughter, tears, deep true human feeling and outstanding performances.

The film is set and filmed on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand.  School principal and devoted mum, Jill Rose (Geraldine Brophy) fanatically hunts down garage sales every Saturday morning.  Bargains fill her house to the brim. She is obsessive, over-bearing and extremely warm-hearted, a larger-than-life Power of Love character.

When Jill’s daughter, teacher Cheryl (Holly Shanahan), finally accepts a marriage proposal from her long-time car mechanic boyfriend Stew (Ryan O’Kane) she’s afraid to tell her mum.  Cheryl has avoided marriage because she’s afraid Jill will turn her wedding into a tacky bargain basement affair.  Cheryl is a Power of Ambition character, whose most intense childhood memories are the humilations she suffered at never having anything new or trendy like the popular kids.  Her mum always dressed her in off-beat garage sale finds.

Cheryl does confide in her patient and accepting dad Brian (Patrick Wilson).  He is a retired security guard who is a Power of Imagination tinkerer.  His dream is rebuilding a Model T Ford in his garage.  He dotes on Jill accomodates her mania for buying junk.  He does keeps Cheryl’s secret, however.

Gracie (Vivien Bell), is a fellow teacher who missed out on the principal’s job when Jill was selected.  She is a vengeful Power of Conscience charater who spitefully reveals that Cheryl is engaged.  Jill is shocked to hear the news.  She is further devastated when Gracie gleefully discloses that Cheryl is too embarrassed by Jill’s mania for bargains to include Jill in the wedding plans.

Jill absorbs this brutal truth with heartbreaking misery.  She backs off and doesn’t interfere.  Meanwhile, Cheryl and Stew sign up for a wedding reception at a fancy but pretentious wedding hall.  They mistakenly think the $6000 they have paid is the full cost.  They are shocked to discover the total is actually $24,000, a sum don’t have any hope of raising.

The hall manager, Daniela (Gentiane Lupi), is a deliciously nasty (Power of Will) executive who gets a fantastic come-uppance by Jill.  Cherly is tearfully grateful and comes to her mum for further help.  Jill saves the day and pulls off the wedding reception with her daughter’s blessing.

NOTE TO BROADCASTERS:  This family would make a wonderful engaging sit-com series!

Second Hand Wedding is a bon-bon and a delight.  See if you can find it on Netflix.  It’s well worth the watch.

Values at Stake – Film

oskar-schindler ETB ScreenwritingValues are defined as a person’s principles or judgments about what is most important in life.

Competing values are neutral.  They are a simple (often one word) expression of a fundamental truth or an ideal a person holds dear.  No value is inherently better or worse than another.  For example:  Freedom and Security are two fundamental American values.

America sees itself as “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of the nation.  But to survive, every nation (or person) must be secure in its person, property and borders.  Security is also a fundamental American value, especially in these potentially very dangerous times.

The question is:  What happens when a character (or country) is forced to make starker and starker choices in favor of one value over (or to the exclusion of) another?

How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be secure?  As citizens are pushed to give up more personal autonomy, liberty or privacy, when do they cease to be free? Alternatively, how much security are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be free?  If safety measures are too often thwarted by civil libertarians can a nation be adequately secure?

As the risk rises and a nation (or person) is pushed to the brink, it is forced to chose one value over the other.  These choices build up over time.  A final definitive choice should negate or eliminate one value in favor of another.   The payoff to a feature film well and satisfyingly written is to show this kind of final climactic choice at the end of the story.

For example:  In Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler discovers war is the road to riches.  His Jewish accountant pads the factory payroll to save people from the camps.  At first, Schindler resists then, as he gets to know the factory workers, he gives away his watch, then his ring and then his cigarette case in making deals to shield them.  Schindler makes his final value choice when he gives his last trunk of money to protect those workers who are now finally and fully “his” responsibility. Schindler finishes the film penniless and dressed in the rags.  In a Power of Conscience film, like Schindler’s List, the values at stake are Personal Well-Being vs. Moral Responsibility.

In series television, this choice is paid off more slowly and over multiple episodes or seasons.  A television series shows how this choice is made through incremental action, over time, leading to a climactic series finale.

For example:  In NYPD Blues, Andy Sipowicz choses to face his demons one by one.  He battles his temper and his rage. First he reigns himself in and gets sober, then he gets married, has a baby, reconciles with his eldest son, loses that son, loses his wife and cares for his remaining child. Over 17 years the drunken, racist, misanthrope we met in the pilot becomes, in a final leap of faith, a temperate respected leader of the men in his precinct. In a Power of Will series, like NYPD Blues, each choice involves the competing values of Impluse vs Restraint.

Getting back to our earlier example: How is freedom finally sacrificed? What is the tipping point?  Alternatively, what well-meaning policies deal security a fatal blow?   The audience wants to see how this final value choice is driven by faith or by fear.   They want to see how the character is pushed to extremes that provoke action that conclusively defines his or her character.

Values + Action = Character

The obstacles in a film or television series should create the kind of risk, peril or danger that pushes the character to take actions that define what is most fundamentally important or true in a character’s life. This is the case even in comedy.  There is no greater risk or peril than the vulnerability that makes a character funny.

The character should be forced to make a stark, definitive and active choice. As one value is ultimately chosen, the character finally negates or surrenders the other contrasting value.  What price is paid for the character’s choice?  What are the consequences for the character?  The more expensive the price, the more dire the consequences are for your character, the more compelling and urgent your story will be for your audience.

I am still hard at work on my books about the Nine Character Types.  Stay tuned! And email me to get on a Special Offer List.

Values at Stake – Televison

sipowicz ETBScreenwritingValues are defined as a person’s principles or judgments about what is most important in life.

Competing values are neutral.  They are a simple (often one word) expression of a fundamental truth or an ideal a person holds dear.  No value is inherently better or worse than another.  For example:  Freedom and Security are two fundamental American values.

America sees itself as “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of the nation.  But to survive, every nation (or person) must be secure in its person, property and borders.  Security is also a fundamental American value, especially in these potentially very dangerous times.

The question is:  What happens when a character (or country) is forced to make starker and starker choices in favor of one value over (or to the exclusion of) another?

How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be secure?  As citizens are pushed to give up more personal autonomy, liberty or privacy, when do they cease to be free? Alternatively, how much security are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be free?  If safety measures are too often thwarted by civil libertarians can a nation be adequately secure?

As the risk rises and a nation (or person) is pushed to the brink, it is forced to chose one value over the other.  These choices build up over time.  A final definitive choice should negate or eliminate one value in favor of another.   The payoff to a feature film well and satisfyingly written is to show this kind of final climactic choice at the end of the story.

For example:  In Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler discovers war is the road to riches.  His Jewish accountant pads the factory payroll to save people from the camps.  At first, Schindler resists then, as he gets to know the factory workers, he gives away his watch, then his ring and then his cigarette case in making deals to shield them.  Schindler makes his final value choice when he gives his last trunk of money to protect those workers who are now finally and fully “his” responsibility. Schindler finishes the film penniless and dressed in the rags.  In a Power of Conscience film, like Schindler’s List, the values at stake are Personal Well-Being vs. Moral Responsibility.

In series television, this choice is paid off more slowly and over multiple episodes or seasons.  A television series shows how this choice is made through incremental action, over time, leading to a climactic series finale.

For example:  In NYPD Blue, Andy Sipowicz choses to face his demons one by one.  He battles his temper and his rage. First he reigns himself in and gets sober, then he gets married, has a baby, reconciles with his eldest son, loses that son, loses his wife and cares for his remaining child. Over 17 years the drunken, racist, misanthrope we met in the pilot becomes, in a final leap of faith, a temperate respected leader of the men in his precinct. In a Power of Will series, like NYPD Blue, each choice involves the competing values of Impulse vs Restraint.

Getting back to our earlier example: How is freedom finally sacrificed? What is the tipping point?  Alternatively, what well-meaning policies deal security a fatal blow?   The audience wants to see how this final value choice is driven by faith or by fear.   They want to see how the character is pushed to extremes that provoke action that conclusively defines his or her character.

Values + Action = Character

The obstacles in a film or television series should create the kind of risk, peril or danger that pushes the character to take actions that define what is most fundamentally important or true in a character’s life. This is the case even in comedy.  There is no greater risk or peril than the vulnerability that makes a character funny.

The character should be forced to make a stark, definitive and active choice. As one value is ultimately chosen, the character finally negates or surrenders the other contrasting value.  What price is paid for the character’s choice?  What are the consequences for the character?  The more expensive the price, the more dire the consequences are for your character, the more compelling and urgent your story will be for your audience.

Emotional Status Quo

Brokovich-ETBScreenwritingI drove along the Great Ocean Road along the West Coast of Victoria to the Twelve Apostles Rock formations.  It was a spectacular and slightly harrowing journey with a friend.  Lots of fog and high twisty mountain roads on the very dark way back.

Along the way we got to talking about the emotional status quo of characters.  Too often characters seem to have emotional amnesia, especially when off stage for a couple of scenes.  What’s a character’s emotional status quo?

It’s the emotional temperature of the character when he or she enters a scene.  What has happened to the character in the previous scene?  How does that event drive the character into the next scene?  If, for example, the character’s internal Fear is activated how is that made external in action in the next scene?

Where on the Character Map does the character move?  Does the Fear drive the character to act against his or her self-interest by lashing out with a Trouble Trait?  Or does the Fear drive the character to retreat into his or her Mask?  Perhaps the character tries to cope with the Fear by pushing forward with the Strongest Trait.

Each scene must build on the emotion of the previous scene.  Each scene must be propelled by cause and effect. In other words, your character does something, which causes something else to happen or forces the character to try a different tactic.  This has an effect on the character’s emotions which causes your character to do something else, etc.

Each and every scene must have conflict, conflict, conflict. Without conflict there is no way to struggle toward a character’s inner truth.  Without conflict, the audience has no edge-of-the-seat eagerness and excitement to see what will happen next.

Your principle character must drive the action in each individual scene and in the cumulative sequences.  His or her actions must set off the chain of events that propel the story forward.  If all your main character is doing is reacting to the actions of others, rethink the scene or sequence.  What can your character do to set events in motion?

Here are some examples from Erin Brockovich:  Erin’s vulnerability and Fear is activated by the disapproval of the office staff.  That leads her to lash out with her confrontational and defensive Trouble Traits. When she needs help the staff rejects her.  That activates her Strongest Traits. She takes on the problem alone and her determination and moral concern leads her to investigate the toxic spill.

INT. MASRY & VITITOE – RECEPTION AREA – DAY

Morning. Erin walks in, wearing her usual garb.  She passes
the coffee area, where Jane, Brenda, and Anna are milling.
Brenda sees her, gives Anna a nudge.  They both check out her
short hem.  Anna nudges Jane, who looks as well.  Erin
glances over just in time to see all three of them staring at
her judgmentally.  She stops in her tracks and stares back.

ERIN
Y’all got something you wanna discuss?

The women go back to stirring their coffees.  Erin walks on.

INT. MASRY & VITITOE – ED’S OFFICE – DAY

Ed is walking into his office with a coffee cup in his hand
when he trips over the same box of files again.

ED
Damn it!
(calling out)
Brenda!
(no answer)
BRENDA!

INT. MASRY & VITITOE – FILE ROOM – DAY

Erin is alone, filing as she talks on the phone.

ED
Where’s Anna?

ERIN
Out to lunch with the girls.

ED
Oh. Huh.
(beat)
Well, look, I have to open a file. Real
estate thing. Pro-bono.

He plunks the box of papers & files on her desk.  She stares
at it, with no idea of how to go about that.

ERIN
Oh.  Okay.

He sees her staring at the box.

ED
You do know how to do that, don’t you?

ERIN
Yeah.  I got it.  No problem.

ED
Good.

Ed heads out, but pauses before leaving.

ED
You’re a girl.

ERIN
Excuse me?

ED
How come you’re not at lunch with the
girls?  You’re a girl.

ERIN
I guess I’m not the right kind.

Erin goes back to work. Ed starts out then stops.

ED
Look, you may want to – I mean, now that
you’re working here – you may want to
rethink your..wardrobe a little.

ERIN
Why is that?

ED
Well…I think maybe..some of the girls
are a little uncomfortable because of
what you wear.

ERIN
Is that so? Well, it just so happens, I
think I look nice. And as long as I have
one ass instead of two, like most of the
“girls” you have working here, I’m gonna
wear what I like if that’s alright with
you?

Ed hides a smile. He nods. As he exits, Erin returns to work
and remarks, without looking up….

ERIN (CONT’D)
You may want to re-think those ties you
wear..

Suddenly self-conscious, Ed looks down to his chest…

INT. MASRY & VITITOE – FILE ROOM – NIGHT

Erin is at her desk, staring bewildered at the files from the
box Ed gave her, which are now spread across her desktop.
She sees Anna packing up her things to leave.

ERIN
Anna?  With this real-estate stuff —
could you remind me, cause I’m a little
confused about how exactly we do that.
Why are there medical records and blood
samples in real estate files?

ANNA
(exasperated)
Erin, you’ve been here long enough.  If
you don’t know how to do your job by now,
I am not about to do it for you.

What Happens in Vegas

WhatHappensinVegas ETBScreenwritingA very long international flight is the perfect time to catch up on movies I missed the first time around.  On this trip I managed to catch up with a high-spirited Romantic Comedy romp that turned out to be a really enjoyable surprise.  The film has its flaws, particularly in its rather pat ending.  The finish is predictable and lacks that little extra twist that lifts this kind of story above the ordinary. But the film does have its virtues.

Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz) is super-conscientious career woman engaged to a man who is exhausted by her organized, detail-oriented uptight attitude.  She is a Power of Conscience character who schedules a meeting with her fiancee to “make a plan to make plans.”  Fed up, he breaks up with her in her apartment hallway.  Joy is humiliated that all their friends are listening as they wait inside for a suprise birthday party for HIM.

Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher) has the opposite problem.  He is “not serious boyfriend or husband material.”  He is a Power of Ambition character who is so afraid of failing (and proving he is a loser) that he never takes a gamble or finishes anything.  He is fired by his disgruntled fed-up boss, who also happens to be his father.

Feeling devastated, they both head to Las Vegas to (literally) drown their sorrows. A computer error is the “meet cute” that throws them together in the same room. The two spend a drunken night of true confession and “my life is crappier than your life.” They wake up to discover they are married.

A 3 million dollar jackpot won with Joy’s quarter but played by Jack lands them in front of a judge, in an argument about who can claim the money.  The judge decides that they should remain married for 6 months and attend counseling sessions before splitting up either the money or the marriage. Neat as a pin Joy moves into Jack’s sloppy and disgusting bachelor pad.

Over the course of the film there is a real exchange of gifts.  Joy learns to be less uptight and driven to prove her “worthiness.” Jack learns to believe in himself enough to put his talent on the line.  He becomes the woodworking craftsman (and artist) he was meant to be.

Jack Fuller is a refreshing take on the Power of Ambition.  This Character Type is usually portrayed as an eager young striver in the Tom Cruise mode of Jerry Maguire or Rain Man. Instead, Jack starts out squarely in his fear.  He is paralyzed by his utter conviction (and his father’s belief) that he is a failure.  When Joy speaks up on his behalf, Jack is astonished.  At a corporate retreat she makes him feel like a winner.

Joy is a more conventional Power of Conscience female character.  She is the good girl who works hard, is responsible and plays by the rules.  She is vying for a promotion in a job she hates because that’s the “right” thing to do. Jack teaches Joy the importance of loving what you do and finding time for family and friends.

Check this movie out. It’s not perfect but it hits enough of the right notes to be a fun romp and a satisfying bon bon of entertainment.

#TypesTuesday – Revolutionary or Rebel Part Two

che-guevara-etbscreenwritingI am back in sunny California.  Sea breezes and Mexican food tonight.  I had a wonderful time in Wisconsin and am lucky to have a beautiful lakeside apartment to stay in for the duration.  But it is always good to be back home.

I had a question about my last post.  Can a revolutionary also be a rebel?

The answer is real life, of course, is yes.  Real life is messy and complicated.  Storytelling is not.  The stories in film and television help us make sense of the world.  They lift us above the chaos of life.  They condense time, put things in context and give meaning to cause, effect and experience.

In order to have real power, a story and a character must have a single clear emotional focus.  That means a story must be about one true thing.  Intuitively, it would seem that if a story is about many things it would appeal to a wider audience.  In fact, the opposite is true.

When a story is about one true thing the audience brings their philosophy, experience and view of life and they measure that against the choices the character makes.  They bring their perspective to the story and test it against the one true thing on the screen.  In doing so, they make the story about themselves.

When a story is about too many things, it is confusing.  The audience can’t make the story about themselves because there is no clear hook or connection.  When a story is about too many things, it is about nothing.  The audience can’t find a clear way in.

Going back to the original question:  Is the character a revolutionary or a rebel?  What is the most true about the character.

Both a revolutionary and a rebel challenge the status quo.  Is the challenge to authority about changing or reforming a situation or society as a whole (the Power of Conscience) or is the challenge to authority about asserting personal individuality or personal autonomy against the dictates of the state or society (Power of Idealism).  (See yesterday’s post for examples.)

Once you’ve made your choice then bring all the decisions and conflicts back to that one true thing.  Answer all the Story Questions about that choice.  What’s a Story Question?

A character’s Story Questions are the defining personal, philosophical  and psychological questions that drive the character’s actions in the story.  They give the character’s emotional journey shape and meaning.

Each of the Nine Character Types wrestles with one specific and clear set of Story Questions.   The character’s answer to those questions define the one true thing at the core of the film.

What about a novel?  There’s more room to explore in the longer form of a novel.

The best novels also have a very clear set of Story Questions at their core.  These questions might be expanded upon in more depth in a novel than in a film.  But the best novels don’t stray from the essential truth about what’s driving the character forward through the story.  Clarity of emotional focus is essential in every storytelling medium regardless of length or form.

Revolutionary or Rebel

tom_joad_ETB ScreenwritingMy last day in Milwaukee is a sausage buying extravaganza.  I stopped at Usingers and bought several varieties with their own special spices.  Flying back to Santa Monica tomorrow.

I’ve been working on the final edit of the Power of Conscience eBook.  That particular Character Type is often confused with the Power of Idealism character.  The distinction between the two is subtle but clear. It is rather like the difference between a revolutionary and a rebel.

A revolutionary is someone who works for political or social change.  The orientation is toward changing and improving society.  The basic orientation of a Power of Conscience character is to seek moral and ethical perfection. They believe they could do better, others could improve and the world could be a better place.

A rebel is a person who resists authority, control, or tradition.  The orientation is more individualistic. The basic orientation of the Power of Idealism character is to seek aesthetic perfection.  Noteworthiness, rarity, distinctiveness, individuality and/or the unusual, idiosyncratic or eccentric are what these characters value most highly in themselves and others.

Power of Conscience characters cause revolution to conform society, as a whole, to a higher moral or ethical standard. Power of Idealism characters rebel against the status quo to resist authority or conformity and to promote or preserve their personal autonomy.

A Power of Conscience character looks at the world like this:

“Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build– I’ll be there, too.”  Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in The Grapes of Wrath

A  Power of Idealism character looks at the world like this:

Mildred: “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?”
Johnny: “Whaddya got?”  Johnny Strable (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One

“And maybe there’s no peace in this world, for us or for anyone else, I don’t know. But I do know that, as long as we live, we must remain true to ourselves.”  Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) in Spartacus

Wall-E – Getting to the Essence of Things

wall e ETB ScreenwritingI am here on the lake front and just have had my wireless router installed.  I am writing on my trusty MAC and catching up on email and newsletters.  This caught my eye from earlier in July:

“In Disney Pixar’s new movie, “Wall-E,” the female heroine is a shiny all-white robot with no seams or overt buttons showing. Remind you of anything? Actually, it brings to mind most of the Apple product line.  Could this be the product-placement model of the future?”  This is a quote from an interesting newsletter article from Ad Age.

What does this have to do with screenwriters?  There is a really important lesson here.

The article goes on to say:

“The idea is that your logo isn’t going to be featured or your product isn’t going to be shown … but your essence runs through the whole thing instead… ‘How many companies could do that?’ Not too many, I think.”

A strong brand is crucial for marketers.  Apple has such a strong brand it doesn’t even need to be mentioned by name in the hit film, Wall-E. The MAC start up tone and the sleek design is all you need to say “Apple.”

Essence is defined as: the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something.  Synonyms are: soul, spirit, nature; core, heart, crux, fundamental quality

Every pitch you write, every character in your story and every script you finish should have an equally strong brand.  What is the soul or spirit of what you are trying to convey?  Is there an iconic image that captures this  perfectly for your script and your character?  If not, find one.

In a few seconds the audience (or executive in a pitch session) should be able to get the essential core of your story and character. One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein:  “If you can’t say it simply and briefly you probably don’t understand it well enough.”

Do your understand your story and character well enough to distill them down to their most fundamental quality?  Can you convey that briefly and simply?  Do you have an iconic image that sums everything up?  What I am asking is incredibly hard.  It requires immense effort and a bit of creative genius.  You must care enough about your script to go that extra mile, if you want it to succeed.

The Nine Character Types helps distill the essence of a character and story instantly.  It helps you understand the fundamental principles at the core of your script.