A Bug’s Life & Revolution in the Middle East

A Bugs LifeI watched Pixar’s A Bug’s Life last night and was struck by the similarities in the story to what is happening in Egypt and all around the Middle East.  The film is a powerful statement of “there are more of us than there are of them.”

Whenever a ruthless dictator and a few brutal henchmen seize power and squander the resources of the community, they rely on fear, intimidation and violence to keep and maintain the repressive status quo.  Once the community wakes up and realizes its own inherent power, it can’t be stopped in its demands for freedom and autonomy.  It is usually the young who lead the way.

In the real world, the community may have to take several runs at the oppressive regime over an extended period of time but “you cannot stop an idea whose time has come.”  In the Middle East we see a surging hunger for democracy and a desire to end the repressive exploitation that has kept so many people poor, overworked and paralyzed by fear.

Here is my commentary on this wonderful Pixar film released in 1998 and well worth another look today.


In A Bug’s Life, an island colony of hard-working ants is exploited by a dictatorial grasshopper thug, Hopper (voiced by Kevin Spacey).  Hopper and his vicious henchmen extort most of the colony’s food each summer. The ants are left with very little time to gather what meager provisions that are left.

Flik (voiced by Dave Foley), is young ant who rebels against the traditional conformity of ant society.  He is an individual thinker and an odd-ball eccentric.  Flik is a Power of Idealism character.  These characters want to find their special place in the world, be extraordinary in what they do and are often called to some great destiny (usually as a freedom-fighting warrior/leader).  They are misfits, mavericks and rebels. These characters reject popular opinion or the demands of authority to maintain and assert their own unique individuality and break through the accepted conventions of society.

All the other ants in the film march in lock-step following exactly the ant that went before.  They panic when the “line” is broken by a randomly fallen leaf.  Flik wants to do things differently.  He’s invented a threshing machine to make grain collection faster and easier.  He goes off on his own to do his own thing. None of the other ants want anything to do with him.  Because he’s young and still learning, Flik’s inventions tend to end in disaster.

When Flik adds his pile of food to the offering for the grasshoppers, he accidentally dumps everything into the stream. The grasshoppers arrive and are furious to find that their tribute booty is gone.  They double the extortion price and the colony will most likely have to work themselves to death and starve when their last food reserves are taken.


Flik offers a radical idea.  He will leave the colony, find a band of warrior insects and lead a rebellion against the evil grasshopper regime.  Everyone thinks he is crazy but they send him off on what they see as a suicide mission, mostly to get rid of him.  They don’t want any problems or delays in their desperate attempts to gather more food for the grasshoppers.  The only ant who believes in Flik is Dot, a youngster who is the littlest member of the ant royal family.

Dot (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) is a Power of Imagination character.  Like all of these kinds of characters, she is innocent and naive.  Power of Imagination characters are childlike in their beliefs.  They are often overlooked small and gentle souls who believe against all odds, trust against all conventional wisdom and have faith against all experience or reason.  Dot has absolute unwavering conviction in Flik’s abilities.  She watches for him and when he returns she says:  “Flik you came back. I knew you could do it!”

Any rebellion against the status quo requires true believers in the impossible.  In the recent rebellions, it has been the women (the mothers, grandmothers and daughters) who have quietly been providing food, water and medical attention to the protesters, believing with simple unwavering conviction in what here-to-fore has seemed impossible to achieve.  I am sure some women probably fought but the pictures mostly have demonstrated the quiet resistance of the women who believe in the fight their sons, brothers and fathers are waging.


Princess Atta (voiced by Julia Louis-Drefuss) is a Power of Truth character.  She is nervous and slightly neurotic, always doubting and second-guessing herself.  She hems and haws until Flik is beaten badly by the grasshopper overlord, Hopper.  When Flik refuses to back down, even in the face of certain death, she finally finds her courage and helps rally the ants.  The community’s powerfully linked arms, realization of their own inherent power and superior numbers overwhelms the grasshoppers.

As we are seeing in the rebellions unfolding in the Middle East, you can’t stop the power of a united community.  When people link arms and keep coming, eventually, and often at great cost, a repressive regime topples.  The simple truth is always: “There are more of us than there are of them.”   The following clips expresses the philosophy of despotic thug regimes everywhere and how the community, when powerfully called to action, eventually triumphs.

Enjoy and watch some simple entertainment that contains a potent message and lesson we all need to learn over and over again.  Find the clips here:

NFL Leadership Styles – Can You Help?

Sometimes it is really useful to look at the Character Types of real people to see how what they do or say defines them.  The SuperBowl and the magnificent victory by Green Bay and their young quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a great example to start off with.

I’d like to type all the major players in the NFL in terms of their leadership styles.  I’m looking for some help here– with quotations or a link to a video as an illustrations.  I did a similar article on Celebrity Chefs on TV and how their cooking and food presenting style reflected their Character Type  Can you help fill out the NFL roster and comment on your favorite players?  Interview or commentary links or player quotes are really useful as illustrations.  See the leadership definitions below.


Let’s start with Aaron Rodgers as a Power of Conscience leader.  Notice in his David Letterman interview below he talks about leading by example.  That is what the best Power of Conscience characters do.  He also talks about responsibility, duty, preparation, practicing hard and putting in the time to do the job well. That doesn’t mean he isn’t passionate about the game or inspirational– it just means that those qualities are not the primary attributes of leadership to him.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency, justice and providing a good example.  They believe the rule of law is humankind’s salvation.
The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency and providing a good example.   The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

Here is Aaron Rodgers on leadership in his own words.

Dandy Dozen Movies FootballPOWER OF IDEALISM

Power of Idealism leaders are passionate and emotional leaders. They are inspiring and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause.  They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to the grand heroism  or glories of the past.  These characters lead their followers into a lost cause or an impossible battle.  They know the odds are grim and victory is improbable but they charge in anyway.  What they are after is valor, honor and a grand and glorious legacy—the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.  Who in the NFL leads in this way?

The player who comes to my mind is George Gipp.  In the film, Knute Rockne All American, Knute quotes George like this:

Knute Rockne: Now I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, “Rock,” he said, “sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,” he said, “but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”


Power of Reason characters are more loners than leaders.  When they are  put in charge (or they take charge) they use their intelligence, expertise, knowledge and technical skills to lead (or sometimes to dominate) others.  They are most comfortable as experts or technicians.

These characters are not very skilled at interpersonal relationships.  They don’t naturally engage or charismatically inspire others.  They usually don’t like the genial chit-chat of team banter and camaraderie. Instead, these characters  attract followers with their problem-solving abilities, technical ability, specialized experience or practical know-how.

When Power of Reason characters want to take command they argue that they are the most experienced or qualified to lead.  They argue that they are in fact the intellectually or skills-based superior choice.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Ambition characters are most often potential leaders, protégés and young, upwardly mobile strivers.  They are impatient, high-energy individuals who want to get things done and who put a very high premium on accomplishment (right now!).  They are often willing to take short cuts and cut corners to get ahead.  They value fame, popularity and status.

These characters think well on their feet and are flexible and adaptable in a crisis.  They can talk themselves into or out of any situation.  When it serves their purpose they can fit in, with an almost chameleon-like ability, in any situation.  They can be witty, engaging, amusing and “great in the interview room.”  They are very charming and personable, if rather boasters and braggers.

The fictional player who fits this type is Brian “Smash” Williams’s (Gaius Charles) on Friday Night Lights.  He is talented, arrogant and likes taking short cuts and avoiding hard questions.

Smash Williams: Takin’ it like a man, Matty. You know, avoiding the calls, ducking out, hidin’ in the bushes.


Power of Will characters bring many wonderful leadership qualities to the NFL community.  They are decisive and authoritative.  Others naturally look to them to them to take charge.  They are strong, bold and  forceful leaders.  These characters stand out from the crowd with a commanding presence.   Their philosophy is “win or die.”  They see the world as a battlefield where only the strong survive.

Power of Will characters motivate others through the sheer force of their personality and their innate toughness and charisma. They are big dynamic characters who can “fill up a room.” Each wonderful quality of Power of WIll leadership has a set of corresponding Trouble Traits.  Decisiveness becomes rashness when a leader fails to delay action long enough to fully consider the consequences of an action or doesn’t have the patience to listen to others.  Leadership that is unilateral and absolute or will not permit dissent easily slips into dictatorial megalomania and colossal paranoia.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

The person who comes to mind first for me is iconic Green Bay Coach, Vince Lombardi, who famously said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” He was a big larger than life leader who had incredible force of will.


Power of Excitement leaders make everything fun and can recast anything as a amusing game.  Their boyish charm and charisma can make them natural leaders. People gravitate toward these characters and follow them quite joyfully, rather like children who follow the lively, captivating music of the Pied Piper.  They have lots of natural or innate talent but often lack the discipline and drive to excel under difficult circumstances.

Power of Excitement characters rarely are happy in a leadership position.  They do not like the responsibility, follow-up and attention to detail that real leadership requires.  If it’s not interesting, amusing or enjoyable these characters get bored, don’t show up or make a quick exit.  Power of Excitement characters excel at  instigating and finding interesting opportunities, but don’t always count on them to bring any crucial item in on schedule.  Is there anyone in the NFL like this?


Power of Love leaders rarely like to be out in front in a take charge position.  They prefer to exercise their control as the “power behind the throne”.  Power of Love characters usually “lead” in supportive roles.  They are great mentors and excel at providing encouragement and emotional support.

Power of Love characters view leadership as serving others, being of practical use and creating the sense they are indispensable.  These characters get real satisfaction from pushing others forward and seeing them do well.  They tend to bond with individuals more strongly than the team as a whole.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Imagination leaders are able to sense the deep internal connections that bind and unify all of us.  They lead by bringing together and inspiring others to see this bigger picture, this sense of common purpose or a larger universal mission.  At first glance, these assembled individuals might seem to be contentious or have little or nothing in common.

Power of Imagination  characters inspire united action by convincing disparate individuals that:  “We’re all in this together” and “If we work together we will all achieve something important or worthwhile.”  They are often gentle, shy or unassuming individuals who are the glue that holds a team together.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

favre vikingsPOWER OF TRUTH

Power of Truth characters often use an initial affable and friendly approach to solving problems, pursuing goals and leading others.  These characters don’t tend to be natural leaders. They don’t generally gravitate toward the front of the group.  They tend to be too suspicious, anxious, self-doubting and second-guessing to expose themselves to the front and center scrutiny of others.

Brett Favre is this kind of leader.  I wrote an analysis of him in an earlier post.  Power of Truth characters value loyalty and commitment very highly, but they can be very unsettled and indecisive. They can become self-doubting and suspicious to the point of paralysis.  At that point, they no longer trust their own instincts.

Brett’s is legendary for his retirement indecisiveness. In their darkest moments, these characters worry that they can’t believe anyone or anything.  They suspect everyone is lying to them and every situation is not what it seems.  They constantly look for little clues to confirm their doubts, suspicions and anxieties.  These characters continually test and probe when operating out of fear. They insist others constantly prove themselves.  They try to read the secret meaning in, or second-guess every move, every action and every decision made by others.

I’d love to fill out these profiles in leadership with your favorite NFL nominees.  It’s most useful if you have quotes or links to interviews or commentary that backs up your choices.  Please comment below or on my FaceBook ETB Page.  Please share it with your football-loving friends so we can get a dialog going.

The Black Swan and The Social Network

goldenglobe2Two of the most highly acclaimed and most talked about movies of the 2011 Awards season are The Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin and The Social Network directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin as adapted from a book by Ben Mezrich.  Both are Power of Reason films with Power of Reason protagonists.

The Social Network is a fascinating look at a cold, superior, technical genius, Mark Zuckerberg the FaceBook billionaire. In the film, Zuckerberg is personally disconnected from human warmth, emotion and compassion.  He became the world’s youngest billionaire by helping other people connect with each other via technology.  The Black Swan is the story of a young dancer who is a cold, dispassionate and disconnected but technically perfect ballerina.  She is chosen to dance the dual leads in Swan Lake and descends into madness preparing for the role.

I liked The Social Network but despised The Black Swan, although I did admire the stunning visuals.  The truth is, Aronofsky’s film  infuriated me and pushed my buttons like no film I’ve ever seen.  I had an intensely personal reaction to it.  It spoke to me about the biggest problem in my own life.

Both Power of Reason films were horrific in their own way.  Let’s start with the professional analysis before getting personal. Read the full story »

Mad Men – Emmy Winner

Mad Men follows protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of World War II. Don is a Power of Truth Character. He is an ad man, a master illusionist, twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. He has trouble discerning the truth about himself, his wife and his target marketing audience: (”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?”) He works in a cutthroat environment where duplicity, betrayal and infidelities are everywhere. He doesn’t fully trust anyone including himself.
Here’s how AMC describes the show on the official website: “Returning for its second season, the Golden Globe®-winning series for Best TV drama and actor will continue to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of Mad Men is moving in a new direction — can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity?”
That’s a description of a classic Power of Truth story.  Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a classic Power of Truth protagonist.  Note the tagline of the series:  ”Where the truth lies.”
These kinds stories are about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  What is real and what is an illusion? Who or what can you trust?
All these issues were front and center in the first season.  They had a real urgency and the potential for disastrous consequences.
Over the course of initial 13 episodes we learned Dan Draper isn’t who he seems.  He is leading a secret life on a number of levels.  He stole another man’s identity in Korea (by switching dog tags with a dead officer).  He is cheating on his wife.  He is a slick master of illusion in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions.  As the season progressed we worried and waited for hammer to drop.
Mad Men has authenticity working for it in even the smallest details.  Everything on the sets, in the background, what the people wear, how they talk, what they talk about is absolutely true to the period.

mad_men ETB Screenwriting


Mad Men won 2010 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. The show is about the world of advertising; a world of illusion, sleight of hand and outright deception. It is a quintessential Power of Truth story and is anchored by a wonderful Power of Truth protagonist, Don Draper/Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm). Surface laughter, glamour and the sophisticated tinkle of ice in a cut-glass tumbler of scotch obscures the dark and tangled subterranean underpinnings of both the man and the profession.

The show follows Don, a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of the Korean War. He is an ad man, a slick master of mis-direction in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions: “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”  He is adept at deception (and self-deception), twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. This is especially true with main client Lucky Strikes.  He and his client both know the product is poisonous but Don finds a way to make it attractive: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”  Don, himself, is anything but OK.

don draperHe has trouble coming to terms with the truth about himself, his failed marriage and even one of his target markets: ”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?” He is acutely aware that more lies beneath the surface of things than he understands or is willing to inspect.  When the new firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce brings in a female psychologist and focus group expert, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), to help determine what exactly women want, Don is hostile.  He refuses to participate in her work or answer any of her survey questions.  He rejects her notion that people’s childhoods are a predictor of who they are and what will influence or inspire them. Dr. Faye defends her research and says she can’t change the truth: “That Glo-Coat ad came from someone’s childhood.” Don cannot afford the truth. His entire life is based on the desire to make something true that isn’t, and vice versa.

In addition to issues of perception, illusion and deception, Power of Truth stories are also about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  Who or what can you trust? When does loyalty look like betrayal?  When does betrayal look like loyalty?

Peggy OlsonThese themes are especially relevant to Don’s evolving relationship with Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss).  Their relationship is quite similar to one in another Power of Truth story, Million Dollar Baby.  Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) and Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) also have a powerful mentor/protege bond.  Frank is a Power of Truth protagonist who is hiding from his past as well.  His parish priest observes: “Frank, I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can’t forgive himself for something.”

Initially, both Frank and Don are skeptical about a woman being able to “do the job” no matter how hard she works.  But both grudgingly admire the tenacity and raw talent they see in their young protege.  They want to toughen her up but yet somehow protect her.  They berate her and insult her but genuinely care for her.  Neither man is able to show affection that doesn’t also include harsh words (or hard truths).  Their relationships have a Father/Daughter dynamic that is profoundly meaningful to them both.  In making Peggy into a brilliant advertising executive Don could almost be following the advice of Eddie Scrap-Iron Durpis (Morgan Freeman) as he describes Frank’s coaching techniques:

Clint Eastwood Hillary SwankEddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: “To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything they know, you gotta make ’em forget even in their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”

The technique works on Peggy, who says to Don after a particularly rough exchange: “You know something. We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”  Those words are truest of her.  Peggy only really hears (or cares about) Don’s voice.  But Peggy is no push-over and that is what will make her great in her own right someday.  Eddie describes that quality: “All fighters are pig-headed some way or another: some part of them always thinks they know better than you about something. Truth is: even if they’re wrong, even if that one thing is going to be the ruin of them, if you can beat that last bit out of them… they ain’t fighters at all.”

Peggy has her own stubborn streak and sense of independence and fairness.  She confronts Don over her lack of credit on the Glo-Coat ad, talks back to him, refuses to get him coffee and is the only one who seems able to see and accept him for who he is.  She is the only one Don trusts enough to share bits of his past.

Peggy would rather be at work with Don than doing anything else. His world is the only world that truly interests her. It is the only thing she really wants: “I know what I’m supposed to want but it never feels right or as important as what happens in this office.”  Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) says basically the same thing to Frank Dunn: “Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?”

Peggy OlsonHere is a wonderful montage of clips that clearly delineate Power of Conscience character Peggy Olson.  Notice how many times the issues for her are fairness (or unfairness) (“I don’t know if you read in the paper, but they passed a law that women who do the same work as men get paid the same thing.  Equal pay.”); integrity (“Pete, just tell the truth. Don’t worry about the outcome.  People  respect that.”); propriety (“I’m from Bayridge, we have manners”); judgement (“I know what people think of you.  That you’re looking for a husband and you’re fun.  And not in that order.”)

Peggy is a good girl who sometimes does bad things. She is definitely the moral compass of the show. She even goes so far as to confront Don and demand that he hire the smarmy kid whose tag line Don drunkenly misappropriated for a Life Cereal campaign.


Hillary Swank is a Power of Idealism character.  She is much more passionate than Peggy and much more willing to bet everything on a single glorious moment. Peggy is more grounded and controlled even when she is acting out or being rebellious.  When she strips to call a lazy unctuous creative director’s bluff, it is about doing the work (and her work ethic) not being seductive.  Her sense of morality may be the one thing that Don can’t beat out of her.  Even if it is the ruin of her it is also what will make her great.



Idealism Wins at the Oscars

UP_Carl.JPGThere is an old joke that has all the Studios bringing an Anti-Trust lawsuit against Pixar for Unfair Competition— because all Pixar’s movies are so good!

Pixar won the 2009 Oscar for Best Animated Feature with Up. All seven Pixar films released since the creation of the category have been nominated. Five have taken home the Oscar: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. Three of those five Oscar winners— Up, The Incredibles and Ratatouille are Power of Idealism films.

A character driven by the Power of Idealism wants to stand out from the crowd, to be extraordinary, unique and  special. Power of Idealism stories are about youthful rebellion, heroic sacrifice, loss and transcendent love.

The protagonist in Power of Idealism film wants to stand out from the crowd, to be unique or special or to live an extraordinary life. These characters often play the role of the rebel, the romantic, the outsider, the iconoclast, the artist, or the maverick.  Power of Idealism stories are about rebellion, loss, longing and transcendent love.

The protagonist in Up is curmudgeonly Carl (Ed Asner), the last stubborn holdout in a large urban renewal scheme.  His beloved wife is dead and he seemingly has nothing to live for.  When he defends his home with his cane, actually drawing blood from a construction worker, Carl is legally ordered into a retirement home.  Instead, he makes an extraordinary and dramatic escape.  But let’s back up a little.

The film begins in the era of newsreels and the amazing derring do of movie serials.  These 1930’s stories are filled with exotic adventures and handsome heros who conquer far-off lands to bring back strange and exciting discoveries.

As a little boy, Carl is mesmerized  by fantastic tales about the famous explorer, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer).  The newsreels show Muuntz celebrated and lionized and then humiliated.  The skeleton of Muntz’s greatest discovery, a large flightless bird from the wilds of South America, is denounced as a fake. As Carl walks home from the movies, he longs to be a legendary explorer.  He imagines a crack in the sidewalk to be a yawning canyon and leaps it in a single bound while an imaginary newsreel breathlessly narrates his “great adventure.”

A little gap-toothed tomboy, Ellie, bursts into Carl’s dreamy but solitary world.  Their long life together unfolds in a beautiful wordless montage— friendship, young love, wedded bliss and the slow dissolution of their dreams; first to share their life’s adventure with a child and then to share an adventure together in Paradise Falls, South America, where the great explorer Muntz mysteriously disappeared.
When Ellie gets sick and dies, the elderly and embittered Carl is left with nothing but his memories and Ellie’s scrapbook, “My Big Adventure,” which she kept to fuel her hopes through-out the years.  Carl keeps Ellie’s book but can hardly bear to look at it.  He believes it stands in silent reproach for dreams so long denied or deferred that they turned into dust and nothingness.
Stripped of everything he holds dear, his house about to be demolished, Carl escapes at last to South America.  His house is born aloft by thousands of helium balloons, which he used to sell as a park vendor.  A chubby little stowaway and faithful Wilderness Explorer, Russell (Jordan Nagai), tags along for the sake of a missing merit badge.  Russell has all the good humored resilience and tenacity (as well as the shape) of a Weeble, the iconic children’s roly-poly toy.  “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”
Near the famed Paradise Falls, Carl finally meets his childhood hero, Muntz. The elderly explorer lives with a army of dogs who talk via their bark-activated electronic collars.  The eccentric and still dashing adventurer continues his obsessive search for a live specimen of the rare bird species that discredited and ruined his career so many years ago.
Up is a delightful adventure story for kids and a powerful adult story about how regret, loss and grief are, at last, resolved.  Over the course of the movie we see Carl cling to his belief Ellie was denied her “Big Adventure.”  He feels responsible and is determined to plant the house he promised her at Paradise falls.
Carl and Russell slowly and painfully drag Carl’s heavy empty house behind them.   When the house is nearly in place Carl finally reads Ellies “Big Adventure” book.  In it she says her ordinary life with Carl was the very best and very biggest adventure of all.  At the end of the movie, Carl is able to sacrifice the dead house to save the living Russell.  Carl finds his next “Big Adventure” with Russell and his mom as a treasured part of a new family.
Increbiles_060914013253431_wideweb__300x322Pixar’s The Incredibles, tackles some of the same themes about what it is to be ordinary and what it is to be extraordinary. Stripped of his status, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), is in the government equivalent of the witness protection program for decommissioned super heroes.  He is stuck in a boring, dead-end desk job.
Mr. Incredible chafes at having to hide his super powers and pretend to be ordinary. Finally, he is tempted out of his enforced “retirement” by the lure of one last assignment.  It is a trap.  The villain of the movie, Syndrome (Jason Lee), created himself when Mr. Incredible rejected him as a sidekick years earlier.  Mr. Incredible, haughtily said at the time:  “Like most heroes, I work alone.”   This rejection festered in Syndrome.  With evil in his heart, a cunning wit and brilliant technology in his hands, Syndrome grows up to turn the tables on all super heroes.  In the end, after defeating Syndrome, Mr. Incredible finds that his most extraordinary adventure of all is the ordinary love and support of his family.
6Ratatouille is about an adventurer of a different kind— a rebellious and artistic mouse gourmet.  “There’s something about humans, they taste. . . . They discover!” realizes Remy (Patton Oswalt).  Rejecting the usual diet of garbage, French country rat Remy decides that in order to eat as well as humans he needs to learn to cook.
Early on in the film, Remy is separated from his family.  In his imagination he mets his hero Gusteau, a famous chef.  Gusteau teaches Remy the lesson that Carl learns in Up.
Gusteau: (appearing as illustration in a cookbook) If you are hungry, go up and look around, Remy. Why do you wait and mope?
Remy: Well, I just lost my family. All my friends. Probably forever.
Gusteau: How do you know?
Remy: Well, I…  You are an illustration. Why am I talking to you?
Gusteau: You just lost your family. All your friends. You are lonely.
Remy: (sarcastically) Yeah, well you’re dead.
Gusteau: Ah, but that is no match for wishful thinking. If you focus on what you left behind. You will never be able to see what lies ahead. Now go, get up and look around.
The lesson of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, imparted in both Up and The Incredibles, is delivered by Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) the famous food critic in Ratatouille.  Remy serves the difficult to please gourmet the most simplest and most humble dish— ratatouille, a dish of mixed cooked vegetables.  The meal sends Anto Ego back to his childhood, remembering the fragrant, comforting and flavorful dish his mother used to prepare for him.  The critic concludes:
… (T)here are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, and the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.
The themes in Power of Idealism films:  childhood heroes often are not what they seem; to resolve loss we must look beyond the surface, cherish the positive and let go of the rest; longing for what you don’t have (or what you are missing) prevents you from experiencing and enjoying what you do have in life; and the secret to happiness is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Power of Idealism characters must learn to find the sparkle and passion in the small details of life like family, friends and the magical but mundane moments of living and loving (and cooking).

Cougar Town – When a Character Doesn’t Ring True

cougar-town-etbscreenwritingI caught up with the Cougar Town premiere online and thought it was absolutely terrible.  The best words I have to describe this raunchy and demeaning show are desperate, pathetic and insulting.  Courtney Cox’s character asks her son why he doesn’t laugh at her sex-obsessed jokes and he says:  “Because they make me sad.”  Bingo!

I have nothing against sex-obsessed women who fret about aging and the difficulty of finding love.  I am a big fan of Sex and the City. But that show has something that Cougar Town lacks– authentic characters who feel real. Carrie and her crew each has a distinct and very specific take on sex and romance that defines who she is, how she sees the world and what love means to her.

Carrie Bradshaw is a well-defined Power of Idealism character.  Throughout the series, she is obsessed with the emotionally unavailable Mr. Big.  These characters believe that what is perfect but unavailable or unattainable is infinitely more desirable than what is flawed but possible or achievable. They are always reaching for the unreachable star.

Charlotte York is a Power of Conscience character and the most conservative and uptight member of the ensemble. While the show focuses on sexual liberation, Charlotte is the voice of more traditional values.  Perfection to her is what is proper and socially correct.

Samantha Jones is a Power of Will character and views sex as power.  She is always the one in control of the sexual power in her relationships.  She decides when, where, how much and what kind of sex she will have.  She is loud, lusty and unashamed of her passions.  She is unapologetic when she decides to move on to new conquests.

Miranda Hobbes is a Power of Ambition character.  She is extremely career-minded and has her sights firmly fixed on a prestigious law partnership.  She often views sex as a distraction to her work.  In one episode she and her lover fight over the fact she wants to schedule sex and refuses to let passion distract her from important work-related obligations.

Each of these women is thoroughly believable and acts consistently with specific attitudes about life and love.  I recognize women I know in the characters in Sex and the City.

Cortney Cox’s character is is poorly defined, cartoonish  and utterly inauthentic.  She acts like a thirty-year old Judd Apatow guy trapped in a one-note joke about being desperate but clumsy in the attempt to get laid.  I have no idea what her cardboard cut-out character believes about life or love or why she is doing what she is doing.  To you tell you the truth I don’t really care.  Someone please put this excruciatingly pathetic show out of its misery.

Here are some additional reviews that hit the nail on the head.

WALL STREET JOURNAL   (T)his is the 21st century, where pole dancing passes for a statement of female liberation. So it should come as no surprise that Jules will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still “hot.”  Such a quest could be made funny, but here it mostly isn’t. Ms. Cox is struggling with some ugly material and often seems desperate.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE  Cougar Town is one of those shows with a trendy topic at its core, but it’s hard to see how the show will work long-term, and the screechy and semi-frenetic tone set by the pilot doesn’t help.

VARIETY  (T)he execution here is consistently about as subtle as a kick to the groin — and represents the least appealing component in ABC’s quartet of new Wednesday-night comedies.

HOLLYWOOD REPORTER  Cougar Town is a mess of a place no one would want to visit, even for a half-hour. With a little luck, though, it’ll have a short shelf life.

Battle Speeches – Power of Idealism

mel-gibson-braveheart-etbscreenwritingThis is an excerpt from a wonderful blog:  Fencing With The Fog written by MaryAn Batchellor:

…What is the purpose of the pre-battle speech in film? Does it have a purpose other than exposition or is it just a standard prerequisite of any war story?

BRAVEHEART – In Braveheart, William Wallace gives a pre-battle speech that became a defining moment in the film. What differs it from the same narcoleptic moments in Alexander? Wallace’s speech tells us as much about his character as it does the justification for the battle. It gives us another piece of Wallace’s motive for being there instead of serving solely as exposition.

Yes. Fight and you may die. Run and you will live, at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance to come back here as young men, and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but the will never take our freedom?

GLADIATOR – Maximus gives his troops a similar speech in Gladiator — similar because it, too, is a look inside the motives of the leader. But because it tells us what the men believe about life and death, Maximus’ speech also serves as exposition.

Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be and it will be so. Along the line, stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled for you are in Allysium and you are already dead. What we do in life echoes in eternity.

TROY – This film has two pre-battle speeches — Achilles’ speech to his Myrmidons and Hector’s speech to battalions of Troy. Achilles’ speech is about his character. He wants his name to live forever.

Myrmidons, my brothers of the sword. I’d rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what’s there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It’s yours!

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN – This pre-battle speach is not a speech. As Balian prepares Jerusalem to defend itself, he gives no pep talk. But he believes that no man is a servant to another and makes each man a knight by administering the same oath to them that he took at his father’s deathbed. This serves no expository purpose that I can see but solely demonstrates the character of the leader.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. This is your oath (he slaps a young teen as his father slapped him) and that is so you remember it. Rise, a knight!

I think all of these examples work, but why do they work? The one thing I see in each one is that the battle speech, like other dialogue in the film, also serves to reveal character.

ALEXANDER – So why does the speech in Alexander not work for me? Aside from being entirely too long and boring, it has several long pauses of silence as we watch an eagle or inaudible shots while the opposing army looks at each other. Even if we wanted to care at the beginning of the speech, by the time it’s over we’re too exhausted to give a rip how the battle turns out.

You’ve all honored your country and your ancestors and now we come to this most distant place in Asia where across from us Darius has at last gathered an army– (cut from speech to no audible dialogue and follow long descent of an eagle and then go back to Alexander mid sentence) — but look again at this war and ask yourselves, who is this great king who pays assasins in gold coins to murder my father, our king in a most despicable and cowardly manner? Who is this great king Darius who enslaves his own men to fight? Who is this king but a king of air? These men do not fight for their homes. They fight because this king tells them they must. When they fight, they will melt away like the air. We are not here today as slaves. We are here as Macedonian free men! Some of you, perhaps myself, will not live to see the sun set over these mountains today but I say to you what every warrior has known since the beginning of time, conquer your fear and I promise you, you will conquer death! When they ask you where you fought so bravely, you will answer, I was here this day at Gaugamela for the freedom and glory of Greece! Zeus be with us!

Conclusion? Well, first of all, I think pre-battle speeches have to serve some purpose other than pure exposition but what I don’t know is if it’s critical that the speech also reveal character.

Laurie’s Notes: I believe it is critical that a battle speech reveal character.  Each kind of leader sees the world differently and fights for different reasons.  Each kind of leader inspires followers differently.

All of the examples in MaryAn’s post above are Power of Idealism leaders.  Power of Idealism leaders believe that life and war should involve a grand passion or great ideal. They see the world in terms of sweeping epic poetry or as a struggle for individuality and freedom of operatic proportions against impossible odds.

Power of Idealism leaders are inspiring and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause.  They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to the grand heroism  or glories of the past.
Often these characters lead their followers into a lost cause or an impossible battle.  They know the odds are grim and victory is improbable but they charge in anyway.
What they are after is valor, honor and a grand and glorious legacy—the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.
One of the best examples of this kind of leadership is that of King Leonidas and his Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae.
Leonidas tells his men in 300:  “This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die! Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time… Spartans, prepare for glory!”

Power of Idealism leaders inspire and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause. They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to a grand heroic tradition (knighthood) or the glory of the immortality (Elysian Fields).  What they are after is valor, honor and the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.

Another example of this kind of leadership is demonstrated in King Leonidas’ battle speech to his Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae in the film 300.

KING LEONIDAS  “This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die! Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time… Spartans, prepare for glory!

In contrast, a Power of Will character fights for more territory, revenge or total domination and uses any means (fair or foul) he deems necessary.  This kind of leader and his followers are characterized by the burning desire for MORE!  Gordon Gekko, a Power of Will leader in Wall Street, gives a kind of battle speech to inspire the stockholders to throw out the old management of a company he is trying to take over.

GORDON GEKKO  “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Power of Idealism


Power of Idealism characters believe that life and love should involve a grand passion or an heroic destiny.  They see the world in terms of sweeping epic poetry or as a struggle of operatic proportions.  Intensity of feeling (good or bad) makes this character’s life worth living.

Power of Idealism characters believe it is better to be in intense pain than to feel nothing at all or to be simply content or complacent.  These characters are more than willing to suffer for their art, their iconoclasm or their noble or romantic gestures.  They believe pain is necessary to living a life of passion.  They embrace their pain and even tend to wallow in it.

Power of Idealism characters have high standards and seek excellence in whatever they do.  They appreciate the finer things in life and special luxuries large and small.  They strive for aesthetic perfection in all areas.  They abhor anything they consider to be coarse, gross, common, ordinary, mediocre, inelegant or ungallant.  They believe that what is perfect but unavailable or unattainable is infinitely more desirable than what is flawed but possible or achievable.  They are always reaching for the unreachable star.

A character driven by the Power of Idealism wants to stand out from the crowd, to be extraordinary, unique and special. They are youthful rebels, Epic Heroes or lovers whose passion lives forever.  In addition to the examples below, see the Power of Idealism blog posts for more examples.

Power of Idealism ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Coming of Age characters like the title characters in Billy Elliot or Juno, “Jess” Kaur Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham and Curt Henderson in American Graffiti are young people “finding themselves.” They don’t quite fit in and struggle to find their rightful place in the world. Learn how these characters lose their innocence but gain a more complex understanding of the adult world.

Epic Hero characters like Colonel Robert Shaw in Glory, King Leonides in 300 and William Wallace in Braveheart are warriors in a doomed but noble battle. These Epic Heroes fight courageously and sacrifice themselves for honor, glory and the immortality of story, song and legend. Learn how these characters lose their lives but live forever in our hearts.

Separated Lovers like Rick Blaine in Casablanca, Karen Blixen in Out of Africa and Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago are torn asunder from their lovers but their passion transcends time, distance or death. In Separated Lover stories learn how love becomes stronger than any other force on earth– even death.

Intense and sensitive Power of Idealism television characters include Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy, Carrie Bradshaw inSex and the City, Ryan Atwood in The O.C. and Dawson Leery in Dawson’s Creek. Learn how these complex characters keep us enthralled week after week.

Power of Idealism eBook

The Power of Idealism Character Type eBook explains how these characters are alike and how each character is made individually distinct. It will help you develop unique, original, evocative and authentic Power of Idealism characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.

Discover the Power of Idealism character’s specific goals, unique emotional obstacles and very distinct responses and reactions to any opportunity, challenge or threat. Create this character’s Immediate Tactics, Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach in a way that is recognizably “true” at every step of the story and during every moment of screen time. The audience will instantaneously recognize and relate to your character because your character is complex, three-dimensional and “feels real.”

This eBook is thorough analysis of the Power of Idealism Character Type in his or her many guises and roles as a protagonist or a member of a larger ensemble. It is packed with numerous examples from film, television and even real life! Examples from scores of scenes and dozens of quotes from film and television characters clearly illustrate this character’s motivations and psychological dynamics in a story.

Power of Idealism ETB Screenwriting

Comprehensive Analysis

The Power of Idealism Character Type eBook illustrates exactly how to create and differentiate this character based on his or her:

(1.) World View (beliefs about how the world works) What are the essential core beliefs that motivate a Power of Idealism character’s ordinary actions?

(2.) Role or Function (position in the story or role in the ensemble) What do the other players look to a Power of Idealism character to do or provide in the story?

(3.) Values in Conflict (competing values that push the character to extremes) What opposing choices or goals establish the Power of Idealism character’s moral code? What is this character willing to fight, sacrifice or die for? And why?

(4.) Story Questions (emotional journey in the story) What personal issues, dilemmas and internal conflicts does a Power of Idealism character wrestle with over the course of the story? What does this character ask of him or her self? What is this character’s Leap of Faith in an emotionally satisfying story?

(5.) Story Paradox (emotional dilemma) What is the duality or the contradiction at the heart of a Power of Idealism character’s story struggle? How is the character’s internal conflict expressed in actions.

(6.) Life Lessons (how to complete the emotional journey) What must a Power of Idealism character learn over the course of the story to make a clear, satisfying personal transformation? What actions lead to this character’s emotional salvation?

(7.) Dark Side (this character as a predator or villain) What happens when a Power of Idealism character’s actions are driven entirely by fear? How might or how does the story end in tragedy?

(8.) Leadership Style (what defines and qualifies this character as a leader) How does a Power of Idealism character convince others to follow? How does this character act to take charge and command?

(9.) Film Examples (the Power of Idealism character as a protagonist)

(10.) Television Examples (the Power of Idealism character as central to an ensemble)

(11.) Real Life Examples (historical Power of Idealism figures on the world stage)

#TypesTuesday – Some Character Type Examples

woman-making-list-etbscreenwritingA reader wrote in and submitted a list of film and television characters and questions about identifying the Character Types. She did a great job identifying the characters but most of her “misses” were in the area of the Power of Truth.

Power of Truth characters can be a bit tricky. People who have difficulty with or question their identity of sexual identity (Alan Harper) people who don’t know who they can trust or question the truth and believe in or discover conspiracy theories (Michael Scofield) and spies and those who conceal their identities or live by subterfuge and their wits (Aladdin) are usually Power of Truth Characters.  The full list is below. See if you agree. If not tell me why:

TV Shows

– Rachel Green ( Jennifer Aniston ) in Friends : Power of Idealism

– Chandler Bing ( Matthew Perry ) in Friends : Power of Excitement

– Monica Geller ( Courtney Cox ) in Friends : Power of Reason

– Fran Fine ( Fran Drescher ) in The Nanny : Power of Love

– Maxwell Sheffield ( Charles Shaughnessy ) in The Nanny : Power of Conscience

– Lucas Scott ( Chad Michael Murray ) in One Tree Hill : Power of Idealism

– Peyton Sawyer ( Hilarie Burton ) in One Tree Hill : Power of Idealism

– Michael Scofield ( Wentworth Miller ) in Prison Break : Power of Truth and Prison Break is a Power of Truth TV show

– Lincoln burrows ( Dominic Purcell ) in Prison Break : Power of Will

– Charlie Harper ( Charlie Sheen ) in Two and a Half Men : Power of Excitement

– Alan Harper ( Jon Cryer ) in Two and a Half Men : Power of Truth


– Dr. David Huxley ( Carey Grant ) in Bringing up Baby : Power of Reason

– Susan Vance ( Katherine Hepburn ) in Bringing up Baby : Power of Love

– George Wade ( Hugh Grant ) in Two Weeks Notice : Power of Excitement

– Lucy Kelson ( Sandra Bullock ) in Two Weeks Notice : Power of Conscience

– Tracy Turnblad ( Nikky Blonsky ) in Hairspray : Power of Idealism

– Brian O’Conner ( Paul Walker ) in The Fast and the Furious : Power of Conscience

– Dominic Toretto ( Vin Diesel ) in The Fast and the Furious : Power of Will

– Sally Albright ( Meg Ryan ) in When Harry met Sally : Power of Conscience

– Harry Burns ( Billy Crystal ) in When Harry met Sally : Power of Truth

– Kathleen Kelly ( Meg Ryan ) in You’ve Got Mail : Power of Imagination-

– Joe Fox ( Tom Hanks ) in You’ve Got Mail : Power of Truth-

– Aladdin in Aladdin : Power of Truth

– Giselle ( Amy Adams ) in Enchanted : Power of Imagination

– Robert Philip ( Patrick Dempsey ) in Enchanted : Power of Truth

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


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.”