The Mating Season – Day Twenty Four – #40movies40days

g_the-mating-season-gene-tierney-john-lund-76c98The Mating Season is a good old fashioned Power of Love story in the best sense of the word.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) is forced to sell her hamburger stand, so she decides to visit her son Val (John Lund), who lives in another city. Val has recently married a socialite, Maggie (Gene Tierney). To help her out, her husband hires a maid and promises to send her over right away. In the meantime, Ellen arrives. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen begins to tell Maggie who she really is, but she is worried that saying anything might cause Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal who she is and decides to pretend to be a maid. The next morning Ellen arrives with her things. She wakes Maggie up and when she realizes that her son didn’t explain everything yet, she keeps pretending to be a maid. She tells him that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She eventually talks him into the idea but he doesn’t like it very much.
Maggie’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) decides to come for a visit and she is nothing like Maggie. She is a snob and she doesn’t like Val one bit. While helping Mr. Kalinger (Larry Keating), Ellen realizes that his son, Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer), is taking credit for work actually done by Val and tells Mr. Kalinger the truth.
Mr. Kalinger then invites Val and Maggie to the party. At the party, Maggie gets into an argument with an important female guest (Cora Witherspoon) after the woman insults her, and Maggie storms out. Val, realizing that this woman carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to call the party to apologize to the woman. She does so unwillingly, leading to another fight.
The next morning, Val and Maggie make up and steal away in a closet for a kiss. Ellen’s friends are at the door and ask to speak to “Mrs. McNulty”. At this point it is revealed that Ellen is Val’s mother. Maggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. Val tries to explain himself but Maggie won’t listen. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is moving to Mexico.
Mr. Kalinger decides to get Val and Maggie together. He convinces Maggie to come to the hotel bar with him for a good-bye drink, knowing that Val will be there for a party. When Maggie sees Val, she again scolds him for trying to hide his mother and leaves the bar. Val leaves the party and rushes to retrieve his mother. He brings her back to the party and begins introducing her to the ‘snobs’. Maggie, who has come back to the bar, witnesses Val introducing his mother to the woman who had insulted her at the earlier party. Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the apartment. Ellen lands on her feet, however, as Mr. Kalinger decides to marry her.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) runs a hamburger stand that’s underwater with the bank.  She can’t afford the payments and it’s not worth what she borrowed. (Some things never change.)

Her son, Val  (John Lund), has been asking Ellen to come live with him.  She hitchhikes from New Jersey to the Midwest, where her son has a good job in a large manufacturing company (some things have changed drastically).

Ellen’s son, Val, is an upwardly mobile junior executive (Power of Ambition) who has recently married Maggie (Gene Tierney). His new bride is not rich but grew up in the diplomatic corps and has very wealthy and important friends and political connections.

Val hires a maid to help Maggie with their first big dinner party. In the meantime, Ellen arrives unannounced. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen (Power of Love) wants to spare Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal her true identity.  Instead, Ellen decides to make herself useful and to just go along pretending to be a maid.

137px-Thelma_Ritter_in_The_Mating_Season_trailerEllen convinces Val that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She knows Maggie needs help as a young wife and convinces Val to continue the ruse.  Although Val loves his mother, there is something inside him that is deeply embarrassed about his humble beginnings and his unsophisticated mom.

Maggie’s drama queen mother (Miriam Hopkins) arrives for a visit. She is a (Power of Idealism) snob who doesn’t think Val is good enough for her daughter. She is more impressed with the boss’ son Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer).  Jr. is a playboy and a cad (Power of Excitement), who is also in love with Maggie.  Jr. is also passing off Val’s hard work and ideas as his own.

During the negotiations of an important contact, Maggie (Power of Conscience) takes exception to the rudeness and  snobbery of the main client’s wife (Cora Witherspoon).  After confronting the woman, Maggie storms out of an important social outing surrounding the deal. Val, realizing that the client’s wife carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to apologize. Maggie does so unwillingly, leading to another fight between the newlyweds.

Ellen skillfully intervenes in the angry aftermath. The young couple make-up with a romantic duck into the closet (the only place they can really be alone). Ellen’s friends arrive at the door unexpectedly and Ellen’s ruse is exposed.

matingMaggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is leaving him and is moving out of the country.

Mr. Kalinger Sr., who has fallen for Ellen, arranges for Maggie to meet him at hotel bar for a good-bye drink. Val proudly introduces to Ellen to the important clients. Maggie sees how much Val loves his mother. Her heart melts.

Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the newlyweds to themselves. Ellen lands on her feet as the fully smitten Mr. Kalinger Sr. asks her to marry him.

No matter how high you rise, nothing is as important as family, no matter how humble or unsophisticated. It’s a timeless lesson.

Dogtooth – Day Two – #40movies40days

dogtooth03Last night I saw Dogtooth, the 2011 Academy Award nominated Best Foreign Language Film from Greece.  There’s going to be no rhyme or reason in selecting the films for my 40 movies in 40 days project.  I’ve decided to go wherever the spirit leads me.  Once I start watching a film I am going to view it all the way to the end and see what it might have to say to me.

Last night, my random choice was Dogtooth, mostly because I could stream it instantly on NetFlix, but also because I had heard good things about it as an overlooked Oscar nomination (mostly from my alt film friends).

WARNING: this film is not for everyone.  It is strange, perverse and quite disturbing– but fascinating after some slow-going.  My opinion reflects the common consensus and the film has a 93% fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the “strange perverse” caveat.

The film enters, without explanation or set up, into the insular world of a reasonablely wealthy family in Greece.  Three adult children (without names) live with their parents, completely isolated from the outside world.

The first scene opens on  a vocabulary lesson, via cassette recorder, providing the definitions of a number of words whose meanings are arbitrarily switched– the word “sea” the adult children are taught means “armchair.” When asking to pass the “salt” the word they are taught to use is “phone.”

They are also taught the outside world is extremely dangerous and even fatal.  (A non-existant fictional “older brother” they are told ventured outside and was devoured by a housecat– one of the most dangerous and ferocious animals on the planet who feeds on human flesh).  The father returns with ripped clothes and smeared head to toe with blood to report the grim news.

dogtooth2The family compound (house, pool, large garden) is located inside a tall hedged fence that completely obstructs the view.  Only the father ventures outside, in the safety of his car.  He owns a large factory and is a dead-pan but accomplished and probably expert business man.  He’s made up a variety of stories about why no one ever sees his family and why no one is ever invited to the house.  (He is a Power of Reason character and alienation vs connection is a common thread through-out the movie.)

The mother is an obsessive Power of Love character.  She willingly goes along with the father to protect the children from outside “bad influences” and to keep them safe, secure, always in her orbit and completely dependent on her.

The family television only plays video cassettes made by the father which depict family scenes and family events.  When the father buys groceries all the product labels are carefully removed and discarded before any item is brought into the house.  The father “translates” an English language Dean Martin record, which the children are told was made by their “grandfather,” as an ode to family loyalty, fidelity and trying hard to please your parents.

The mother never leaves the compound but does have access to a rotary telephone, which is hidden and locked away in the parent’s bedroom.  The adult children believe she occasionally retreats to her room to talk to herself.  When one of the girls sneaks into the bedroom she has no idea how the phone works or what it is.  When she accidentally dials a number and hears a voice, the girl is terrified and immediately hides the phone again.

The adult children live a strange bizarre life and have no real context for anything.  They are at the edge of rebellion but when they question the parents the adult children accept the warped answers they receive.  The parents aren’t depicted as evil or horribly abusive (well maybe a couple of times).  They are strange, inappropriate and consumed with constructing a completely insular world of rather twisted innocence.  They enthusiastically celebrate all sorts of family events.  They laude their children’s achievement goals (all sorts of little contests are devised). They are mostly benevolent despots.

dogtooth_15bThe only stranger the family sees is the female security guard who (while blindfolded) is occasionally driven to the compound to have joyless mechanical sex with the adult son.  When one of the daughters gets hold of her contraband videotapes of American films (Rocky, Jaws and perhaps Flashdance) the daughter begins to quote from the movies and acts out the dance sequence from Flashdance.  The isolation is shattered and things end as strangely as they began.

So where exactly did this lead me?  Lots of metaphors have been offered about the film– but as I thought about the film I wondered my own unquestioned assumptions, definitions and fears.   How much of what I believe did I inherit or do I accept without examination?  How many of my beliefs are warped or distorted by someone else’s experience that is presented as fact or “truth”?

pa1b10_cola_basted_ham_lgIt reminded me of the old story about the ham in the pan.  The story goes like this– A woman is cooking Easter dinner for her family and cuts off the ends of ham before tucking it into a very large pan and putting it into the oven.

Her small daughter asks her why she cuts the ham like that.  The mother answers that it is the way it’s always been done.  But then the mother wonders about this.  She asks her own mother about the reasons for cutting off the ends of the ham.

Her mother replies that it was how she was taught to prepare a ham.  They finally ask the family matriarch and she says that the oven in her home was too small to accommodate a large ham so she had to trim either end to make it fit in the pan and in the oven.

How long after the reason is obscured, has changed or become irrelevant do our assumptions and behavior patterns remain the same?  Sometimes what we are told is false, like in Dogtooth, and the warnings, information or attitudes passed on simply represent someone else’s fears, good intentions or experience, without any true contextual basis in reality or in our own experience.

1wJ4VAE4iooCFor example, how many of my attitudes and assumptions toward money come from parents who were born just after the Great Depression?  I am revisiting a wonderful book, The Energy of Money, during this 40 days.  The book’s premise is– everything about who you are is intensified in your attitude about money.  Money is just a form of energy– how much energy you expend getting it, holding on to it or spending it.  Like all energy, it has a flow.  This flow can be blocked or squandered in response to fears, false assumptions or living in a way that is not intentional (not paying attention!)

How should my energy flow be focused in pursuing my projects?  How do I not squander or dissipate my energy by frantic activity.  How do I assess just what I want in evaluating and pursuing each project?  How do I do that intentionally and in reflection of who I want to be?

I am incredibly lucky and very blessed.  My father was extemely proud of me.  As a creative person I was never told that I should have a “back up plan” or I should study something “practical.”  He and my mother always believed I could do whatever I set out to do– no matter that I was a girl.  All good!

One of the last things my father said to me before he died was that he was only sorry he wouldn’t live to see my “great” success.  By that time I had been in a long-term mostly happy marriage (I still am), I helped raised one of my siblings (in my home) who was going through a rough patch in young adulthood, my husband and I owned a house, I had a law degree and a Masters Degree, I enjoyed a flourishing teaching, writing and consulting career and I had written several books– wasn’t that great success?

I know my dad meant that remark in a kindly way.  But maybe I have been chasing something that is always just beyond my reach and not defined by me.  I am not done by any means.  There are always further mountains to climb, bridges to build and to cross and obstacles to overcome– In this next 40 days I want to make sure those mountains, bridges and obstacles are mine– and not the unexamined reflections or desires of someone else.  I want to pursue only those projects that represent the best of what I can offer and which reflect the best of who I want to be.  I want to live more intentionally– at least during this 40 days of time.

How do you go about being intentional in your work?  Who defines you and your beliefs?  Do you ever wonder about that?  What fears or false assumptions might be standing in your way?  Comment here or on my ETB FaceBook page.

DAY ONE  POST- RANGO- IS HERE

The Bachelor and The Power of Love

Ratings for Brad Womack’s comeback season on The Bachelor are down, and he’s been scorned as a featureless, psychobabbling Ken doll. But beneath his boring exterior lies a highly skilled Romeo…
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According to Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, Womack is the modern equivalent of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest seducers of all time. It was Disraeli, after all, who as prime minister of England in the late 1800s seduced the socks off Queen Victoria by appealing to the stodgy royal’s femininity and deeply buried sexuality.
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Disraeli affectionately (and with irreverence that shocked everyone but la reine) referred to Victoria as the “Faery Queen.” He sent her political reports that were essentially love notes, filled with juicy gossip about her enemies (one of whom was wittily described as having “the sagacity of the elephant, as well as its form”). But the essence of Disraeli’s genius as a courtier was his ability to make it all about her.
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Enter Womack, who constantly deflects attention from himself to focus on the needs and whimsies of his potential brides. On his first date with Jackie, a 27-year-old artist who lives in New York, he brings her to a luxurious day spa. “Can I help you with this?” he says as he gallantly helps her into a robe. He then tells the camera how excited he is that the date “solely centers on pampering Jackie.”
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Later on, when he whisks Jackie off to a private dinner and concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he toasts his by now totally smitten date by saying: “Here is to what I hope is as close to a perfect day as possible for you. I’m glad it’s you.” And throughout the night, which concludes with a private Train concert, he frequently murmurs, “I hope you’re happy.”…
Greene pointed out that on The Bachelor, Womack is not in the traditional position of seduction artist—technically, it should be the women who are seducing him. But as someone who is trying to “seduce America,” as Greene described Womack’s “motive,” and convince audiences that he’s no longer an insensitive cad, his wooing energies are in high gear.
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The only time Womack ever seems flustered is when a woman disrupts his flood of attention and turns the focus back to him. Womack clams up and is visibly thrown off his game.
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This is the description of a Power of Love character.

Brad-Womack-BachelorI am not particularly a fan of The Bachelor but I was struck by this article on the current season.  It’s such an apt description of the Power of Love character.

These Character Types are the ultimate seducers.  They believe if they make themselves indispensable and/or irresistible, the other person will need them and will be obliged to love them.

On a paper valentine it says simply, firmly and powerfully “Be Mine.” Possessiveness and passive/aggressive domination are the hallmarks of these characters.

They manipulate by focusing the attention on the other person or love interest.  Power of Love characters lavish their attention and affection on others in order to exercise control, prevail or gain dominance.

That’s what it sounds like Brad Womack’s seduction strategy is as discussed in the article below:

Ratings for Brad Womack’s comeback season on The Bachelor are down, and he’s been scorned as a featureless, psychobabbling Ken doll. But beneath his boring exterior lies a highly skilled (even brilliant) Romeo…

…According to Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, Womack is the modern equivalent of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest seducers of all time. It was Disraeli, after all, who as prime minister of England in the late 1800s seduced the socks off Queen Victoria by appealing to the stodgy royal’s femininity and deeply buried sexuality.

Disraeli affectionately (and with irreverence that shocked everyone but la reine) referred to Victoria as the “Faery Queen.” He sent her political reports that were essentially love notes, filled with juicy gossip about her enemies (one of whom was wittily described as having “the sagacity of the elephant, as well as its form”). But the essence of Disraeli’s genius as a courtier was his ability to make it all about her.  (And thus gain control of the relationship.)

Enter Womack, who constantly deflects attention from himself to focus on the needs and whimsies of his potential brides. On his first date with Jackie, a 27-year-old artist who lives in New York, he brings her to a luxurious day spa. “Can I help you with this?” he says as he gallantly helps her into a robe. He then tells the camera how excited he is that the date “solely centers on pampering Jackie.”

Later on, when he whisks Jackie off to a private dinner and concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he toasts his by now totally smitten date by saying: “Here is to what I hope is as close to a perfect day as possible for you. I’m glad it’s you.” And throughout the night, which concludes with a private Train concert, he frequently murmurs, “I hope you’re happy.”…

…The only time Womack ever seems flustered is when a woman disrupts his flood of attention and turns the focus back to him. Womack clams up and is visibly thrown off his game.  (When the attention is on him he loses the advantage and can’t control and manipulate the person or the situation.)

The rest of the article is here:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-02-20/bachelor-brad-womacks-hidden-brilliance/?cid=hp:mainpromo6

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.

aaron-rodgersPOWER OF CONSCIENCE

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

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?

imagesPOWER OF AMBITION

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.

images-1POWER OF WILL

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

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

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

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 Magic of Toy Story 3

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In the Toy Story Movie Trilogy, Cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) undergoes the rich complex emotional journey of an exceptionally well-drawn Power of Love character. In Toy Story 3, Woody completes that journey with his beloved Andy.  Toy Story 3 is as powerful, heartfelt, thrilling and funny as any film deserving of a “Best Picture” nomination.  It has my personal vote to take home the 2011 Oscar in that category.

Power of Love characters see their own value only as it is reflected in the eyes of their love object.  Woody’s relationship with Andy defines who Woody is and why he feels important.  His “special place” in Andy’s heart and on Andy’s pillow is put at risk in the first Toy Story film.  A new toy, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), has captured Andy’s attention and interest.  When Buzz appears on Andy’s bed Woody approaches the interloper to set things straight.

Buzz-Lightyear-Toy-Story-3Woody says:  “Hey hey! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Did I frighten you? Didn’t mean to. Sorry. Howdy. My name… is Woody… and this… is Andy’s room. That’s all I wanted to say. And also, there has been a bit of a mix-up. This is my spot, see… the bed here.”

When Buzz won’t cooperate Woody’s reaction is mounting fury and intense jealousy.  Woody says: “Listen, Lightsnack, you stay away from Andy. He’s mine, and no one is taking him away from me.”

Over the course of Toy Story, Woody learns to share Andy’s love.  Woody and Buzz become friends.  It is a hard won step in Woody’s emotional journey.  Power of Love characters fear becoming useless, unnecessary, unwanted or unappreciated.

These characters define their own self-worth by how much others need or are dependent on them. Jealousy and resentment are the immediate reactions when a Power of Love character feels displaced or rejected. Woody must put these selfish feelings aside and learn that love is expansive.  If you are open and generous you will find that there is enough to go around.

Power of Love ETBScreenwritingPower of Love characters are usually the caretakers in an ensemble and Woody relishes filling that role with the other toys.  In Toy Story 2 Woody prepares to go away with Andy to Cowboy Camp.  Woody is concerned that everyone is well cared for during his absence.  He says: “Here’s your list of things to do while I’m gone: batteries need to be changed. Toys at the bottom of the chest need to be rotated. Oh, and make sure everyone attends Mr. Spell’s seminar on what to do if you or part of you is swallowed. Okay? Okay, good, okay.”

But Woody’s arm gets ripped and Andy leaves him behind.  Andy goes to Cowboy Camp without his friend.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Woody ends up in a yard sale and is stolen by a vintage toy collector.  Buzz, leading the other toys, comes after Woody to return him to Andy and the toy chest.

Initially, Woody is tempted to stay with his new friends.  What he is offered is immortality– to be enshrined in a museum, admired and adored forever by endless generations of children.  Buzz tries to talk some sense into Woody.

Woody---Buzz-Lightyear-toy-story-478714_1024_768-1Buzz Lightyear:  “Woody, stop this nonsense and let’s go.”

Woody:  “Nah, Buzz.”  (Woody sighs)  I can’t go. I can’t abandon these guys. They need me to get into this museum. Without me, they’ll go back into storage. Maybe forever.”

Buzz Lightyear:  “Woody, you’re not a collector’s item, you’re a child’s plaything. You are a toy!”

Woody:  “For how much longer? One more rip, and Andy’s done with me. And what do I do then, Buzz? Huh? You tell me.”

Buzz Lightyear:  “Somewhere in that pad of stuffing is a toy who taught me that life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid. And I traveled all this way to rescue that toy because I believed him.”

Stinky Pete the Prospector tries to warn Woody that Andy is growing up and will eventually abandon him and break his heart. Woody tells Pete: “Your’e right, Prospector. I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

240toystory2Woody realizes love is worth the pain.  He explains his attachment to Andy to his new friend Jessie the Cowgirl.

Woody: “Look Jessie, I know you hate me for leaving, but I have to go back. I’m still Andy’s toy. Well, if you knew him, you’d understand. See, Andy’s… ”

Jessie: “Let me guess. Andy’s a real special kid, and to him, you’re his buddy, his best friend, and when Andy plays with you it’s like… even though you’re not moving, you feel like you’re alive, because that’s how he sees you.”

Woody: “How did you know that?”

Jessie: “Because Emily was just the same. She was my whole world.”

In Toy Story 2 Woody learns to love Andy even though he knows Andy will eventually outgrow him.  Woody has moved from loving Andy because it makes Woody feel needed and important, to loving Andy unconditionally.  Even if love may eventually break Woody’s heart, it’s the only thing that matters.  The end is already in sight in Toy Story 2.

Toy-Story-3-Andy-toy-story-3-9703190-1024-576In Toy Story 3 Woody learns that loving is letting go.  Woody has the opportunity to go to college with Andy.  But he will sit on shelf, gathering dust.  Andy has moved past needing Woody and the cowboy knows it.  Instead, Woody chooses to join his friends and be donated to Bonnie, a much younger girl.

When Andy delivers the box, he is surprised to see Woody inside.  Andy hesitates and then lets go too.  He plays with Woody and the gang one last time and tells Bonnie:  “Now Woody, he’s been my pal for as long as I can remember. He’s brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.”

Both Woody and Andy are ready to move on because that’s what you have to do in life.  The people you love eventually all will leave you– because of circumstances, age or death.  They go off to college.  They move away.  They come to the end of their lifespan.  We can choose to be embittered, resentful and closed off by our loss or we can chose to love expansively and let go like Woody.

This movie was particularly poignant to me because my family has learned all too clearly that loving is letting go.  Eleven years ago, on a Good Friday, my father died of lung cancer.  He was a long-time smoker and an “Ad Man” in the era of Mad Men. I can still see him light up a Pall Mall and sip his Tanqueray Martini.  He always had a crisp white handkerchief in his pocket, a shine on his shoes and the faint scent of Brylcreem and British Sterling.  If I had one word to describe him it would be “dapper.”  He was a showman and a professional hypnotist.  Everyone in town knew him and he was genuinely interested in and curious about everyone he met.

At the end of his life, my dad was in hospice care at home.  We were all fortunate to be with him and in the house when he died.  In his last days, it was clear he was ready– more than ready– to go.  As much as we wanted to keep him with us for just a little longer, it was time to say goodbye.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about love is that it is not diminished by distance.  It is not diminished by time.  It is not diminished by death.  Those we we have loved live forever in our hearts.  It hurts to love and let go.  But it hurts even more to close ourselves off from love.

I have learned we must allow our hearts to be cracked open by love and even be broken.  Those we love will disappoint us.  They will often fail us.  They will leave us. But that is part of being human. It’s a fragile, frail and imperfect existence.  And in the end, love is the only thing that makes life matter– even when it means saying goodbye.  There is no movie I can think of that expresses that sentiment better or with more elegance, grace and humor than Toy Story 3.

I’d love to hear your experience of the movie and how you have experienced and written about loss and love in your own life and work.  Please comment below or post on our new ETB FaceBook Page.  And if you are feeling generous and expansive today please “like” us.

Project Runway and the Power of Love

tim_gunn ETBScreenwritingI am a BIG fan of Project Runway.  One of my favorite characters is Tim Gunn.  He plays the role of the classic Power of Love character in the series.

Although typically seen on TV as a female character (Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty or Marge in The Simpsons for example), a Power of Love character can also be a compelling male character.

Their function in a story, as is Tim Gunn’s function, is as a caretaker or a mentor: to cajole others into doing what is “best for them;” encourage others to take advantage of possible opportunities for advancement or improvement; soothe the hurt feelings of others; encourage others to do their best; to be patient and giving toward others; and to anticipate others’ needs.  Gunn does this par excellence with his “designers.”

His catch phrases always express his care and concern:  “Talk to me”, “Make it work”, “This worries me”, “Don’t bore Nina”, “That’s a lot of look”, “Designers, gather around” and “Carry on”.

Power of Love characters— often soft and gentle on the outside— are made of strong, even steely, stuff on the inside.  There is an iron fist in their velvet glove. These characters can be interfering, domineering, dictatorial and obsessive when they believe they know what is best for others.

Tim Gunn never goes to that extreme but he also doesn’t ever hesitate to deliver the harsh truth needed to improve a contestant’s work.  (And some of his charges DO experience his advice as domineering and/or dictatorial). Notably, those are usually the ones who lose out on a challenge.  The man has a good eye and sincerely wants to bring out the best in everyone under his strong and capable wing.

Anyone looking to develop a compelling male Power of Love character would do well to take a look at Tim Gunn in action on Project Runway.

Power of Love

Power of Love ETBScreenwritingPersonality

Power of Love characters believe if they make themselves indispensable and/or irresistible the other person will need them and will be obliged to love them. This might be stated: “I’ve done everything for you. I sacrificed and slaved for you. I made you who you are. You owe me.” Or in the case of a spouse or lover: “I gave you the best years of my life. You owe me.”

On a paper valentine it says simply, firmly and powerfully “Be Mine.” Possessiveness and passive/aggressive domination are the hallmarks of these characters. Power of Love characters often lavish their attention and affection on others in order to exercise control, prevail, gain dominance or conquer another’s heart.

They see their own value reflected in the eyes of their love object.  Their philosophy might be stated: “You’re nothing without me. (And I feel I am nothing without you.)”

A character driven by the Power of Love is often a best friend, a mentor, an over-zealous parent, a beleaguered assistant or someone who tirelessly pushes another forward in a story. At their worst, these characters are stalkers, jealous lovers, crushingly caring parents, needy spouses, clingy codependents or self-pitying martyrs for love.

Although typically developed as a female character, a Power of Love character can also be a compelling male lead. These characters— often soft, gentle and compliant on the outside—are made of strong, even steely, stuff on the inside.

Power_of_Love ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty; Marge in The Simpsons; Turtle in Entourage, Steve Brady in Sex and The City; Ray Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond and Phil Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues are great television examples of this Character Type.  For more television examples see the Power of Love blog posts.

Film examples include Loretta Castorini in Moonstruck, Mama Rose & Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy, Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maquire, Annie Wilkes in Misery and Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer.  For more movie examples see the Power of Love blog posts.

Power of Love eBook

The Power of Love 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 Love characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.

Discover the Power of Love 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 Love 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_Love ETB Screenwriting

Comprehensive Analysis

The Power of  Love 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 Love  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 Love 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 Love 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 Love 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 Love 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 Love 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 Love 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 Love character convince others to follow? How does this character act to take charge and command?

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

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

(11.) Real Life Examples (historical Power of Love 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

Films

– 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

Bones – Reason & Love

bones-etbscreenwritingI have become obsessed with the Fox Television procedural series, Bones. It’s a show with an excellent mix of crime of the week stories and emotional stories between core cast members. The core cast is exceptionally well-defined and Character Types are extremely clear. It’s smart, funny and a fascinating world to watch.

Each episode features an FBI case requiring the identification of long buried or hidden human remains. FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) teams with a forensic anthropology team lead by Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel). The show is loosely based on the work of real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who is a producer on the show.

Bones is a classic Power of Reason character. Brilliant, analytical, cool, stand-offish and socially awkward.

Agent Booth is a classic Power of Love character. Compassionate, warm, engaging, funny and genuinely sweet.

The two are wonderful foils for each other. Their unfolding attraction has been paced beautifully over four seasons. There is a lesson here for all Romantic comedy writers. The two characters exchange gifts to complement and complete each other. These gifts are personality traits missing in the other, differing points of view necessary to solving the case and critical skills or abilities lacking in their partner. Neither character in the partnership can accomplish the story objective alone. They actually need each other.

In developing any partnership, romantic or otherwise, ask yourself: Why do these two people need each other? What is missing in each person? How do they attract and repel each other? What Leap of Faith must they make to be fully and completely together? What does each fear in the other? What does each person fear most in themselves? How does each person force the other to peel off the mask and reveal what is most vulnerable, secret or shameful about them? How does each person help the other heal?

Ugly Betty – 2008 Premiere Disappointment

america_ferrara-2Ugly Betty made its 2008 season premiere last week. The show is about the travails and triumphs of Betty Suarez, a bright and eager but beauty-challenged young career woman. She is a working-class Mexican-American girl from Queens employed at an ultra-sophisticated New York City publishing company, Meade Enterprises.

According to Neilson figures, last week’s premiere was “down by 1.39 million viewers and down 15 percent among adults 18-49 from it’s year-ago season-opener.” In fact, the show premiered only marginally up from its low of last season.

This signals growing dissatisfaction with the story and further declining numbers. Here’s what I believe went wrong with the season premiere (and what danger signs it sends for the rest of season three).

Negating the Conflict

Betty returns to Queens from a cross-country vacation trip to “discover herself.” She’s assembled a big book of ideas. Near the top of the list is to get an apartment in New York City. With only minor obstacles and a few easily overcome setbacks that’s what she does in the course of a single episode!

This very quick choice and resolution seriously damages one of the most important emotional aspects of the show. When Betty lived with her struggling Mexican-American family in Queens she commuted between two very different worlds. The powerful pull of both worlds is the conflict at the heart of the original story concept.

In the season premiere, we also find out that Daniel has left Mode Magazine. He has been demoted to Player Magazine. Player seems to a publication for boy-men who retain a perennially adolescent-level interest in sex, vehicles and games.

This change of venue further weakens the essential conflict at the heart of Betty’s story. Player Magazine is not the icon Mode is—It seems almost to be a joke. Player and its staff reads as buffoonery whereas Mode had more bite as sharp satire.

Poor Change of Venue

Betty Suarez, as portrayed in the series, is a Power of Love character. Stories driven by the Power of Love (romantic or not) are about assimilation. Betty’s story is fundamentally about triumphs and tragedies of being caught between two worlds.

At Mode Magazine our heroine was right in the middle of the epitome of Anglo culture. Mode is depicted as a powerful arbiter of beauty and success. Betty came to work each day armed with her Mexican immigrant values of family, community, hard work and sacrifice. Two sets of cultures, attitudes and beliefs immediately were at war.

Over the course of an assimilation story (or a love story) the parties are continually forced together. As they are compelled to interact with each other, they exchange gifts. Each has something the other lacks or offers something new or really useful to the mix.

Mode Magazine offered Betty a gateway into the dominant Anglo culture and all the status, success, wealth and acceptance that assimilation brings (the American Dream). Betty brought honesty, authenticity, devotion to family and real care for others to a slick stylized world that has lost much of its heart and soul.

The change of venue to Player Magazine offers none of the iconic contrasts that made Betty’s story so powerful. Instead, the change amps up secondary character conflicts at the expense of what should be at the center of the show. Betty is no longer at the center of Mode and the focus further shifts to lesser characters.

Diminished Central Focus

The central focus of Ugly Betty should be Betty herself. Supporting cast should do just that—support Betty’s story. The show is not about Daniel Meade’s (Eric Mabius) exile from Mode, Wilhelmina Slater’s (Vanessa Williams) baby surrogate drama or Claire Meade’s (Judith Light) new magazine launch. These storylines are only of interest if they push Betty’s story forward. They should never pull focus away from Betty.

Betty is our heroine. She is the title character. The audience identifies her as the center of this story universe. Every plot line, dramatic twist or comedic situation should revolve around or reflect back on Betty. Each circumstance and situation should sharpen and clarify her essential dilemma and further illuminate her emotional journey. If a storyline does not do that it should be reframed or jettisoned as quickly as possible.

Instead, as complex story lines are developed they move the story away from Betty. The audience’s connection with her journey weakens and they begin to lose interest in the show. It doesn’t matter how outrageous, surprising, or interesting a storyline is, unless it reveals Betty’s journey more clearly, it is a diversion that dilutes the emotional focus of the show. The more the dilution, the faster the audience dwindles.

Missing the Mark

A show’s tone is always a question of balance. In the premiere, the balance strays too far off the mark. Too high a premium is placed on outrageous behavior and outlandish situations. When humor is based on situations, the situations have to continually get crazier to raise the stakes.

As the show becomes more flamboyant or more outlandish, the tone threatens to overshadow and overwhelm the show’s sincerity and heart. Humor that is generated by extreme circumstances or bizarre situations doesn’t dig deep. Settling for the cheap easy laugh can, over time, seem simply cartoonish.

It is Betty the audience cares most about. Her appealing warmth, generosity and authenticity are the reasons the audience tunes in week after week. They want to know her better. They are worried about her out there in the wide world. They are eager to see how it will all work out for her. Remember: If we aren’t worried about a character’s sanity, safety or soul we aren’t compelled to tune in.

The tone and style of the show is only useful if it makes Betty seem more “real” and makes her personal dilemmas feel more urgent and pressing. Betty needs to drive the show and not merely react to the outrageous goings-on. Betty seems adrift at Player Magazine and so am I as a member of the audience. (I don’t think I am alone in this feeling.)

Small Moments Make Big Comedy (or Drama)

Power_of_Love ETB ScreenwritingThe setting, the tone and all story elements in Ugly Betty should help to spotlight Betty’s internal conflict. Her conflict should be revealed in the small everyday decisions that demonstrate who she is and who she wants to be. The storylines should go to the core of what Betty’s essential struggle is with herself and with others.  The problems at issue for Betty are the classic quandaries in any Power of Love story (or any story about assimilation, romance or partnership).

.

These story questions are:

Who I am vs. Who you want me to be?

How much of myself should I change to be accepted or to get along with you?

How much should I expect you to change?

What happens if I grow and change too much?

What happens if I don’t grow and change enough?

Will others tolerate my transformation or reject me?

What will I sacrifice for love or friendship?

Will you still need (or love) me if you aren’t dependent on me?

How independent and self-sufficient should I be?

This transformational emotional struggle is why the audience tunes in. It is a story as old as time. It is the universal bedtime story about the country mouse and the city mouse. Once this process of change begins, things can never be as they were. You can’t un-ring the bell. You can’t go back again.

Once Betty moves out she cannot move back “home.” In a powerful symbolic way she leaves her family further behind. This should have been a long slow build up that comes at great personal cost. Planning her move, telling her family and executing her move offered tremendous opportunity for an entire season of drama, conflict and humor; but which was summarily dispatched in a single episode! A key emotional story process was short cut and pushed to the side by outrageous situations having little to do with Betty’s essential dilemmas of the heart.

Too little Family Conflict

When Betty leaves her working class neighborhood to enter the more glamorous world of New York City and her professional career, her family is proud of her. But they must also be keenly aware that she is leaving them behind in the most fundamental way. Betty must inevitably be changed by her experiences. Even in the most loving families this change causes feelings of inadequacy, loss, rejection, resentment and jealousy in those left behind.

Changes in Betty should trigger changes in her family. What happens if Hilda (Ana Ortiz) or her son Justin (Mark Indelicato) steps up and takes Betty’s place in the family? What if Betty is the last to know about some important family business or is left out of a key family decision? Will Betty feel those same feelings of inadequacy rejection, loss, resentment and jealousy her family is experiencing? Betty’s role in the family was always as a caregiver. What happens when the role passes to someone else—because she isn’t there to fill it? Who is Betty Suarez then?

It is a mistake to make the Suarez family Betty’s safe haven and constant cheerleader. It takes endless comedic possibilities off the table. Comedy comes from pain. (“If it doesn’t hurt it isn’t funny”). If Betty is beleaguered on all sides it makes her situation much more painful and much funnier. Comedy makes characters more vulnerable not less vulnerable. Betty is not at risk enough with her family. Her family is too one-dimensionally “nice.” Families can offer loving support and intense opposition (and sometimes both at the same time).

Acceptance comes much too easily for Betty. The Suarez family is more understanding, patient, tolerant and well adjusted than any family I’ve ever met. The audience’s own families are much more chaotic, difficult and dysfunctional. Their families are filled with real, painful and intense conflict. Great comedy always comes from great conflict.

Acceptance in real families comes hard and at a very high emotional price. People really have to struggle to accept things, people or situations they don’t understand, didn’t plan for or didn’t ask for in the first place. The more the Suarez family struggles with acceptance issues between all members of the family, the more painful, and the funnier the story will become.

A huge emotional opportunity is being missed. Outside of a few very brief tussles, no one has any serious issues with each other in the Suarez family. There are great potential battles to be fought in Queens. These are the battles in which the audience is most keenly interested because they involve Betty directly and because they reflect the audience’s own personal battles. Although there is no place we are more at peace than with our family, there is also no place we are more at war. In families, kindness and cruelty go hand-in-hand. That’s what makes us so vulnerable with the ones we love.

Lackluster Love Interests

In the premiere, Betty is back to a buddy-buddy relationship with Daniel without missing a beat. Didn’t he miss her while she was away? How do we see that? Didn’t he realize anything about her while she was gone? Didn’t she miss him? How do we see that? Where is their more intimate personal reunion? That emotional story is virtually non-existent in the premiere.

Betty needs to have some romantic longings for Daniel. This is central to the original concept of the show (as a telenovela). In the premiere (and up to this point) the potential romantic sparks are few to none. These feelings can and should be concealed very deeply but they must bubble somehow below the surface.

In contrast, Betty needs a strong love interest in Queens. All of her love interests have been lightweights played more for easy comedic effect. What would happen if Betty met and fell in love with real neighborhood guy, a wonderful salt of the earth kind of man cast in her father’s mold? How would a man’s man of this caliber threaten Daniel’s relationship with Betty?

Falling for a guy as strong and loving as her father could make for a heart-breakingly difficult choice for Betty. Such a man might represent a real threat to Betty’s professional aspirations. He could provide a strong argument for her to find less demanding work closer to home in Queens.

Would Betty give up a wonderful marriage, children and a comfy Queens home of her own for a career in New York City? Would she be able to say goodbye to Daniel? Would she struggle to try to have a foot in both worlds? What happens if there is a crisis with Daniel and a simultaneous crisis with a man who loves her as she wishes to be loved? Which way would Betty turn? What would that tells us about her journey?

These relationship choices could provide an endless source of conflict and comedy. Right now there are no strong, compelling and believable counter-forces pulling Betty away from New York City and back toward Queens. Betty’s newest possible love interest, her next-door neighbor, pulls her toward the world of the big city, not away from it.

Strong oppositional forces are what make stories compelling, interesting and emotional. There is not enough push-pull between Queens and New York City. Betty’s essential conflicts haven’t been sharpened; they’ve been severely diluted. Unless choices are really really hard, they aren’t interesting and they don’t feel urgent and imminent. Unless choices are hard, the audience doesn’t care.

Based on the premiere there’s a lot in Ugly Betty that needs turning around.

Apply These Lessons to Your Story

1. Find the big drama (and big comedy) in the smallest moments and the simple every day choices and decisions your character makes. Squeeze every ounce of emotion and conflict out of those crucial defining story situations. Don’t be in a hurry to resolve these conflicts. Let them play out slowly.

2. Develop all story situations and conflicts to illuminate, support and demonstrate what is really emotionally at stake for your main character. All plot points should keep coming back to the character’s essential Story Questions. Each Character Type explores one set of these crucial human questions. Each set is quite different and distinct.

3. Jettison anything that pulls the focus too far away from your main character. Use secondary characters to intensify the conflict for your main character or reflect back on that conflict. Supporting players should do just that—emotionally support and/or clarify (through opposition) the main character’s journey.

4. Use tone or style to illuminate the heart and emotional authenticity of the story. Keep tone and style in balance with the story. If there’s a question, always go for the heart.

5. Find most of your conflict in your character’s core relationships. Keep characters in constant conflict with those they love. That’s where the stakes are really high. No can hurt us or help us more than those we love.

6. Make sure your story has sufficient oppositional conflict. There must be a strong push-pull for your character at all times. Create two very strong forces attracting your character. Then, put your character squarely between them. Tear your character apart in the push-pull of these powerful magnetic forces.

7. Create the hardest possible choices for your character. Make sure there is a very high price for any such choice. Make those choices hurt—badly! Otherwise, the choice isn’t meaningful or important.