Terminator Salvation vs Star Trek – What Is Fair?

Terminator_Salvation_John_Connor-etbscreenwritingThe Importance of Worldview

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

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

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Power of Conscience

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

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Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism

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

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Power_of_Reason ETB ScreenwritingPower of Reason

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

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Power_of_Will ETB ScreenwritingPower of Will

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

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Fairness Depends on Point of View

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

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

Star Trek 2009 – Spot On Character Types

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirk: I’ll do it in three.

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

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

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

The following exchange with Bones demonstrates Spock’s character:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Casino Royale – Power of Reason

Screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis moved James Bond into the next phase of 007’s life in the excellent film, Casino Royale. It is a great example of how to transition a character.
The long-standing James Bond franchise is effectively updated, renewed and refreshed for new audiences.This kind of character evolution is also critical in any long-running television series. The dynamics of an ensemble can change over time, requiring adjustments in a character. Transitioning a new character can help to take advantage of a newly cast actor’s strengths.
No matter how carefully a new character is crafted on the page he or she must be a character the actor can successfully play.  Conforming the actor’s character type and his or her fictional character type is much more likely to produce a standout performance.  All this must be done with real authenticity and a solid emotional foundation.
James Bond, like Indiana Jones and the more comedic Austin Powers, has always been written and played as a Power of Excitement character. In my view of film and television, there are nine possible emotional engines that drive a protagonist and storyline.  Stories driven by the Power of Excitement are about getting out of traps and escaping from entangling situations.
Power of Excitement characters refuse to be confined, corralled or domesticated.  They flee adult responsibilities and commitments.  Peter Pan is a classic Power of Excitement character.  So are the protagonists played by Hugh Grant in his early movies.  These characters are incredibly charming but basically are kids.  Their mantra is, “I don’t want to grow up.  I don’t want to settle down.”
Mimi Avins, in The Los Angles Times, November 12, 2006 hits the nail on the head when she writes:  “There has always been something adolescent about 007. Sure, Britain’s best-known secret agent occasionally bears the fate of the free world on his deltoids. What he hasn’t shouldered, as he’s whizzed from one adventure to another over the last 44 years, is the ordinary responsibilities and commitments of a modern adult male. He’s an eternal lad, with a teenager’s contempt for authority and the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Packer’s attitude toward women that real men outgrow about the time they realize Maxim isn’t seriously meant to be a guide to life.”
These charming characters’ devil-may-care “I just want to play around and play the field” behavior can be captivating when a character is young.  But, after a certain age, it grows tiresome and verges on the pathetic.  That’s why, in his later movies, About a Boy and Brigitte Jones’ Diary for example, Hugh Grant plays this character type’s darker side and shows the emotional toll paid.  This is a successful character transition that avoids a devastating pitfall:  Power of Excitement characters and actors playing the boyish scamp or charming playboy have a definite expiration date.
The incredibly valuable Bond franchise was facing a difficult dilemma in remaking Casino Royale.  The perennially adolescent Power of Excitement Bond has been around for a long time and might not seem as appealing to the current, more cynical, movie-going audience.  An expiration date was looming.  These are darker and less innocent times than when the Bond movies debuted with such flash and fun in the psychedelic 1960’s.
So how does 007 evolve and grow up?  What kind of character is the new “more adult” Bond?  The producers’ and screenwriters’ answer is to transition the character from a Power of Excitement character to a Power of Reason character.  I believe they chose wisely.
Power of Reason stories are about alienation vs. connection.  They are about order vs. chaos. These characters are distant, sarcastic and can be perceived as cold.  It’s not that these characters don’t feel things— the trouble is, they feel things too deeply.  To avoid being overwhelmed by their emotions Power of Reason characters shut down and withdraw into themselves.
Power of Reason characters are experts in their field. They are stubborn, tough and opinionated and always believe they know best.  They are loners and prefer to work alone.  These characters buck authority because they believe they are best left to their own devices.  These characteristics lead Bond to clash with M over and over in Casino Royale.  This new Bond is more resolute and less cavalier than the previous Power of Excitement Bonds.  Earlier 007s had a devil-may-care attitude of rebellion against “adult” constraints and authority.
Casino Royale’s flashback to Bond’s early days to show how he became 007 is a stroke of genius.  This is the perfect film to remake and renew the franchise.  We see the new Bond prove himself in the field in a bloody, gritty and determined way.  We watch him fall in love, see his wary cautious heart melt and watch how tragedy then hardens him again.  Tragedy makes this Bond more cynical and forces him to shut down all human feeling.  He becomes more distant, disconnected and a cold-blooded killing machine.
Daniel Craig is an inspired choice to play the new Bond.  Despite early carping and criticism by fans, his character type is ideally suited to this Power of Reason 007.  Writing about some of his early stage work a reviewer noted that Craig “contains his violence like an unexploded mine.”  There is a cool and controlled quality to Craig’s previous roles in Layer Cake and Munich.  We believe his expertise and ability to disengage and get the job done, despite the internal and/or moral cost.
Another excellent example of a Power of Reason story and character is Luc Besson’s wonderful film, The Professional, starring Jean Reno as Leon, a hit man.  Leon meets a little girl under crisis circumstances and learns to love— with tragic, but heroic, consequences.  Television Power of Reason examples include Dr. Gregory House on House and the comedic detective series Monk.  Even though all these  characters are individually very distinctive, they each share the same emotional and motivational core.
When transitioning a character the question is how to recast the same behavior with a compelling new motivation.  Consistency, authenticity and character type is key.  Previous 007s killed as sport and barely rumpled their tuxedos.  They were flip, flash and fun:  the eternal “lad.”  This new adult Bond doesn’t avoid obligations and responsiblities.  He executes them, both literally and figuratively, with chilling and brutal expertise.  This is a Bond who is bloodied but unbowed.  He has scars on his soul.  And he doesn’t give a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred.  He has darker more adult  concerns.

casino-royale-etb-screenwritingScreenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis move James Bond into the next phase of 007’s life in the excellent film, Casino Royale. It is a great example of how to transition a character.

The film effectively updates, renews and refreshed the James Bond character for new audiences. This kind of character evolution is also critical in any long-running television series. The dynamics of an ensemble can change over time, requiring adjustments in a character. Transitioning the character can help to take advantage of a newly cast actor’s strengths.

James Bond, like Indiana Jones and the more comedic Austin Powers, has always been written and played as a Power of Excitement character. Stories driven by the Power of Excitement are about getting out of traps and escaping from entangling situations.

Power of Excitement characters refuse to be confined, corralled or domesticated.  They flee adult responsibilities and commitments.  Peter Pan is a classic Power of Excitement character.  So are the protagonists played by Hugh Grant in his early movies.  These characters are incredibly charming but basically are kids.  Their mantra is, “I don’t want to grow up.  I don’t want to settle down.”

Mimi Avins, in The Los Angles Times, November 12, 2006 hits the nail on the head when she writes:  “There has always been something adolescent about 007. Sure, Britain’s best-known secret agent occasionally bears the fate of the free world on his deltoids. What he hasn’t shouldered, as he’s whizzed from one adventure to another over the last 44 years, is the ordinary responsibilities and commitments of a modern adult male. He’s an eternal lad, with a teenager’s contempt for authority and the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Packer’s attitude toward women that real men outgrow about the time they realize Maxim isn’t seriously meant to be a guide to life.”

These charming characters’ devil-may-care “I just want to play around and play the field” behavior can be captivating when a character is young.  But, after a certain age, it grows tiresome and verges on the pathetic.  That’s why, in his later movies, About a Boy and Brigitte Jones’ Diary for example, Hugh Grant plays this character type’s darker side and shows the emotional toll paid.  This is a successful character transition that avoids a devastating pitfall:  Power of Excitement characters and actors playing the boyish scamp or charming playboy have a definite expiration date.

The incredibly valuable Bond franchise was facing a difficult dilemma in remaking Casino Royale.  The perennially adolescent Power of Excitement Bond has been around for a long time and might not seem as appealing to the current, more cynical, movie-going audience.  An expiration date was looming.  These are darker and less innocent times than when the Bond movies debuted with such flash and fun in the psychedelic 1960’s.

So how does 007 evolve and grow up?  What kind of character is the new “more adult” Bond?  The producers’ and screenwriters’ answer is to transition the character from a Power of Excitement character to a Power of Reason character.  I believe they chose wisely.

Power of Reason stories are about alienation vs. connection.  They are about order vs. chaos. These characters are distant, sarcastic and can be perceived as cold.  It’s not that these characters don’t feel things— the trouble is, they feel things too deeply.  To avoid being overwhelmed by their emotions Power of Reason characters shut down and withdraw into themselves.

Power of Reason characters are experts in their field. They are stubborn, tough and opinionated and always believe they know best.  They are loners and prefer to work alone.  These characters buck authority because they believe they are best left to their own expert devices.  These characteristics lead Bond to clash with M over and over in Casino Royale.  This new Bond is more resolute and less cavalier than the previous Power of Excitement Bonds.  Earlier 007s had a devil-may-care attitude of rebellion against “adult” constraints and authority.

Casino Royale‘s flashback to Bond’s early days to show how he became 007 is a stroke of genius.  This is the perfect film to remake and renew the franchise.  We see the new Bond prove himself in the field in a bloody, gritty and determined way.  We watch him fall in love, see his wary cautious heart melt and watch how tragedy then hardens him again.  Tragedy makes this Bond more cynical and forces him to shut down all human feeling.  He becomes more distant, disconnected and a cold-blooded killing machine.

Daniel Craig is an inspired choice to play the new Bond.  Despite early carping and criticism by fans, his character type is ideally suited to this Power of Reason 007.  Writing about some of his early stage work a reviewer noted that Craig “contains his violence like an unexploded mine.”  There is a cool and controlled quality to Craig’s previous roles in Layer Cake and Munich.  We believe his expertise and ability to disengage and get the job done, despite the internal and/or moral cost.

Another excellent example of a Power of Reason story and character is Luc Besson’s wonderful film, The Professional, starring Jean Reno as Leon, a hit man.  Leon meets a little girl under crisis circumstances and learns to love— with tragic, but heroic, consequences.  Television Power of Reason examples include Dr. Gregory House on House and the comedic detective series Monk.  Even though all these  characters are individually very distinctive, they each share the same emotional and motivational core.

When transitioning a character the question is how to recast the same behavior with a compelling new motivation.  Consistency, authenticity and character type is key. Previous 007s killed as sport and barely rumpled their tuxedos.  They were flip, flash and fun:  the eternal “lad.”  This new adult Bond doesn’t avoid obligations and responsiblities.  He executes them, both literally and figuratively, with chilling and brutal expertise.  This is a Bond who is bloodied but unbowed.  He has scars on his soul.  And he doesn’t give a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred.  He has darker more adult  concerns.