The China Syndrome – Day Nineteen – #40movies40days

China-Syndrome1-150x150The China Syndrome was released in March 1979 and less than two weeks later the Three Mile Island accident occurred.  Pictures and news reports were eerily similar to the film.  The problem at the actual nuclear plant was caused, much the same as in the film, by technical failure made worse by human error. I’d never seen The China Syndrome and decided to catch up with it after all the news reports of the escalating problems and potential nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

Jane Fonda (Klute, Julia) plays a television news reporter who is not taken very seriously until a routine story at the local nuclear power plant leads her to what may be a cover-up of epic proportions. She and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas (Wall Street, American President), hook up with a whistleblower at the plant, played by Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger, Missing). Together they try to uncover the dangers lurking beneath the nuclear reactor and avoid being silenced by the business interests behind the plant. Though topical, the film (produced by Douglas) works on its own as a socially conscious thriller that entertains even as it spurs its audience to think.
In the film, Jane Fonda plays an attractive Power of Ambition television reporter who has been hired mostly for her looks and pleasant manner on camera.  She reports on funny human interest stories, cute animal stories and other charming “local color” stories for a local television station.
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Fonda wants to advance her career, be taken seriously as a reporter and cover more substantive news but she believes the way to get along is to go along.   She’s not one to stand up to or antagonize her bosses.  Over the course of the story her backbone stiffens and she pursues an important story at the potential cost of her career.
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Michael Douglas is a Power of Truth freelance camera man.  He is a 60’s radical hardened into a 70’s skeptic.  He has no problem with being outspoken, even belligerent, and he is quick to dig deeper and take matters into his own hands against his bosses’ instruction.  He sees conspiracies and threats around every corner.  (Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.)
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When filming a puff piece on “energy in California” the two visit a nuclear power plant and are witnesses to some kind of accident.  It’s unclear exactly what happened and the company line is that it was a “potentially costly event that was swiftly contained.”  Reviewing the footage and the strength of the company’s reaction (and their strong-arming tactics with the television station) prompt Fonda and Douglas to believe a cover-up of epic proportions is underway.
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clipboar493594Fonda persuades Jack Lemon, a Power of Conscience whistleblower at the plant who was involved in the “event,”  to share his concerns and warnings.  This information would result in a shut-down costing the company multi-millions of dollars.  Further dastardly doings ensue as the company goes to the most extreme measures to contain the “radioactive” bad publicity that would shut the plant and “contaminate” their bid to build another nuclear plant in in the state.  The China Syndrome is a fast-paced socially conscious thriller that entertains and is surprisingly contemporary.
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Greed, fear and short-cuts are at the heart of a potentially epic disaster in the film.  On a much smaller scale I think some combination of those three things are at the heart of almost every self-inflicted human disaster.  It’s so easy to grab for more than you need, fear facing the truth and to try to take the easy way out.  Each of those things only make the situation worse.
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Energy conservation and thrifty sustainable living can be derided as dowdy, too austere and generally no fun.  But at its heart overconsumption is grabbing for more than you need, fear of facing the truth and trying to take the easy way out (and believing your actions will never catch up with you).  Yes, cold hearted corporations certainly are in for a nice big share of the blame in our current energy and economic problems– but am I taking enough responsibility myself?  Why should I expect them to give up their selfish self-centered ways if I am not willing to give up mine.  Gandhi famously said:  “Be the change you want to see.”

In A Lonely Place – Day Sixteen – #40movies40days

Humphry-Bogart-In-a-lonely-placeThis is another Instant Watch classic on NetFlix.  Director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, 8 Mile, Wonder Boys, Hand that Rocks the Cradle), speaking on the film’s dvd commentary, cites In A Lonely Place as not just his favorite film noir but one of his favorite films– period!

This is the classic Humphrey Bogart film you’ve probably never seen.  And it is well worth a look. In A Lonely Place was produced by Bogart’s own production company and was directed by Nicolas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar, King of Kings).  The film was written by Andrew Solt based on a book by Dorothy B. Hughes.

In A Lonely Place is a Power of Truth film filled with distrust, doubt, paranoia and suspicion. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a well-regarded screenwriter fallen on hard times.  “You haven’t had a hit since before the war!”  He is a heavy drinker, has a violent temper and unexplained rages.

bogart-s-in-a-lonely-place-at-film-forum.3616486.40Dix has an opportunity to adapt a best-selling novel for a successful director as his next project.  A hat check girl at his swank local watering hole is enamored with the story.  He can’t be bothered to read the book so he takes her home to “tell the story” to him.

The perky naive hat check girl follows Dix home, breaking a date with her boyfriend to do so. She enthuses about the story but Dix thinks the novel is trite. He’s too tired (and perhaps too drunk) to drive her home.  He gives her a wad of cash for a taxi, instead.  She leaves and winds up dead, strangled and thrown out of a speeding car.

The police suspect Dix.  He has a “rap sheet” filled with reports of violent behavior (including violence against women) various bar fights and assaults, none of which has resulted in a charge much less a conviction.  Dix seems to have all the symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
Feelings of detachment  Lack of interest in normal activities  Difficulty concentrating  Exaggerated response to things that startle you  Irritability or outbursts of anger
He is emotionally numb and projects the feeling that he doesn’t care about anything, he’s strangely detached, has had difficulty concentrating on his work and has an exaggerated response to things that annoy, seem to threaten or irritate him.  He is irritable and has uncontrollable outbursts of anger.
Capt. Lochner: (After Dixon has replied with sarcasm to Lochner’s questions) You’re told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What’s your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No – just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele.
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Dixon Steele: Well, I grant you, the jokes could’ve been better, but I don’t see why the rest should worry you – that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion.
When the police interview his lovely next door neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) sparks fly during her questioning.  She and Dix  start an affair.  She’s good for him, getting him writing again and watching out for his health and well-being.  Laurel is a Power of Love character, helpful, generous, forgiving and on the run from a former abusive lover.
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J. Hoberman writing in The Village Voice characterizes Grahame’s acting and Laurel Gray’s character like this:
Grahame gives the impression of having been wounded in ways Bogart cannot even begin to fathom—if he even cared to try. She’s a ladylike floozy, sultry yet diffident, emotionally calloused but acutely sensitive, at once incredibly cool and undeniably hot.
imagesDix’s behavior and the police’s pursuit of him make Laurel wonder if he is guilty and is indeed capable of the brutal murder .   She becomes increasingly worried and suspicious.  Dix sensing Laurel is withdrawing becomes more controlling, possessive and paranoid.  The circle of their mutual suspicion chokes and kills their relationship.  The movie is a wonderful mediation on what happens when doubt turns to fear.  Fear is the most corrosive force on earth.
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The same Village Voice review sums up the movie like this:
Hollywood atmosphere, existential malaise, and political subtext (it was shot during the McCarthy era Hollywood Witch Hunt) combine to inform a sensational love story, played on the edge of the void and strong enough to sustain one of the most shamelessly romantic lines in any movie: “I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” The line occurs twice, spoken at different points in the drama by each of the lovers, just to make sure that we never forget it.  (And we never do)

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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.

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.

http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/2010/08/31/the-evolution-of-mad-men

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.

 

 

Vague Characters

zoltarVague Characters
http://bakadesuyo.com/read-this-if-you-are-kind-strong-willed-but-c
http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2009/11/you_are_kind_strong.html
Read this if you are kind, strong willed, but can be self-critical:
I’ve just found a classic study online where psychologist Bertram Forer gave a personality test to his students and then asked each person to rate how the accuracy of their ‘individual personality profile’. In reality, all the ‘individual profiles’ were identical but students tended to rate the descriptions as highly accurate.
In fact, on a scale of 1-5, students rated the accuracy of their profile, on average, as 4.2. This is the profile Forer used:
You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.
The tendency to see ourselves in vague or general statements has since been called the Forer effect or, alternatively, the Barnum effect, after the famous catchphrase attributed to the travelling circus impresario P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute!”
It has been cited as the basis for palm reading, fortune telling and the like, and in the original article, Forer notes that he was inspired to conduct the study because he was “accosted by a night-club graphologist who wished to ‘read’ his handwriting”.
Forer asked the graphologist what evidence he had for the accuracy of his readings and he replied that his clients usually confirmed that he was correct.
Forer felt this was rather poor evidence but decided on an interesting tack: rather than attempt to validate the test, he decided to study the psychology of agreeing with vague personality profiles.

zoltarThis came to my attention thanks to a very interesting blog:

Barking Up the Wrong Tree It was originally published by   Mind Hacks

Read this if you are kind, strong willed, but can be self-critical:

I’ve just found a classic study online where psychologist Bertram Forer gave a personality test to his students and then asked each person to rate how the accuracy of their ‘individual personality profile’. In reality, all the ‘individual profiles’ were identical but all the students tended to rate the descriptions as highly accurate.

In fact, on a scale of 1-5, students rated the accuracy of their profile, on average, as 4.2. This is the profile Forer used:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

The tendency to see ourselves in vague or general statements has since been called the Forer effect or, alternatively, the Barnum effect, after the famous catchphrase attributed to the travelling circus impresario P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute!”

It has been cited as the basis for palm reading, fortune telling and the like, and in the original article, Forer notes that he was inspired to conduct the study because he was “accosted by a night-club graphologist who wished to ‘read’ his handwriting”.

Forer asked the graphologist what evidence he had for the accuracy of his readings and he replied that his clients usually confirmed that he was correct.

Forer felt this was rather poor evidence but decided on an interesting tack: rather than attempt to validate the test, he decided to study the psychology of agreeing with vague personality profiles.

What does this have to do with screenwriting?  Vague character descriptions like the one above fit almost anyone.  There’s nothing clearly distinctive or sharply individual in such a collection of  general (often contradictory) traits.  There’s nothing memorable, unique or specifically authentic in such generalities– all the things that make a fictional character leap off the page.

That’s why I believe the Nine Character Types are so useful.  Each of the Nine Character Types views the world very specifically and acts accordingly.  A Power of Truth character who fundamentally believes 1) that the world is an inherently dangerous or deceptive place and 2) that life is a minefield laced with hidden pitfalls and secret agendas acts and reacts very differently than a Power of Excitement character who fundamentally believes 1) that the world is filled with unlimited opportunity and 2) that life is an ongoing adventure and potentially delightful surprises await around every corner.

Each of these two kinds of characters will have vastly different approaches to any challenge, opportunity or threat a story offers.  Each will have very different attitudes toward friendship or love.  They each have very different values and emotional journeys.  Do you know exactly how your character views the world? Does each of his or her actions and reactions reflect that world view?  Click on the Nine Character Types tab on the black menu bar above to review all nine types.

#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

#TypesTuesday – Power of Truth in Burn Notice and The Mentalist

The-Mentalist-Patrick-Jane-etbscreenwritingThe season three finale of Burn Notice ( August 6 at 9pm) on USA Network, averaged 7.6 million total viewers, making it the most-watched series telecast in the network’s history.

Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) in Burn Notice joins the very popular Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) in CBS’ The Mentalist as a Power of Truth character who brings wit and a wry sense of humor to solving their cases.

The two also share another Important story device very common to Power of Truth characters. While chasing the bad guys or solving the “mystery of the week” each character has a personal mystery at the center of the emotional conflict in the episode.

Michael-Weston-burn-notice-etbscreenwritingMichael Westen is a spy who was “burned.” The agency dumped him and disavows any knowledge of his existence. The questions driving Michael through each episode are: Who “burned” him and why?’ No matter what Michael is doing or whom he is chasing that question is what really propels him forward through the story.

Patrick Jane is a police consultant who uses his background as a stage show “mind reader” to discover the tiny clues or “tells” in plain sight that reveal people’s real motivations. The questions driving Patrick through his episodes are: “Who is Red John and why did he kill my family?” The pursuit of Red John is the real motivation behind all of Patrick’s detective work.

In whatever role they play, Power of Truth characters are driven to look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is obscured from view. In the best Power of Truth films or television programs the protagonist has some of the answers he or she seeks hidden deep inside. For some emotionally fraught reason the character blocks that information or cannot look into the dark internal places where those answers can be found. The most satisfying emotional journey results when this character is forced to uncover an internal secret to solve the larger external mystery.

Film examples of the Power of Truth Character Type include Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Leonard Shelby in Memento. Each of those characters hides or denies some secret or mystery at the heart of his or her being.

The Power of Truth

Power of Truth ETBScreenwritingPersonality

Power of Truth characters believe the world is filled with hidden dangers, secretive enemies and concealed pitfalls. This character’s philosophy might be stated:  “Things are never what they seem.”  “Trust no one.”  “Question everything.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.”

On a personal level, they are hyper-aware of shifting alliances and are always on the lookout for possible falseness, duplicity or treachery in any relationship or situation. These characters are very imaginative and perceptive and that creativity and sensitivity can also get them into trouble. They can spin disaster scenarios or conspiracy theories inside their heads that have no basis in reality.

The Power of Truth character asks “What does society demand, expect or value?” and then often sets out to debunk or disprove the answer.  These characters are compelled to uncover the concealed nature and (often rotten) underbelly of things.

A character driven by the Power of Truth is often the protagonist in mystery stories, mistaken identity stories, investigative stories and detective stories.  In an ensemble cast, these characters are frequently secret keepers, strategists, counselors or advisers.  In whatever role they play, they look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is hidden from view.

Power of Truth ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Film examples include Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Leonard Shelby in Memento.  For more movie examples see the Power of Truth blog posts.

A comedic version of this character is the anxious urban neurotic played by Woody Allen in ManhattanHannah and Her Sisters and Annie Hall, Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally and Analyze This or Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza in Seinfeld. These comedic characters are often keen observers and slightly neurotic worriers who see the potential for disaster around every corner.

Television drama examples include Nick George in Dirty Sexy Money, Fox Mulder in The X Files and Dr. Jennifer Melfi and Silvo Dante in The Sopranos and Patrick Jane in The Mentalist. for more television example see the Power of Truth blog posts.

Power of Truth eBook

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

Comprehensive Analysis

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

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

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

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

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