#TypesTuesday – Power of Conscience at the Oscars

There were several compelling Power of Conscience character who figured prominently in the 2013 crop of Oscar films. Power of Conscience characters typically wrestle with a specific set of key issues in a story. These include:

How much bad am I willing to do in the cause of good?

In Lincoln, written by Tony Kushner and directed by Steven Spielberg, President Lincoln so firmly believes in the necessity of Emancipation that he is willing to authorize all manner of arm-twising, dirty deals, and political bribery to get the bill passed.  At the time, Thaddeus Stevens, played in the movie by Tommy Lee Jones, said, “”The greatest measure in the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

 

In Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal and directed by Katherine Bigelow, a young CIA operative called Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, is obsessed with finding and killing Osama Bin Ladin. She is involved in morally reprehensible torture in order to help track down her quarry.  She is driven and relentless, so much so that when she is successful she has no idea what to do next.

Bigelow explains in an interview, “I think what’s so interesting and so poignant for Jessica, myself, for all of us, is this idea that this woman (Maya) has spent the last ten years exclusively in the pursuit of one man and yes, at the end of the day, she triumphed, but it’s not a victory because finally, at the end of the day, you’re left with much larger questions like, where does she go from here? Where do we go from here? Now what?” Chastain adds, “I find that to end the film on that question is far more interesting than providing an answer.”

Can I find the flexibility, the forgiveness, or the mercy to make reasonable compromises?

In Lincoln, the person that has a real protagonist’s journey is Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens spent his political life advocating for total Negro emancipation, including the right to vote and own property. He was adamant and uncompromising. In the final, down-to-the-wire vote-taking, Stevens must turn his back on everything he has always stood for in order to assure that Lincoln’s lesser bill passes. Steven’s struggles mightily with his conscience but finally allows practicality to win.

At the time Stevens said: “Believing then, that this is the best proposition that can be made effectual, I accept it. I shall not be driven by clamor or denunciation to throw away a great good because it is not perfect. I will take all I can get in the cause of humanity and leave it to be perfected by better men in better times.”

Steven’s leap of faith was being flexible enough to allow an imperfect bill to pass because that served the greater good.

In the film, Les Miserables, written by William Nicholson and directed by Tom Hopper, prison guard Javert, played by Russell Crowe, cannot compromise his strict moral standards.  He finds it impossible to have mercy and not enforce the strict letter of the law.  What is legal is not always just.  And what is just is not always legal.  This is a great dilemma for Power of Conscience characters.  Javert is in such conflict that he would rather kill himself rather than compromise his precise and rigid sense of duty in favor of what is just and merciful.

 

In the animated film, Brave, written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi, and directed by Andrews and Chapman and co-directed by Purcell, Queen Elinor is a Power of Conscience character. She is a strict and demanding taskmaster, a perfectionist, and is driven by a strong sense of tradition and royal responsibility. Over the course of the story she finds the flexibility to recognize her daughter’s uniqueness and she learns to fully appreciate Merida for who she is.

What is the higher duty?

Power of Conscience character universally wrestle with the question of what their inherent morality and sense of duty asks of them.  These  characters fear not living up to their own internal standards or sense of propriety and decency.  They are afraid of being or becoming unworthy and must continually prove their own “goodness”  or “righteousness”. These characters don’t fear failure in the eyes of the world; they fear not living up to their own (often impossibly high) moral or ethical standards.

As I said before: What is just is not always legal or proper. And what is legal or proper is not always just.  What is more important?  Is the spirit of the law or the letter of the law more important?  When is it right to be pragmatic and flexible rather than unbending and unyielding in your standards? When is being flexible and pragmatic being lax and immoral? Power of Conscience characters provide a fascinating glimpse into one set of humanity’s great dilemmas.

 

#TypesTuesday – The Dark Knight Rises

the_dark_knight_rises-wallpaper-1152x864Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, is a powerful portrayal of a Power of Truth character. I liked the film a lot.

Nolan’s whole Batman trilogy is remarkably consistent in its emotional and psychological characterizations. In the Emotional Toolbox method, rather than looking at genre, the essential emotional force driving the movie is analyzed. Nolan’s trilogy is a series of complex multi-layered Power of Truth stories.

These kinds of stories are driven by secrets, lies, conspiracies, or concealment. In the opening of The Dark Knight Rises a huge lie is rotting at the heart of Gotham City.

Bruce Wayne/Batman languishes in disgrace, broken and hiding in his cavernous mansion. Harvey Dent, who had become the criminally insane Two Face in the previous film, The Dark Knight, has been put on a pedestal and is revered as a hero. His crimes are concealed and even blamed on Batman.

When the terrorist villian Bane takes over Gotham he exposes the lie. Bane says: “Behind you stands a symbol of oppression; Blackgate Prison, where a thousand men have languished under the name of this man.”

Harvey-Dent-the-dark-knight-9471370-543-359Bane holds up a picture of Harvey Dent and continues, “Harvey Dent, has been held up to you as the shining example of justice …You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city. Let me tell you the truth about Harvey Dent from the words of Gotham’s police commissioner, James Gordon.”

Bane quotes Gordon’s letter, “‘The Batman didn’t murder Harvey Dent, he saved my boy then took the blame for Harvey’s appalling crimes so that I could, to my shame, build a lie around this fallen idol. I praised the mad man who tried to murder my own child but I can no longer live with my lie. It is time to trust the people of Gotham with the truth and it is time for me to resign.'”

Bane asks the crowd, “And do you accept this man’s resignation? Do you accept the resignation of all these liars? Of all the corrupt?”

Police Officer John Blake watches the speech on television says to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, “Those men were locked up for eight years in Blackgate and denied parole under the Dent Act, based on a lie?”

Gordon explains, “Gotham needed a hero …”

Blake is disgusted, “You betrayed everything you stood for.”

The Dark Knight Rises and all Power of Truth stories chronicle the most profound and personal betrayals. These stories also ask: when does betrayal look like loyalty and when does loyalty looks like betrayal? These stories’ twists, turns, treachery, and reversals, changes everything the character believes is true. All the character holds dear is destroyed.

One of the major betrayals at the heart of the film is Alfred Pennyworth’s omission in telling Bruce Wayne what happened just before Bruce’s great love, Rachel Dawes, died. Alfred argues against Bruce re-emerging as Batman, revealing the truth.

2517-27939Alfred says, “I’ll get this (package) to Mr. Fox, but no more. I’ve sewn you up, I’ve set your bones, but I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family.”

Bruce Wayne can’t believe Alfred would leave him.

Alfred explains, “You see only one end to your journey. Leaving is all I have to make you understand, you’re not Batman anymore. You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing a life beyond that awful cape.”

Bruce argues that Rachel died believing that the two of them would be together; that was his life beyond the cape. He can’t just move on. She didn’t, she couldn’t.

Alfred reluctantly tells the truth, “What if she had? What if, before she died, she wrote a letter saying she chose Harvey Dent over you? And what if, to spare your pain, I burnt that letter?”

Bruce accuses Alfred of just using Rachel to try to stop him.

Alfred is adamant. “I am using the truth, Master Wayne. Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day. I’m sorry.”

Bruce can’t believe his ears. “You’re sorry? You expect to destroy my world and then think we’re going to shake hands?”

Alfred sadly admits that he knows what exposing this truth means. “It means your hatred… and it also means losing someone that I have cared for since I first heard his cries echo through this house. But it might also mean saving your life. And that is more important.”

Bruce Wayne turns on Alfred and bids him an angry good-bye.

Alfred’s action precisely echoes what Batman himself does at the end of the previous film, The Dark Knight. At the end of that film, Batman takes on the burden of Two Face’s crimes to give Gotham a “hero.” Batman turns himself into someone he’s not in the eyes of the public. Like Alfred tries to “save” Bruce Wayne/Batman from the truth, Batman tries to “save” Gotham from the truth.

movie-review-the-dark-knight-rises-620x413In Power of Truth stories, like Nolan’s Batman triology, things are never what they seem.  The tangled undergrowth of human duplicity catches and pulls at every character in the film.

In The Dark Knight Rises, deep below Gotham, a secret city seethes in rebellion. The terrorist Bane rises from underground to take over Gotham.  His complex subterranean lair tunnels under Gotham and undermines its very foundations. The hidden  criminal enclave is a visual symbol that under the assumptions of the slick shiny city surface dark deceit and a world of pain wait– For Batman and for anyone else in Gotham City.

#TypesTuesday – The Avengers

The Avengers is a continuing box office smash hit.  The clarity of the characters, their witty on-point interactions, and their specific personal conflicts with each other contribute just as much to the movie’s success as the smash-em-up-whiz-bang action.

The character moments were my favorite parts of the movie because, I confess, the 3-D gave me a splitting headache and the action scenes go on a tad long for my personal taste.

The movie begins with the premise that humanity will be annihilated if Loki, the bitter banished demigod, opens a hole in space to let in an invading mechanized army. Loki is adopted, hates his brother, Thor, and wants to destroy the earth Thor loves and protects.

This crisis brings together the reluctant Avengers teammates.  Each portrays his or her Character Type with nearly pitch perfect attitude and dialogue.

The-Avengers-2012-upcoming-movies-29945637-1280-1024Loki is a Power of Idealism demi-god villain:  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and these Character Types believe they are meant for some kind of heroic destiny.

He says: I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.

These characters are “divas” and want to be seen as special, unique, and extraordinary– something out of reach for Loki, who is always in the shadow of his more perfect “brother” Thor.  It was Thor who got all the glory and Loki is furious about that. A bit of dialogue says it all–

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.
Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!
[pause]
Tony Stark: Sonofabitch!
[heads to Stark Tower]

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.

Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.

Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!

chris-hemsworth-thor-movie-costume-mjolnir-hammer-488x341Thor is a  Power of Love demigod:  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) uses his strength and power to care for and protect the earth.  Despite everything, he still is attached to his adoptive brother, Loki, as evidenced in the following exchange:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.

Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.

Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.

Thor: He’s adopted.

Thor is the son of Gaea, the nurturing mother earth herself. In his comic book backstory Thor is a caring doctor, Donald Black, who is willing to defy the might of Asgard for the woman he loves.  Power of Love characters are incredibly strong characters and are ferociously unstoppable when something they love and care for is in threatened.

iron_man_the_avengers_2012_movie-t2Iron Man is a Power of Excitement man-made superhero in his mechanized suit:  In his own words he is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. In addition, he’s a jokester and an agent of chaos, who loves to stir things up. He’d especially like to see the Hulk get unleashed.

He says: “Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Stark speaks frequently in the movie about escape or wanting to escape. Steve Rogers, Captain America, chides him for that saying Stark doesn’t have it in him to make the “sacrifice play” that puts others first. Tony Stark’s rakish push-the-envelop devil-may-care attitude continually presses everyone’s buttons in the story, but his charm, ready wit, and natural talent as an improvisor helps save the day.

Chris-Evans-in-The-Avengers-2012-Movie-ImageCaptain American is a Power of Conscience government laboratory experiment turned superhero: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a super-soldier who believes in following rules, following orders, and the importance of the chain of command.  He can seem a little stiff and humorless at times but he is 100%  reliable, trustworthy, and always puts the good of the team first. The difference between Rogers and Stark is summed up in this exchange:

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.

Tony Stark: Following’s not really my style.

Steve Rogers: And you’re all about style, aren’t you?

Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is A – wearing a spangly outfit and B – not of much use?

Stark surprises Rogers at the climax. And Rogers learns to improvise more, following Stark’s example.

imagesThe Hulk is a Power of Will gamma ray experiment gone-wrong superhero:  Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), in his Hulk state, is all angry impulse. He is primitive. He’s strong. He is a mass of instinctual drives and impulses that only finds satisfaction in “Hulk smash!”  In his normal human state Banner controls his anger enough to be a protector (as a doctor in remote India) rather than a destroyer. But his raw uncontrollable instinctual side is never far away.

Steve Rogers: Doc… I think now is the perfect time for you to get angry.

Bruce Banner: That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry.

The-Avengers-Black-Widow-Headshot-360x273The Black Widow is a Power of Truth super-spy: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t have super powers per se but she is as skilled a warrior as any of her other Avengers teammates. She lives in a spy vs. spy world that is filled with hidden dangers, secretive enemies, and concealed pitfalls. With the Black Widow– “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.” Just when an adversary thinks she is most vulnerable she is actually conducting a brilliant and treacherous interrogation.

hawkeye-the-avengers-01-610x458Hawkeye is a Power of Reason ultra-expert archer:  Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is a loner and a bit alienated, the perfect combination for his backstory and continuing role as sniper. He is a cold and calculating and spends the first half of the movie under the mind control of Loki.

There isn’t time for very much character development in The Avengers, but what there is is spot on.  Each hero is absolutely true to his or her Character Types in both word and deed. When every bit of dialogue and action has to count as character development, the Character Types will help you be as economical and on target as the characters here.

#TypesTuesday Bugs Bunny – Power of Excitement

hareextraordinaireI saw this in the LA Times today about the release of the new Bugs Bunny DVD collection:

Now, two new DVD collections of Bugs’ best work, “Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire” and “The Essential Bugs Bunny,” have been issued by Warner Home Video to remind viewers — who might have forgotten about his charms or carelessly classified him as a mere childish pleasure — of what the wascally wabbit could accomplish. “Hare Extraordinaire” features 15 previously unreleased-on-DVD Bugs shorts, and “The Essential Bugs Bunny” is a capacious two-disc set, with 12 original shorts joined by television specials such as “How Bugs Bunny Won the West” and a tribute documentary, “Ain’t He a Stinker.”

Bugs Bunny is a quintessential Power of Excitement character.  He is smart, sassy and adept at getting into and out of traps.  He is a an anarchist, refusing to obey rules (including the law of gravity).  “I never went to law school.”  Bugs is a charming agent of chaos in every one of his cartoon roles.

Power of Excitement characters play the role of the innovator, the explorer and the merry prankster. They keep things lively, entertaining, interesting and off-balance for all the other characters  At heart, these characters are anarchists.  They love to cause chaos to keep things amusing or to shake up the existing (dull, boring or pedantic) order of things.

You could do much worse than to model your next Power of Excitement hero on Bugs Bunny!

Power of Excitement characters play the role of the innovator, the explorer, the merry pranksters or the perennial “forever young” person in a story.
In whatever role these characters play, they are good humored, endlessly optimistic and great fun.  They keep things lively, entertaining, interesting and off-balance for all the other characters.
At heart, these characters are anarchists.  They love to cause chaos to keep things amusing or to shake up the existing (dull, boring or pedantic) order of things.

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#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.

#TypesTuesday – Hank Hill and Power of Conscience

hank-hill-etbscreenwritingKing of the Hill will have its series finale on September 13 at 8pm. The animated show features the Hills, a small-town Methodist family living in Arlen, Texas. The series grounds its humor in the mundane aspects of everyday life, finding big laughs in small moments and ordinary situations. In 2007 Time magazine named King of the Hill one of the 100 greatest television shows of all time. A one-hour episode will mark the end of the series, a primetime fixture on FOX for 13 seasons.

Animated series offer an interesting view into character development. The best of these kinds of shows use the humor of exaggeration and present clearly articulated examples of character. King of the Hill is no exception. Here’s a look at Hank Hill, family patriarch.

Hank Hill is a Power of Conscience character. He was a conscientious Eagle Scout as a kid. He is a decent, hard-working, traditionally-minded American as an adult. Hank strives to be a good a father and a good husband. He is very conservative and old-fashioned. Hank can’t get his head around new fangled notions like yoga, tofu and meditation.

He played football in high school. He was a good player who had promising prospects until an ankle injury sidelined him during a championship game. In typical Power of Conscience fashion, Hank believed the accident was “punishment” for his passionate over-enthusiasm for the game. He’s been uptight, controlled and rather stiff emotionally ever since.

Hank sells propane and propane accessories at Strickland Propane, a family run business. He believes that success comes through honesty and hard work. Hank sometimes naively believes that everyone shares his innate sense of right and wrong. As a result he can be too trusting. For example, for the past twenty-five years, he has bought cars at sticker price from Tom Hammond’s used cars. It never occurred to him that Tom wouldn’t give him the best price as a good neighbor.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingIn true Power of Conscience fashion Hank has wrestled with the question “What is the higher duty?” When, for example, it comes to Strickland Propane his personal devotion to his work and boss wins over complete honesty. In one episode, Hank covers up Strickland’s illegal price fixing agreement to prevent his boss going to jail. He considers Strickland to be family and family is where Hank’s highest duty lies.

Despite his bias toward traditional male activities, and his frequent worries about his son, Bobby (“That boy ain’t right”) Hank, wanting to be a good father, pretends to be interested in Bobby’s passions— cooking, dancing and theater. As a result, his son is well-adjusted, confident and happy despite being over-weight and terrible at sports. Hank, in fact, is Bobby’s hero.  He will be missed! RIP Hank Hill!

#TypesTuesday – Shelley Long and Power of Conscience

shelley-long-etbscreenwritingFormer Cheers star, Shelley Long is returning to television comedy. She plays the ex-wife to Ed O’Neill’s character on the new ABC sitcom Modern Family. Long is fondly remembered for her portrayal of Diane Chambers, a repressed uptight Power of Conscience character.

Power of Conscience characters fear not living up to their own internal standards or sense of propriety and decency. These characters need to relax, have more fun and become less dogmatic. They need to less concerned about “getting it right” or being proper or perfect and just enjoy life.  They need to be more spontaneous and less concerned about correctness or doing thing the prescribed way.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingThis entry from Wikipedia illustrates Diane’s problem in Cheers exactly:

After having a number of sexual affairs throughout Europe, Diane tries to atone for her behavior by working at a Boston area convent. She returns to Cheers again after a visit from Sam in the Season 4 opener. Sexual tension ensues and Sam eventually proposes to Diane over the phone in the season finale.

Diane wants to be proposed to in a more romantic fashion, and so she dosen’t give him an answer. Sam proposes again on a moonlit boat ride during the premiere of Season 5– only to have Diane say no because she thought that Sam was “on the rebound” from his break-up with a Boston city councilwoman.

Diane later changes her mind, but finds that Sam is not willing to propose again. After she begins to cry, Sam does propose, but Diane says no again, fearing that he was only reacting to emotional blackmail. Sam chases her out of Cheers and she falls and she sues him. Sam proposes in court only to have her reject him for yet another reason why it’s not “right.”

#TypesTuesday – Land of The Lost and Power of Reason

Land-of-the-Lost-etbscreenwritingI am a Will Ferrell fan. I found Land of the Lost goofy and absurdist but certainly not his best effort. But there is an important lesson to be learned here about Character Types— Intelligence is not a specific attribute of any Character Type. Let’s look at this in relation to Will Ferrell’s character in the film.

Ferrell stars as discredited has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall. He has written a book on “quantum paleontology.” This new branch of science is a way to explore and find energy sources in an alternate dimension in which past, present and future mix. In an appearance on The Today Show, Matt Lauer reports that respectable scientists think Marshall’s ideas are mad. Like who? ” Marshall asks. “Stephen Hawking,” Lauer replies. Marshall goes nuclear: “You promised you wouldn’t mention that!”

Dr. Marshall is a Power of Reason character like scientists Dr. John Nash (Beautiful Mind) Dr. Gregory House (House), Dexter Morgan (Dexter) or Mr. Spock (Star Trek). Marshall is an expert in his field, even if it is a seemingly crack-pot area of inquiry.

Power of Reason characters tend to be portrayed as extremely intelligent. Dr. Marshall doesn’t have the usual penetrating insight, incisive wit and intellectual firepower present in those other character examples. What’s the lesson here?

Intelligence, like altruism or the capacity for evil, exists on a continuum in each Character Type. Any character, regardless of type, can be an idiot, of average intelligence or a genius. Any character, regardless of type, can be a force for good, apathetic or outright evil.

Seemingly idiotic or “mad” Power of Reason characters, like Dr. Rich Marshall, are often crack-pots whose theories just happen to be right. These characters usually work alone in a field no one is interested in, has dismissed, is discredited or is of dubious value. In Marshall’s case his social awkwardness and inability to read the subtleties of social or cultural situations combined with his arrogance and superior attitude (typical Power of Reason problems) tend to make him look even less intelligent than he is (and provides much of the humor in the film).

On the drama/horror side, Dr Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) is another Power of Reason character. He works alone in his lab mixing up chemical cocktails that will help him explore the nature of evil. He is warned against pursuing such a “mad” area of inquiry. Likewise, Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein) works alone on theories about the origin and transferability of human life. His work is held in contempt, distaste and ridicule by other scientists of the day.

When pressed about his “mad” ideas, Dr. Frankestein explains: “Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have your never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.”

Issues concerning the boundaries of sanity, the limits of order or of reason, the genesis of evil, the ever-present potential of chaos of time or nature and the perils of technology are very much at the center of all Power of Reason films, even comedic ones.

The Power of Reason eBook explains these characters in great detail. It discusses how all the character examples above are alike and how they are made distinctive or different.

#TypesTuesday – Mad Men and Power of Truth

mad_men ETB Screenwriting

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. As important as authenticity is, a series can’t survive on authenticity alone.

The story also needs a sense of urgency.  It’s this urgent dramatic thrust that is missing in the second season. Don seems to have settled into a feeling of utter weariness and discontent.  He’s increasing disenchanted with his job.  He seems bored and depressed (taking the afternoon off to stare laconically at a French New Wave film at the cinema).

This doesn’t make for compelling or urgent viewing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the second season opened to a series high of 2 million viewers.  People were curious after all the Emmy nominations.  But a significant percentage didn’t stick around to see a second episode.  Viewership plummeted to 1.3 million the following week.

My prediction is that if the pace doesn’t pick up, if Don isn’t in real danger of his lies and shady past catching up with him, viewers just won’t care.

Right now, Don just seems depressive and cynical.  If he doesn’t struggle harder to conceal his secrets, if he doesn’t start paying a price for his double life, if we don’t see more active stories about loyalty and betrayal (with dire consequences) I predict the show will drop viewers.

Another example of a Power of Truth character and show is The X Files and Fox Mulder.  That show’s taglines were:  “The Truth Is Out There,” “Deny Everything” and “Trust No One.”  These slogans with a slightly different context  could also apply to Don Draper.

You will find dozens of other examples and a full explanation of this Character Type in the Power of Truth eBook.