Tony Curtis & The Power of Ambition

Sidney Falco in 21Tony Curtis passed away at the end of September 2010.  Here is what Time Magazine has to say about one of the roles that defined him as an actor, Sidney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success.  It is a stunning example of a Power of Ambition protagonist falling to the Dark Side.

(In the film) Sidney Falco, Broadway publicist, is telling his secretary Sam how far he wants his ambitions to take him: “Way up high, Sam, where it’s always balmy. Where no one snaps his fingers and says, ‘Hey, Shrimp, rack the balls!’ Or, ‘Hey, mouse, mouse, go out and buy me a pack of butts.’ I don’t want tips from the kitty. I’m in the big game with the big players. My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn’t dream it in a dream, either. Dog Eat Dog. In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”

An actor doesn’t often get a role that upends his Hollywood image and reveals his inner demons. Tony Curtis, who died Wednesday at 85 of cardiac arrest at his home near Las Vegas, found that dream-nightmare part in the 1957 Sweet Smell of Success. Sidney Falco, a name that replaced Sammy Glick as the slick nogoodnik par excellence, is a pretty boy on the make — all hustle, no morals, and with a line of patter like petty larceny…

…Another refugee from the New York streets, and one of the first postwar actors to produce his own movies, (Burt) Lancaster … cast him in Sweet Smell as Sidney, the publicist trying to get his clients’ items in the gossip column written by Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker.

In the script, by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, Sidney’s status floats between villain and victim — he peddles flesh and secrets, and pins the Commie label on an innocent young musician, before getting climactically framed by J.J. — but (actor) Curtis was the victor in the movie. It’s easy to imagine that, that when the actor first read this script, he thought exultantly, “That’s me all over!” A shark in the Broadway aquarium, Sidney looked like a million bucks, all counterfeit.  FULL ARTICLE HERE

A character driven by the Power of Ambition can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit— or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life.

The definition and meaning of “success” is at the heart of a Power of Ambition character’s story.  The basic question for this character’s emotional journey is: “What does it profit a person to win the whole world but lose his or her own soul?”

That what we watch Sidney Falco do, lose his soul, over the course of The Sweet Smell of Success.  It is a film well worth watching and a master course in the Power of Ambition Character Type.

Invictus – Power of Conscience

A candidate’s Character Type determines how he or she believes the world works and how the candidate defines his or her role in the world as a leader.  Clinton and Obama each have a unique and contradictory philosophy.
Nine Character Type analysis works because it is drawn from real life and real people, and from how people actually clash in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.  For example–
Although candidates may try to massage their message based on polls and trends, a character’s fundamental understanding of the world and leadership does not change. If you look at how a candidate frames the issues, what slogan the candidate picks and the major themes in a candidate’s speeches, his or her Character Type becomes clear.
No Character Type is inherently good or bad, an excellent leader or a poor one; but each is profoundly different from the others.  Each sees different challenges, opportunities and threats and each views the world and his or her role as a leader from a unique perspective.

395651The excellent film, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela is a great study in Power of Conscience leadership.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency, justice and providing a good example.  These leaders believe that they have responsibility for others and a duty to protect the rights of all.  They are particularly sensitive to those who are disenfranchised, disadvantaged, disabled or unable to fight for themselves.  When he defeated the white Afrikaners politically he felt bound to protect their rights and interests as well.  These characters believe that equality and the rule of law is humankind’s salvation.

Power of Conscience leaders tell potential supporters: “Follow me.  I know what’s right.  I will be just.  I will be fair.  I will be responsible.”  They argue:  “Come along and fight the good fight.  Do what is right.  Justice will prevail.  Don’t argue.  I know the right path to take.”

The insistence that they know what is right can get these leaders into trouble with supporters.   This scene in Invictus, illustrates Power of Conscience leadership philosophy very succinctly.

As in Invictus, Power of Conscience characters tend to personalize their work, making their mission to improve the world an inseparable part of their own identity.  In life, Mandela has said:  “The struggle IS my life.”

An unwillingness to compromise on moral ground is the hallmark of these leaders.  In life, Mandela never compromised his principles to avoid punishment.  He refused several opportunities to get out of jail, which required him to recant or renounce one of his stands on justice or equal rights.

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 lead by example and to be of service themselves.  This is illustrated in a wonderful scene with Matt Damon, playing Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, where the two men talk of leading by example.  Mandela poses the essential Power of Conscience question, “How do you inspire a people to be better than they think they are?”

Improving themselves, others and the world at large is of paramount importance to Power of Conscience characters.  They are disciplined, principled and challenge others to take the moral high-ground. In life, Mandela has said, “The time is always ripe to do right.”

Power of Conscience character lead by getting out in front the crowd, taking a strong principled stand (often against popular opinion) and speaking out against whatever they view as wrong, unjust, unfair or corrupt.  They understand and are willing to pay the price for acting on their beliefs.

What Makes A Good Logo?

CBS_eye_logoThe next big step in Beyond Lemonade is creating a logo for the show and the brand.  In doing some research I came across this fascinating story of how one of the most distinctive logos in television history was created–  the CBS eye.

Tarantino’s Top 2009 Movie Picks

TARANTINOQuinten Tarantino, leaving his film Inglourious Basterds out of the mix, lists his favorite films of 2009.  Not necessarily my choices but interesting never the less:

Storytelling In The Digital Age: Gary Carter

gary-carter_frmantlemediaI’ve had the great opportunity to work with Gary Carter, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Creative Officer of Fremantle’s experimental division, FMX.  I’ve worked with him on the broadcast side of FremantleMedia’s business.  FMX is the division that is working with me on my online drama and interactive website.

In these clips Gary Carter talks about his company in the changing landscape of digital storytelling.  He is a real visionary about media and is speaking at the nextMEDIA conference in Banff, where the world’s leading edge content creators, aggregators, broadcasters, agencies, advertisers, and solution-providers meet annually to discuss the business of the business.

PART ONE

Fremantle Media. The company’s history mirrors the history of screen-based media itself. Gary Carter tells the story of Fremantle from its earliest days to the present age of format wars and reality television.

PART TWO

Gary Carter talks about the run-up to the digital revolution from an age of distribution, talent and technology scarcity to our now ubiquitous ability to produce content and distribute it freely over the internet.

PART THREE

Gary Carter discusses the repercussions of the digital revolution for an old-media company like Fremantle, bound to the traditional models of content production, distribution and strorytelling.

PART FOUR

Gary Carter talks about the collapse of the advertising economy and its impact on screen-based content production. According to Carter, it’s a crisis of platform which is being solved by the millions of individuals with access to cheap digital recording technology and zero-cost distribution channels.

PART FIVE

Q & A:  Gary Carter talks about broadcasters’ unhealthy addiction to the advertising model, and what lies ahead for traditional television.

The Informant! – Power of Ambition

The-Informant-etbscreenwritingIn Steven Soderbergh’s film The Informant!, Matt Damon plays a pitch perfect Power of Ambition protagonist.  Although some critics and arm chair commentators have complained that the movie moves too slow or is boring– I disagree.

I found the fevered unraveling of Matt Damon’s character and his deceptions and lies fascinating to watch.  There are no big actions sequences, no shoot-outs and no chase scenes.  If you come to the theater looking for an action-packed thriller like the Bourne series or the sharp witty seriousness of whistler-blower  Erin Brockovich you will be disappointed.  SEE THE TRAILER IN VIDEOS

This is a meticulous character study about the bland banality of corporate greed, the endless self-justification of scheming executives and the deluded self-seeking that’s eating away at the American Dream.   The upbeat jangle of Marvin Hamlisch’s insistently perky elevator music underscores Whitacre’s deluded optimism.  Steven Soderbergh deliciously deadpan comedy is a brilliant, subtle and painfully funny expose of the empty calories (literally and metaphorically) that’s been making America both overfed and undernourished at the same time.

Damon’s character is biochemist and ADM Division President, Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranking corporate official in U.S. history to expose wrong-doing in his own company.  Whitacre sets off a massive FBI investigation into a global price-fixing conspiracy filled with secret meetings, concealed taping, wire taps, pay-offs and laundered money in Swiss and Bermuda off-shore accounts.

The object of all this intrigue is lysine, a sweet corn-based food additive, that is in nearly everything we eat or drink.  As the movie opens, Whitacer glowingly describes the many lucrative uses of  his company’s products (“corn goes in one end, profit comes out the other”).  When a virus derails the company’s production of  lysine, Whitacere is forced to come up with a solution fast.

He lies and tells management there’s a mole in the company, a corporate saboteur from a Japanese rival who wants a payoff to stop injecting the virus into the production line. Whitacre is shocked when the company calls in the FBI. Special Agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale), catch Whitacre in the lie about the mole and the fun begins as Whitacre spins an even bigger story.  He accuses ADM of fixing prices and divvying up the market for the corn-based food additive by ADM and other international corporate giants.

Whitacre begins an increasingly bizarre journey where lie enfolds lie.  The dorky but puppy dog charming scientist with the floppy pompadour toupee likens his situation in ADM to Tom Cruise in The Firm.  It’s an apt, if over-weaning, comparison to another Power of Ambition character.  An even closer movie comparison would be to Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a movie that also explores dark and twisted side of the Power of Ambition character.

Like Ripley, Mark Whitacre is a bland but eager to please guy who is obsessed with being liked and inflating his own importance.  Whitacre believes he should be running ADM and uses the price-fixing conspiracy to oust his superiors. He is obsessed with assessing the relative friendliness of everyone he meets.  Despite his double-dealings, greed and moral transgressions he believes that he is one of the “good guys” and his many “good friends” at ADM will welcome him into the top spot after he has taken most of the company management down.  He lies about a key biographical fact because of a study about personal likeablity. He justifies every twisted manipulation of the truth or of others with an incessant internal dialogue filled with odd facts, off-kilter observations and self-promoting rationalizations.

Like all Power of Ambition characters Whitacre is exceptionally adept at self-justification and at distracting himself from his own crimes and ethical short-comings.   Always the eternal optimist Whitacre enthuses, “There are so many really nice people in the world.” even as his web of deception is unraveling around him and one last lie earns him three times the prison sentence the other executives face.

Power_of_Ambition ETB ScreenwritingA character driven by the Power of Ambition is a staple of American movies.  This Character Type can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit (Tom Cruise as the title character in Jerry Maguire)—or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington in All About Eve).  Jim Carrey in Liar Liar is another comedic version of the type.

Power of Ambition characters can be aspirational characters who want to rise from a lowly station to a more exalted one. Or they can be prostitutes, frauds, fakers or con artists, always on the hustle. In either case, their personal vanity, status, popularity and social importance is key to these characters sense of self.

SEE THE TRAILER IN VIDEOS

Welcome To The New Site

rocket_launch_etbscreenwritingWelcome to our launch of  ETB Screenwriting: An Emotional Toolbox Website.  We’ve redesigned the site to make it more active, colorful and easy to navigate.  I hope you come back often!  Here is a quick tour.

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