a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Character Needs A Job

So while I'm waiting to get notes back from friends on my supernatural thriller, I started noodling around with an idea for a comedy, mostly because I wanted to write something fun for a change.

Everything I've been writing recently has been fairly bleak. Lots of bodies hitting the ground. In my supernatural thriller, the meek female main character kills four times along the way. In the low-pay rewrite I did, by the end corpses are littering the frame. The horror script I started working on was just more of the same, so finally I've pushed it to the side.

Anyhow, the comedy is coming along well; I've been brainstorming the hell out of it, and I already have a rather fleshed-out treatment.

But I need a good job for my main character. And I figured I'd just toss the question out here, rather than falling back on something generic and familiar, like his being in advertising.

Here are the parameters:

The main character (Ben) works in an office in Chicago.

The job is slightly dull, but pays well, and has the opportunity to pay even better should Ben get a promotion. But it isn't really creatively fulfilling; there's definitely a sense that financial compensation is by far the reason why he is doing this job.

The company he works for needs high-end clients; Ben is expected to help wine-and-dine potential clients when they are in town.

It's all fairly basic, and it's not going to be a huge part of the action, but at the same time it's an important enough element to make me want to do something interesting with it.

Anyone have a job for Ben?


At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Here are some off the top of my head.

Law clerk or lawyer
Ad sales for a magazine or newspaper
Distributor (could be for clothes or magazines)
High volume sales (say for a company like UPS, Arrowhead, or Xerox)

At 10:06 AM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

He works in an ad agency that specializes in a boring industry, like oil or automobiles or toothpaste or something like that. Ad people entertain a lot, and if they get pigeon-holed, the work is boring but lucrative.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said...

A high paying boring job?

Tech script-writer. My brother does it, been doing it for years and years.

Pays well, but all he looks at is code everyday, esentially making nothing really worthwhile. Though the entertainment factor only really comes in with big deals- Closing in on bigger companies like Sony (he work as an anti-pirating software engineer...weee fun)

Business consulting can pay huge, and you often wine and dine clinets.

Hope you find what works,

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Ryan said...

Tax Accountant.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Advertising executive is the most ridiculously overused profession for movie and TV characters ever.

Please come up with something else!

At 10:58 AM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

He oughta work in a patenting office. Not only it's a very, very, very boring job, it also has the potential to show some of the crap people might want to patent there.


At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Vlad Tepes said...

Damn. My suggestions are already taken. I was going to suggest lawyer or insurance agent. Some sort of sales guy could work too. I know that the sales people in my office who have to sell to other businesses spend a ton of time wining and dining potential customers.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Matt said...

What about a photocopy sales associate? Dealing in the constant (and excessive?) reproduction of someone else's work is the type of thing that I imagine would be well-compensated financially but not creatively.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

I'm thinking something techy. I used to work as a computer programmer and let me tell you, there was nothing quite as "fast-acting" as telling people what I did for a living. Within split-seconds they'd either be yawning or excusing themselves to use the "bathroom." I don't know; maybe they did have to pee. But it seemed suspicious.

Some titles in techy jobs: project manager (PM, for short), sales, marketing, HR (pretty damn boring), programmer, QA (REALLY boring...all you do is try to break something). Worse, you could make it for some sliver industry that no one even knew existed, and would prefer to have remained the company makes software which measures the amount of oxygen in the air inside green houses. Again, as a programmer, after my job in the financial sector I looked at getting on-board at one such place. But, it evoked a yawn from me without ever even stepping foot inside the establishment so I passed on it.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

If he's in Chicago, he's gotta be selling pork bellies on the exchange.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He works for Gallup or some such company that does polls.


At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

A few months ago, I read an article about two guys who work for Thomas Guide. Their job is to tool around in a Honda Civic with a GPS mapping device and find new streets. Some days it might be pretty cool, like being a 15th century Portugeuse explorer. Other days, it's just a job that pays the bills.

It might be interesting to have a character who knew every street, freeway, tunnel or alley like the back of his hand, but had no clue how to navigate his love life. He would not be stuck behind a desk, wearing a tie or taking clients to fancy restaurants. Tech-something and advertising-something careers have also been done to death.

At the very least, getting your character out of a suit and tie and on the streets might give you some good comic opportunities, or the chance to introduce some characters we haven't seen on "The Office" already.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Rene said...


Awhile ago I remember you posted a list of over-used character arcs you've come by.

One of them, as I recall, was when the protagonist has to choose between a "real" job that pays well, and another that fulfills him creatively.

Doesn't this fall into that territory?

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Joe -- That's an interesting idea, but a completely different script. I think you should write it :-)

Rene -- Yeah, probably. Though since this is a comedy that that arc really is a small part of, it's a lot more forgivable than in a script where that's the whole point of the script.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Water treatment plant.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Umm, if you wanted to put him in advertising (yes, it's suckily over-used), put him in some area that's far from creative (sales, account management). If he's a creative person, perhaps even originally a trained designer, the ennui of watching other people in the company actually create stuff while he has to entertain empty-headed account executives or "brand-managers" (god save us all..) should give you something to bite into. Unless that means that you have to go through a whole load of exposition about his background. If that's the case, just pretend you didn't hear me at all... ;-)

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He should do ad sales for a would-be blog empire. The office can have a bunch of writers sitting in a room cranking out phony, half-hearted blogs for an investor who's trying to cash in on the craze by throwing hundreds of sites at the wall to see what sticks. The main character would get a big commission for each new account that he lands so his financial success would rely on his ability to muster up phony enthusiasm for the company.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

Well, I'd start by looking at theme...

But I never want to see another character who works in an office for as long as I'm alive. *Every* character in Hollywood movies works in an office and has some sort of semi-generic job.

Chicago? Why not have him work in a slaughterhouse? Or drive a garbage truck? Or at a factory...

Anything but an office.

- Bill

At 4:51 PM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

The best one I see listed is a sales rep of some sort. No matter how boring the product, sales reps will make good money and entertain clients. For example, imagine the entertainment bill of the sales rep for a screw company that supplies a company like Boeing with screws? Boeing probably buys millions and millions of dollars worth of screws every year.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Cathy Krasnianski said...

An auditor or an accountant are always great (boring) choices!

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous EM said...

Supplies sales. Maybe selling napkins, sporks, toilet paper to major hotel chains and/or restaurants.

Selling tech recycling services - old computers, monitors, ink/toner cartridges, to large corporations.

Publisher, but of something mundane like instructions for unassembled furniture.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Tavis said...

Internet blogger-- oh, wait...can you get paid for that?

What if the job really IS interesting, but just not to Ben?

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Steverino said...

How about pharmaceuticals and medical equipment sales? I had a friend who started out selling butt plugs to nursing homes as stoppers for incontinent patients.

Furthermore, my next door neighbor sells artificial arteries and veins (sleeves, actually). He travels all over the world on business and has a huge expense account that greatly exceeds his own earnings. He dines with clients at a steakhouse selling $1000 a kilo Kobe beef.

Thus, this industry has the opportunity for advancement and after the reversal of fortune you protagonist can say: "Well, I guess I could always go back to selling butt plugs."

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous melle said...

He seems like the type of guy that I worked with at my last job. A Sprayer. I worked at a thermal spraying facility masking off airplane engine parts for thermal spray. Sprayers make more money than Maskers and the job is quite tedious at times. Room for advancement includes landing a spot testing new powder coatings for the metal. Or shift supervisor. Or manager.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger cvcobb01 said...

I have a friend who was recruited into a big Chicago firm... of recruiters for big firms.

He focuses on the midwest ad agencies, and he says there's nothing more frustrating than recruiting creative directors for a job you'd love to have yourself. If the pay wasn't so damn good, he'd quit.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Dildo Salesman.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Brett said...

I have a very good friend who is an ace at Microsoft Scheduler and is trapped in a horribly horribly soul-crushingly awful job in which he works 80+ hours a week, sometimes 7 days per week, doing nothing but constantly updating and modifying ridiculously involved schedules on huge multinational billion dollar projects which as often as not get scrapped long before they reach completion.

If it weren't for the obscene pay and the total lack of personal time, he might kill himself.

And I also think the guys who work in teh classified dept of a major metro paper would have to feel a tiny bit frustrated with the way their careers turned out.
B (reading a script even as we speak... ahem)

At 12:04 AM, Blogger Unknown Screenwriter said...

I know a guy who sells a better mousetrap... i.e., he invented the perfect mousetrap for restaurants, food warehouses, etc. He wines and dines lots of restaurant folk but they always end up complaining how bad the food is... LOL.

It's a weird job because he'll leave one of these things for a week and then come back and the damn thing is FULL yet the restaurant owners still balk because now it looks like their place isn't sanitary.

It's a weird job... The people he sells to are even more weird than the job... They usually don't buy right away. They wait a couple of months and after being overrun by rodents, they give him a call.

His company has to deliver the things in a plain unmarked van. LOL.


At 4:24 AM, Anonymous DAVE R. said...

He work's in public relations.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger A. Jonathan Cox said...

Account Executive at a Television Rep Firm - These guys sell air time to ad agencies for various small market television stations across the country. So, if a Chicago ad agency wants to run an ad for the Sofa King in, say, Butte Montana, they would go to a Rep Firm in Chicago. Essentially it's a lot of getting yelled at by the Ad Agency media buyers and sales/traffic managers in Butte Montana. They have to schmooz both the ad agency and the tv stations. Lots of yelling. Lots and lots of yelling. Awesome.

Data Destruction Salesman - They rent the big blue padlocked bins that pepper offices these days. The office workers fill the bins with documents that they don't want anyone else to see (tax returns, customer data, letters from mistresses...) Then they send a crew to run whatever is in the bins through an industrial paper shredder. The salesmen schmooz CFO's and office managers. The job pays a lot for some reason.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Createabullfilms said...

I'd say lobbyist.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Julie O. said...

How 'bout a salesman in the construction industry? A friend of mine makes $500k/year selling plumbing supplies to commercial builders.

A neighbor once asked his wife if his job is legit because she couldn't imagine anyone living as well as they do just selling fire hydrants and toilets.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Nate B. said...

What about an architect? This is a glamorous-sounding job that often isn't. Many architects start with a love of design that is then crushed as they churn out the tract homes and strip malls that pay the bills.

Your character could be at the strip mall-level of architect, but with hopes of becoming an art museum-level of architect.

He hasn't really sold out, and is not really on a cliche character arc, but there is potential for great visuals (think trips to job sites) and a nice moment of warmth when he builds the beautiful building he had in him all along.

And since it's a comedy, maybe he designed his own house to have some unique and hilarious features.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Donny said...


You said high paid....and Chicago, right?

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Scott!

You might consider making Ben a PR hack, if his demeanor and skillset is suitable.

Making him have to clean up after the messes his clients make (think Enron, Exxon Valdez, etc.), and making him depressingly good at it, will make the audience a) hate him a bit, and b) cheer for him when he finally escapes this soul-destroying work (by, for example, doing PR for people who actually deserve the support).

Of course, it's a cliche - business communicators aren't all souless spin doctors - but like lawyers, the few bad apples tend to colour public perception of the whole profession. But it might work well for Ben, and and it has the added advantage of giving him access to all kinds of inside dirt...

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Damn You Joe Valdez!

I am currently writing a script about couriers around LA. And that's a brilliant bit about the naigating the streets, but not his love life. It's something my story is missing. If I name a character after you can I use it?

At 6:46 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

Time shares at a luxury nudist resort?

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

Dude. Anything posted on a public blog is fair game as far as I'm concerned. I can't tell you how much material I've stolen from blogs.

There was a woman who posted to this site whose blog was based on the idea that she was dealing with being a vampire. She didn't write that much, but what she did was imaginative and had lots of wit attached. If she'd written that as a novel, I'm sure she'd be obscenely rich or on her way to it. It was a great idea though, so I filed it away.

I'm not writing about couriers, so any competition you might have will not be from me.

Oh, and you can just send me one dollar when you sell your script.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Naila J. said...

I was thinking QA tester as well, seeing as how that's the job I just ended :|

Either that or photocopy clerk/office assistant

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Joe, you got it.

Now, to address the character that needs a job for Scott here:

How about a guy who writes the text and inanae chatter for infomercials?

Or is the writer thing too close to home/to overdone?

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're looking for bland, ostensibly pleasant yet somehow life-draining, proto-corporate...Includes wining & dining big clients, but mostly day-to-day monotony in a room bigger than a cubicle, but smaller than an office, while still requiring he wear a tie to work every day...

What about something like sales/client accounts at a technology-oriented firm? I.e., he's a higher-up but still-subserviant sales rep. at a high-end car company / speciality wristwatch company / digital camera corporation, etc...

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Lab Lemming said...

Why do you want to put something bland and boring in your script?

Why not make him a disaffected rally car navigator?
-C dubya

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous danny said...


wine and dine clients? check

pays well? check

big promotion, or, signing that great new client? check

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Piers said...

He's a management consultant, poor bastard.

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Jack Lechner said...

Riddley Walker actually mentioned the job I was thinking of: Your character could be a brand manager. For instance, he's the guy at Procter & Gamble who's responsible for Sure deodorant. That's my idea of a soul-killing job if there ever was one.


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