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

Monday, September 25, 2006


I'm finding myself with a lack of blog topics; I spent the weekend reading a ton of stuff for my job, without anything amusing coming up along the way.

I haven't seen a movie in what feels like ages, though the only thing out there I'm truly tempted by is "Jackass Number 2" (seriously), though since my wife refuses to see it I may have to take it in sometime this week while she's at work.

If I do, rest assured, I'll blog about it.

Last night I finally curled up with the rewrite of my supernatural thriller again, after not touching it for a few days. On the agenda was one of the notes that everyone gave me: beef up the villain.

My problem is that I tend to tell stories the same way -- I pick a central character, and as the tale goes along they are in every scene. Thinking back, this hasn't varied much; my frozen-time script is the only one that really breaks this mold, because it has two main characters who are apart for stretches.

The horror script I have been noodling around with jumps around from characters a lot, and the teen ensemble comedy I once did a lot of notes on them put into hibernation would be, if I write it, a real stretch -- think "Dazed and Confused" in the way that it constantly cuts between a large number of characters' stories.

The incredibly-low-paid-rewrite I recently blogged about was also sort of an ensemble piece, and I think in the long run that might be the best lesson I get from that exercise, about just bouncing around from story to story.

Unfortunately, my main-character-in-every-scene-template has a big flaw: If you are telling the type of story where there is an antagonist, and the main character and the antagonist spend the second act apart, the antagonist is going to drop out of the story for a long time.

And that was my problem in my supernatural thriller. I actually had a little scene, in which we leave the main character for about half a page, and pop in to what the villain is doing, only to rush back to the safety of the main character's POV very quickly.

But in the past few weeks, I've been musing on ways to pump up the villain's story, because it's important -- the rule that certain kinds of tales are only as strong as their villains is true.

One of my previous problems was that the villain was also offscreen in act 2 because he pretty much wasn't doing anything; he was just kind of waiting for act 3 to roll around.

Not good.

So I came up with two new sequences for him, that give him some real second-act action, which not only sets up the third act stuff even better, but which gives him some more development as a character (which was always a problem as well).

Plus it feeds the urgency of the tale; now we're reminded that not only is the villain out there, but he is taking action that is bringing him closer to the main character.

In retrospect, it seems obvious, but again I was caught in the idea that I wanted the main character in every scene, which works here in acts 1 and 3, when the main character and the villain are brought into proximity a lot.

But now the bad guy gets his scenes too, and the script is all the better for it.

I guess the lesson is that when you are figuring out the way you want to tell your story, you need to be able to bend a bit, to fit in with the particular demands of the story you are about to tell.

But no, Brett, there still aren't any lesbians. Or midgets.


At 12:51 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

In a strange twist of irony (or fate. Or the Divine Goat of Inspiration*) the second act of my Fallout script is the only place where all five (yes, five) major villains are seen within a very short time span.

However, I do have the same problem with the very same script. Since it is really a one man's story, most characters are seen for only five or so possible minutes, often an hour apart. I just hope that their odd design and general oddness will make them memorable enough for audience not to wonder "Who the hell is that guy again?".

*No, I don't know how to twist a goat either.

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

"My problem is that I tend to tell stories the same way -- I pick a central character, and as the tale goes along they are in every scene. Thinking back, this hasn't varied much;"

I think a lot of us can relate to this, esp at the begining. I noticed my first few script attempts were very similar in themes & characters: 2 main char's, a love story at the center, told in a linear fashion.

The current script i'm outlining has 1 protag which is diff for me. And i'm hoping to do one w/ a fractured narrative soon.

Sameness in storytelling style might be an even bigger problem if a writer writes in the same genre. If every horror movie you write is someone (college co-ed, suburban family, neighbors, group of teens) in the woods (in a house, in the desert, on vacation) being chased by someone or something, then i think you have a big problem.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Brett said...

Damn you.

If you tell me there's no exploding helicopters, neither, then I'll have to ask "just who the hell do you expect to interest?"

Come on-- throw me a frikkin bone, man.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Brett said...

And now, for a more serious response...

I've found (and I say this with the full understanding that I've sold nuthin', optioned nuthin', know nunthin'...) that it helps me a lot to do at least one pass on a script from the POV of a starving actor reading for a specific major role in that script.

What are my scenes? Where do I get to flex and strut my acting mojo? Does my character really have a major role in this tale, or is he instead a sort of straw man, a charact5er of concenience dropped in to perform some key action or turn the crank to make some critical plot point spin as required for the tale?

In your case, try to write a simple description of that antag's through-line: describe his entire role in the movie, and try to plot the major beats of that through-line on a timeline of teh story's spine. If you find that you have a main character who seems to be missing for an entire act, I think that's a problem in your story.

Again-- I know nuthin. But even a blind squirrell will sometimes trip over a nut.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Belzecue said...

Rewatch Star Wars and note Vader's scenes. They are few (initially) but powerful. Vader's pattern of appearance is a bell-curve, rising in frequency as the plot funnels towards the climax. Or think of it as a gradually constricting spiral path, with the antagonist circling the protagonist, looping inwards as the antagonist becomes more focussed on the protagonist, until a direct head-on conflict is inevitable.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Naila J. said...

I would totally go with focusing on the villain. After act 1 and maybe act 2, I would just focus on the villain, tell his story and such. Almost make the audience believe you've switched POV's and you now want the villain to be your hero.

Of course, this means you really need to establish who the hero is, and how he is, in the first act.

And then, when you get to ignoring the main character, the viewer is all like WTH IS HAPPENING HERE!!!

And of course, after a few acts, just switch back, no explanation, and either integrate the villain into those scenes, or ignore him for 1 or 2 acts before bringing the two together.

Or something.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

Weird, I have a similar problem. The screenplay I'm co-writing at the moment is based on my own novel, which is written in the first person, so every scene in the screenplay follows around the main character.

Then a few days ago I wrote my first moment WITHOUT the main character, and it was only 3/4 of a page, but it felt WEIRD. I think when I get to the 2nd draft I may end up leaving the protag more often.

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Best example that comes to mind is The Rock. The villain (if you can call him such) has an agenda and a story and a POV all of his own. If you dropped him out of the story until the end it would kill the movie. It's because you're given time to understand the why that it plays so well.

Let's face it, just as your hero's actor reads for his lines, so does the villain's. They have to have a motivation.

It's the old screenwriting idiom - two characters want something specific, and unfortunately, only one can achieve it.

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Joe Unidos said...

I've always been something of a POV-obsessive myself and what works for me is this: I can justify allowing myself to leave my protagonist and focus on the villain guilt-free when they are pursuing a parallel path --chasing the same mini-goal, or working towards the same conclusion in different ways --when the villain's action is in some way a reflection of the protagonist's action. That way, I feel like I am still informing my protag's story directly, by showing direct opposition to his specific action.


Post a Comment

<< Home