I finally have the chance to get back to blogging! I appreciate everyone’s patience. And I will most certainly respond to all of the e-mails. I spent the vast majority of April working on a film project that absolutely kicked my ass. In fact, for much of the month, I was writing scared. Have you ever done that? You’re writing for some titan of industry and you’re nervous as your fingers type the keypad from FADE IN all the way to FADE OUT? That’s when you really discover what you’re made of. That’s when you go “oh shit, I’ve got to really deliver the goods.” So you dive in and use every trick you know, everything you’ve studied your whole life, from depth to subtext to exposition, and hopefully, you make all the right decisions.
I’ll be back on Monday with a big script review of Fahrenheit 451.
I’m also in the latest issue of Script Magazine with a big discussion about unsympathetic protagonists. Here’s a taste:
Say, has anyone ever heard of Scrooge? He has a transformational arc, does he not? He must be completely unsympathetic before he can transform, right? How are you going to tell a story about a man who has a transformational arc if he’s sympathetic from the start?
I’m also reminded of a great article by Terry Rossio on his Wordplayer website called One Hundred Million Dollar Mistakes. He wrote, “On Shrek, we were insistent that the story had to be about an ogre who was happy the way he was -- if the world rejected him, then he would reject the world. It was about putting up emotional barriers as an inappropriate reaction to rejection. Surrounding Shrek, all the main characters were dealing with similar inappropriate reactions to issues of self-worth, exploring all faces of the theme, and giving the film a sense of unity. At one point, the production team decided to throw that out and explore the notion that Shrek's real problem was that he wanted to be a Knight, so people would like him (we called this the 'woe is me' or Hunchback version of the story). That change screwed everything up, and you could see a hundred million $1 bills flying out the window. Happily, the production team, after seven months of brutally hard work, abandoned the 'woe is me' approach and came back to the emotional barrier theme. Now of course nobody can see the film any other way. Essential battle won, and the One Hundred Million Dollar Mistake narrowly avoided!”
The “I want to be a Knight” idea makes me want to heave. This over-zealous pursuit of sympathy in a protagonist has lead to so many cornball ideas. Good lessons get lost and bad films get made because preposterous concepts get shoved down our throats all in the name of sympathetic protagonists with goals we can root for. History has proven time and again that audiences can deal with an unsympathetic protagonist in the context of a good story. Audiences are good people. They will watch mean characters like Walt Kowalski or Shrek or Scrooge, because they will quietly hope for them to change for the better and discover the good in life.