I just watched The Boxtrolls. Wonderful movie.
One of the most important things in storytelling is for the bad guy to be clearly identified, and early. We need to know two things about him or her: 1.) What does he want? 2.) Why does he want it?
In The Boxtrolls, the bad guy, Archibald Snatcher, (artfully voiced by Ben Kingsley) is a grubby lower-class workman who catches Boxtrolls. He wears a red hat. His henchmen also wear red hats, signifying that they too are of an inferior class. The upper class wears white hats.
Snatcher really, really wants a white hat. Why does he want to wear a white hat, you ask? Because people who wear white hats get to eat all the cheese they want. Cheese is the Birkin bag of this grim, little world. The bad guy wants more cheese. The only way he can get it is to wear a white hat. So, first thing in the movie, he makes a deal with the aristocrat in charge of handing out white hats… “For a white hat, I will destroy every Boxtroll in this town.”
What does Snatcher want? To kill all Boxtrolls. Why? So he can get a white hat and eat all the cheese he could ever desire. A simple goal. What is extraordinary about The Boxtrolls is how quickly the opponent’s desire is established. At 1 minute 30 seconds in, and that includes head titles! Or, page 4 of the screenplay. That quick enough for you?
That’s a feature film. It lasts an hour and a half and they tell you about the Bad Guy right off the bat.
Just like the opponent’s problem in most movies is caused by his desire… In The Boxtrolls, Snatcher’s desire and his downfall are motivated by cheese. If, late in the story, the hero was not able to take advantage of the opponent’s desire to eat cheese, the hero would never have won.
A strange example, you think? Yes! If you don’t like it, come up with a better one!