Tag Archives: character

Who’s Your FAVORITE Bad Guy?!

Working on Your Screenplay STILL Sucks!. Writing about Opponents… wondering who you think are the finest Bad Guys in the history of movies or TV…

Who do you love to hate?
Who’s the most complex?
Who’s the most unusual?
Who do you find endlessly fascinating?
Who was the biggest problem for the hero?
Who do you enjoy watching again and again?

I’m sure you’ve got favorites I’ve not considered… hence the question!

Thank you for letting me know.



Filed under character, Good Writing, Screenwriting

Tell us what the Bad Guy wants, and fast!

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!


Filed under character, Good Writing

JOY. Best “low point” in recent memory.

Go see JOY.
Learn a ton from the “visit to death” “low point” etc. moment.

Whatever the hell it’s called by writing teachers, the low point in JOY is the clearest and “worst” in years. It was so low that someone I was with said something OUT LOUD to the effect that she couldn’t believe what was happening.

Not gonna tell you anything more. Go to the theater and see for yourself. I’ll discuss it later, when it’s out of the theaters.

Reminds me of an “in theater” moment eons ago. Went to a screening of SNOW WHITE at UCLA. A man behind me had his little girl on his lap. Right at the moment when the Queen, disguised as an old hag, reaches out to Snow White with the poisoned apple and tells her how good it is…

The little girl behind me, with true horror in her voice, said, “She’s lying…”

An amazing moment where the drama was real to the viewer. Just like my friend, who didn’t believe the bad part in JOY.

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Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting

What is your story “about”?

This is a piece of a homework I give my writing students. Just thought it up last semester and found it was very helpful. The idea being: just because you’re writing, or have written something — script, novel, short story — doesn’t mean you are actually telling the story you think you are. This is a way to check to make sure.


1.) Write a prose version of your story. Just tell the story, as you see it. Not the dialogue, just what happens and what the characters are feeling. See if what you think the story is about is actually on the script pages. You may be surprised at what you find. Telling me directly what the story is, will help us both.

2.) Then, write what you are trying to say with the story. Books about writing always pontificate that you’re supposed to sit down the first day and decide “your premise.” And then, that’s what you’re supposedly writing about the whole time. That’s hooey. I think you write and write and write and only slowly figure out what the heck your story is really about as you go along.

Tell me what the story is “about” (on a deeper level for you than just surface action) and what you want to get across about the characters.
Why do you want to tell this story? What is important to you to make sure you say? What do you believe in the core of your being that you want this film to get across to the world?
Whose story is it? Why?
What do you want the main character to feel at the beginning vs. at the end — about the other characters and about themselves?


Hope that helps. Have someone read your “what is your story about” piece and then read your script (or vice versa) and see if they feel you’re on track or not…


Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

EDGE OF TOMORROW – Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Can Pick ‘Em!

Go see EDGE OF TOMORROW and read NOTHING about it ahead of time if you can.
I knew nothing of the story whatsoever. Lucky me!

I knew the movie had a good Rotten Tomatoes rating, and that’s all I knew. Well, I knew who was in it.

It is SO fresh, so new, so interesting, so surprising… it will make an ocean of money and the screenwriters are to be congratulated over and over and over because all those who are connected with the film got work, got paid, will profit, etc. All because someone had a VERY COOL IDEA and executed it beautifully.

I’d love to see the first draft or the pitch pages, to see how it worked its way through development.

I have not seen a movie that I enjoyed this much in a long time. Certainly not this year.

It’s been out a while, so it will be leaving the theater soon, but it’s well worth a trip to the theater. Don’t wait for DVD or whatever the hell people wait for these days. Shell out the big bucks and enjoy yourself.

The script is so complex, and so is the movie, but it’s never hard to follow. It must have hurt their heads to write. Hat’s off to them all!

Let me know what you think.


Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Writing Process

Juggling Dynamite – the “Ray Donovan” pilot

Watching “Ray Donovan” on Showtime. Wow. What a killer show. You should watch the pilot. It’s realllllly good. You’ll learn a lot.

Spoiler Alert.

What’s amazing about it is how many horrible possibilities for the hero are set up in the pilot. More than you can shake a stick at. More than you can shake a stick of dynamite at.

What the writers have done, and it’s terribly clever, is give the hero a family and a business and friends where each and every one is a potential for life-altering disaster.
It’s incredibly compelling.

I also watched the pilot for “Penny Dreadful” and it was soooo tepid in comparison. Nothing was going on. It kinda had one plot and that plot was dull.
Especially compared to “Ray Donovan.” The episode lasted the same amount of time, but we found out nothing about the heroine. Nothing about her problems were as compelling as Ray’s.
And she had so few of them.
Ray, however, has problems galore. Big ones.

Ray is an old fashioned fixer to the wealthy and corrupt in Hollywood.
Ray has to deal with a bunch of stuff.

This is a tad more than what was in the pilot, but most of this is set up in the pilot. These are the sticks of dynamite Ray has to juggle:

His crazy father, who we really hate and fear. He’s back five years early from the penitentiary. Ray did not expect his showing up. Big monkey wrench in Ray’s life.
His gentle ex-boxer brother, who has Parkinson’s. He’s sweet. But I worry.
His alcoholic loser brother, who was molested by a priest when he was younger. A jittery, dim-bulb time bomb.
His wife, who loves him but loathes his job. Spends a lot of time being angry at our Ray.
His half brother, by his father’s former girlfriend. A surprise that this guy even exists.
In the pilot, Ray does something truly horrible that may come back to haunt him. In the pilot!
Did I mention that his father served 20 years and blames Ray for it?
A movie studio executive who’s screwing an ex client / ex lover of Ray’s. Ray works for him and they hate each other.
An FBI agent who’s after Ray’s father, who informed for him in prison. (Episode 3, I think)
A nutty business partner who is profane and angry.
An incredibly guilty business partner who, with Ray, did something awful in the past, and feels horribly guilty for it. His wife has died and now he wants to confess his sins. Quite worrisome for us and for Ray.
Ray’s lesbian Eye in the Sky who takes care of surveillance back at the office. Very feisty. Sexy and competent.
A VERY tough guy from some Eastern European country. He works for Ray and seems to be 100% loyal. No one else in the whole show is that loyal to Ray. Well, maybe the Eye in the Sky.

Who else? Anybody else? Who else is trouble for our buddy Ray?
Well, there are his kids. A boy and a girl who each show questionable judgement — keeping Ray from being happy.

At the end of the pilot, you’re exhausted with worry.
And alive with interest in finding out how our buddy Ray, with all his problems, is going to negotiate this ghastly minefield… that is mostly of his own creation.

His job keeps Ray going and threatens to destroy him.


Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

Emphasize the Drama

I notice I’ve written this on my students’ short film scripts a lot this week. Blame them for my radio silence, as they suck up a ton of time. Anyway.

One thing several of them seem to do (besides ignoring my wise counsel a lot of the time) is skate past the most interesting, critical moment in the story.

I’ve been working with them all semester to get their stories right, format right, cutting boring stuff, etc. Now, their scripts are in good shape and I find myself pushing them to find the real meaning in their script. “How can you now put something of yourself into this story?” “How can you make it be about something, something that matters?” “How can you make it more emotional?”

I suggest they, and you, go to the points in the story where important things happen (like the end) and see what you can do to wedge in more intensity. More emotion. More conflict.

Look at your climactic scene and see where a teacher would write MORE in red pen.

Is there more dialogue to be added between the hero and opponent? Something that relates to the core idea of your story?

What from your own life and experience can you work into those characters?

Are you fully exploring the relationships between the characters? This will lead to an enormous amount of depth. Just because you’ve done nine drafts doesn’t mean you can’t figure out more about your characters and how they relate to each other and the core idea of your story. Write their names down on a piece of paper. Good guys on one side. Bad guys on the other. Draw arrows from every character to every other character. See if there are connections to be made that you have, up to now, ignored. Who might have interaction with someone you didn’t expect, and can that help your story?

Is it as INTENSE as possible?

How can you make the scene WORSE for the character? What can you do to amp up the agony for everyone in the scene? What can you do to amp up the joy?

Rewriting is all about questions.
What questions do you ask the actors who are playing the characters?
What questions might the reader ask you?
What things might be better left unsaid? Turn a line of dialogue into a look. Actors love it when you cut their dialogue as it gives them something to do with their faces.


Make sure, when you are looking at an important scene, that you have squeezed each moment and each character dry before you feel it’s time to move on.


Filed under character, Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting