Be prepared. This is a longer post than I usually write. I got carried away. Apologies. Maybe because it’s back to school time that these first few paragraphs may seem like a classroom lesson, but if you keep reading I promise it gets better. I suggest you pack a lunch or read it in sections; stretch first we’ll be awhile. Okay, ready? Ahem… Stories give a narrative account of events either real or imagined. Those events involve characters. The characters the audience relates to are the heroes we root for. We want them to win. We are invested in their character arc as they journey from one place to another, learning something, transforming internally and improving their lot in life along the way. It is understood in most stories that after trial and tribulation the main character chalks up a win. This is similar to the way Americans believe in success. That if you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you don’t give up, you will eventually get what you want. It’s America’s Promise which can be summed in the equation
Talent + Hard Work = Success.
In screenwriting, heroes’ arcs go up because of good behavior and after several losses they end winning what is most important to their journey. In a negative character arc, the anti-hero’s journey is the result of bad behavior and choices that hurt others and eventually themselves because they end losing either their life or what is most important to their journey.
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I started this blog to help emerging screen and TV writers survive the day job, general meetings and life shit that happens on the way to success. So you’re a writing a TV pilot, I assume you know what to do. If not, there are a gazillion analysts to help writers write. Here is one I highly recommend – Michael Tucker and his Lessons From The Screenplay on You Tube are definitely worth a subscription and a donation via Patreon.
Lili Loofbourow’s review of the HBO comedy Vice Principals in The Week brings up a point emerging screenwriters need to think about. Assholes. Anti-heroes are commonly without valor. The skilled writer/actor/director combo is able to give this branded a-hole enough rope to re-brand and bring the audience around. Think Walter White, Dexter Morgan or Tony Soprano. Even if your character dies at the end, the audience tuned in each week for the next installment of motherfuckery. For a comedy there’s less death, but more public shaming like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. We secretly admire Sue Sylvester’s fearless cruelty in Glee, but she can’t be the lead. No, for a lead to be an asshole it’s definitively a 10 in degree of difficulty. So should it be attempted by someone new to the game?
A-holes are anti-heroes, but all anti-heroes are not a-holes. We watch characters who are awful people because they are interesting. The anti-hero is someone who has a huge learning curve from rotten to saved by love or rotten to dead. Interesting story and good acting will sell that every time. A character with no redeeming moral or social value has nowhere to go.
With its casual racism, misogyny, and mean-spiritedness I would normally not give Vice Principals the time of day. But the polarizing effect of these two major fucking douchebags makes me think there is a big takeaway for writers. The premise is two high school vice principals are put out when neither of them is promoted to the job of principal in favor of a thoroughly qualified outsider. Nice enough, right? But when you throw in the specifics: They are in South Carolina and the outsider from Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); they are men and she is a woman; they are white and she is black; they are er– educated enough and she has a doctorate. Enough for comedy gold, but in the first few episodes these writers take the easy swings with offensive and insulting stereotypes… and whiff.
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