WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
POINTS OF IDENTIFICATION
Okay, let's say you have this great idea for a movie about... Mayans. Oh, and you want to do the
entire thing in the Mayan language - so nobody will be able to understand what the characters are
saying, because it's a dead language. But you'll subtitle it. Oh, and you are going to cast
complete unknowns - no familiar faces, no one like Tom Hanks (that the audience loves) playing
one of these Mayans. Oh, and these unknown actors are going to be wearing face jewelry, more
face jewelry than any dozen people hanging around outside of a Los Angeles tattoo and piercing
shop. Plus they're going to have tribal markings and stuff. And, of course, they'll be wearing loin
cloths... and hunting... and doing everything else that Mayan villagers did. So, how are we going
to make sure that our modern audience (who sees this film at a massive multi-plex somewhere while talking on
their cell phones and text messaging their friends and listening to their iPods) will identify with
our characters? How can we assure that they will do that "skin jump" and imagine themselves
living the character's life for 2 hours. How can we make sure that they identify enough with these
Mayans to *care* about what happens to them?
We're going to have to find points of identification.
Despite Mel Gibson's often odd behavior, I think he's a genius at making films that really connect with
the audience. I was not a fan of PASSION, but there were more than enough other fans to make
up for it. He seems to love big historical epics with lots of action - in a time when mainstream
Hollywood doesn't even make epics anymore. APOCALYPTO takes us into another world, an
amazing world but completely different than our own, but populates that world with people just like
you and me (except for the face jewelry and loincloths). I'm not really sure it's about the Mayans
or the death of their civilization (they throw every theory you can think of at the wall) - it's more
of an old fashioned action-adventure flick like THE NAKED PREY (1966)... in fact, almost
exactly like NAKED PREY - that film is about a man being hunted through the jungle by the
tribe's best warriors and hunters... just like APOCALYPTO. But that film took place in modern
times, and the hunted (Cornell Wilde) was a regular guy on safari in Africa with his buddies. No
face jewelry, no loincloth, and he didn't speak in subtitles.
So the challenge in APOCALYPTO was to make sure we identified with those dudes in
loin clothes, so that their story became *our* story. The film opens with a hunting party
in the jungle, and they use their wiles to trap and kill a giant tapur. So we start out
thinking the hunting party is fairly clever...but they still have all of that face jewelry, and
I don't know bout you, but we don't do much tapur hunting out here in California - kind
of difficult to identify with that.
After the hunt, they are cleaning and cutting up the animal for transportation, and our
protagonist, Jaguar Paw, is giving the organs (which contain powers) to those who need
them most. He's kind of like the Wizard Of Oz, handing out hearts... and livers and
kidneys and... Well, for Blunted, who has been married for years but still has not produced a
child - the testicles. Blunted doesn't want them, but all of the other guys agree that the way
to improve his chance of fathering a child is to eat testicles. All of the guys watch as he
bites into the tapur testicles (yech!) and chews them enough to swallow them. Then the
guys start laughing - it's all been a practical joke! Blunted spits out the remainder of the
testicles (yech!) and everyone laughs again. Okay, practical jokes amongst guys is
something I can identify with. And the camaraderie is something I can identify with. And
it's obvious that everybody loves Blunted and is just having fun with him.
After the laughter, Blunted tells the Chief that, all joking aside, he needs to father a child...
his mother-in-law is putting huge pressure on him for grandchildren. Okay, that's pretty
easy to identify with! There are currently *two* TV commercials that have a mother in
law asking when they are going have give her a grandchild. By creating a situation for
the character that we can identify with and understand, we identify with the character.
The Chief then asks if there is some problem with Blunted's equipment, and he says
adamantly that the equipment is fine. So the Chief gives him a secret leaf to rub on his
equipment before sex to help him father a child... this is a set up for another practical
joke that happens later in the film.
Before we get to that joke, our protagonist Jaguar Paw hears something in the forest (the
others do not - his hearing is better, an admirable trait). He gestures for the others to
stay quiet and prepare for battle. Another tribe is in the forest - the frightened leader
asks for permission to pass. He explains to Jaguar Paw that they need to find a new
home, because their forest was *ravaged*. This frightens Jaguar Paw - how can a
forest be ravaged? How is that even possible? He allows the tribe to pass through...
But back at the village, the Chief (Jaguar Paw's father) pulls him aside and warns him
that a Chief can not be afraid, that fear is a disease, and he must not spread it through
the village. Jaguar Paw has disappointed his father... and that's a point of identification,
too. All of us want to make our parents proud of us. All of us know what it feels like to
fail... and we all know what it's like to live in the shadow of our parents. Even if you
have never experienced that, you understand it - and that helps us understand the
character. This also gives us the emotional journey that Jaguar Paw will go on in the
story - his character arc. He is a man who might be crippled by fear, who must work
past that and be brave... and not just a little bit brave, because this film will take him to
the limits and even beyond.
In the village, Blunted gets castigated by his mother-in-law because he can't give her a
grandchild - she says she'll have him replaced if he can't get her daughter pregnant.
Embarrassingly, she insists that he go into the tent right this minute and make love to
his wife. She'll be waiting outside, and listening to make sure they're really doing it. Blunted
goes into the tent... and a few minutes later runs out naked trying to find something to
stop his genitals from burning (not literally) - and ends up dunking himself in a trough of
water. The leafs the Chief gave him were a chili-like *spice*. Everyone laughs... and
then we get a punchline:
His wife bursts out of the tent, also burning (not literally) and washes her mouth out with
water until the burning subsides. Hmmm, I wonder if they've been doing it wrong?
Everyone in the village laughs, including Jaguar Paw, his wife and their little boy Turtle
Run. There's a great scene where Jaguar Paw scoops up his son and carries him back
to their tent, playing with him. At the tent, he tells his wife that he's come back from the
hunt with some tapur and a little boy - which should they have for dinner tonight? He
hangs the kid upside down on the porch and jokes that the boy looks delicious. Playing
around with your kid is another thing that we can easily identify with. Hey, this guy's just
like me... except for the face jewelry and loincloth.
Okay, we've used humor to bring us into their world, and we've found some points of
identification between the characters and the audience... but the big stuff is about to
GUILT ADDS IDENTIFICATION
A raiding party attacks the village one morning. Thanks to Jaguar Paw's great hearing,
he's able to sneak his wife and son to safety at the bottom of a dry well. Then he is
captured by the raiders, and must make sure they don't find his wife and son. He gets
on the wrong side of one of the raiders, the ultra-evil Snake Ink, who wants to kill him, but the head of the
raiding party Zero Wolf (who reminds me of Yul Brenner) forbids it. Jaguar Paw is put in shackles. His father has also been
captured, and he apologizes to him... which is overheard by Snake Ink. Big mistake... and the script gives us enough time for the audience to register that.
I've done a tip before about how guilt is great way to create character identification...
and here's another example. Not only is Jaguar Paw responsible for the murder of his
father, this makes him the Chief, and responsible for the safety of his tribe - who are
either in shackles or being raped and beaten and killed. Oh, and the shackled prisoners
are being taken back to the Mayan city to be sacrificed to the Gods.
That's act one - and the rest of the film is Jaguar Paw trying to save the survivors from
his village... then being hunted through the jungle by the best hunters and warriors from
the Mayan city and he tries to get back to his wife and son before a torrential rain turns
that dry well into a drowning pool. And even though NAKED PREY was modern day
and about a guy just like us who is hunted, it doesn't have that additional easy-to-
identify-with goal of saving your family. I think it's interesting that this film and the
worst-titled-movie-of-that-same-year BLOOD DIAMOND are about guys kidnapped from their
tribes who now must escape and save their wives and children from government goon
squads. Similar stories in two films with jungle settings.
Even if your characters have face jewelry and wear loin clothes to work, find points of
identification between them and the audience so that they know exactly what being that
character feels like. How are your characters like the people sitting in the cinema? What
aspects of their lives do they have in common? What are those points of identification?
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E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
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