MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
IN THE MIND OF THE VILLAIN
Chadwick Boseman passed away over the weekend. Though he made many good and great films in his brief life,
he will probably best be known as Black Panther in the Marvel movies,
In BLACK PANTHER, his Prince T'Challa is battling his cousin Erik Killmonger for the
throne of Wakanda and maybe even the fate of the world. What's most interesting about the villain Erik Killmonger is that he is basically *right*. Where T'Challa and
his late father wanted to keep Wakanda's advanced technology secret from the rest of the world and believe in isloationism, Killmonger and his late father wanted to use Wakanda's advanced technology
to help free all oppressed people in the world, This is a great ideological battle, because you can understand both sides. What makes Killmonger a
great villain is that we can understand why he does the things he does. He's not evil, he's someone who sees a different perspective than the protagonist
and believes that *his* beliefs are worth fighting for and worth dying for... and worth killing for.
Of course, Killmonger not only wants to free the oppressed people of the world,
after they rise up - he wants them to take over and rule. There's some payback in there for centuries of oppression. Though the "payback" is wrong
- it's eye for an eye - it's still understandable. Because the audience understands his motives, he seems like a real person,
rather than a two dimensional character... and that reality makes him more frightening. What made this film interesting is that by the end of the story, it's
T'Challa who comes to believe that Killmonger was right... Isolationism doesn't work... it was just Killmonger's methods and that payback thing that were wrong.
One of the things that I talk about in the Protagonist Blue Book is that you need to know why your Antagonist was right... and why your protagonist was wrong.
This film does a great job of doing that, because T'Challa comes to learn that not only did his father's policy of Isolationism contribute to the oppression of
these people all over the world... one of the reasons why Killmonger is so keen on becoming king of Wakanda and fighting T'Challa to the death is that
T'Challa's father *killed* to protect that policy Isolationism. His father was responsible for the murder of Killmonger's father. One brother ordered the killing of the other.
Through the course of the story, T'Challa comes to realize that he is wrong. That protecting that Isolationism is wrong. That maybe there's a way to adapt
Killmonger's goal of helping the oppressed people in a more positive way. The antagonist was right. That makes for a more complex story. A "realistic" story in a superhero movie.
Killmonger even gets the three dimensional treatment at the end, with a powerful and emotional death scene between the two cousins, Even though they were
separated for their entire lives, they are family. They are the sons of brothers.
OTHER SONS AND BROTHERS
In Brent Hanley's FRAILTY, Bill Paxton is a widower raising his two young sons in rural
Texas. What separates Paxton from Fred MacMurray in MY THREE SONS is that he's
also a serial killer who believes God has ordered him to use a pair of work gloves, a
length of steel pipe, and a massive ax named Otis to kill people... who are really
demons. His son Matt O'Leary thinks he's out of his mind, and tries to protect his little
brother from the violence. But Paxton believes that the family that slays together stays
together - and ax murdering strangers becomes a family activity. Burying the hacked
up chunks of their bodies in the town's public rose garden is a typical family outing.
FRAILTY is a very disturbing film because it juxtaposes traditional family values,
religion, and serial killing. When your father believes that kidnaping and killing strangers
is just part of every day life it adds to the normal father & son friction.
The villain is usually the most important character in the script, without them the hero
would just be sitting around eating Cheetos. Without Paxton's mission to rid this world
of demons who look just like normal people, O'Leary would just be a normal kid... and
we wouldn't have a story.
The villain's plan is the fuel for the story, so it has to make sense. You can't run a script
on bad fuel. The villain's plan isn't just because he's evil, it's because he has a goal,
too. A goal he believes is worthy. His goal may even be noble... but his methods aren't.
Paxton has a noble goal - to rid the world of demons. He's on a mission from God.
From his point of view, he's saving the world... From O'Leary's point of view he's
murdering innocent people.
If you are having trouble writing your villain, maybe there are three possibilities:
1) You can't imagine yourself as the villain. Part of our job is to get into the minds of all
of our characters and see the world from their POV. If you're having trouble doing this,
maybe it's because you don't know your villain well enough. You have a goal for him,
but you don't understand why he has chosen that goal. Dig a little deeper into the
character and figure out what made him who he is.
TAKING THE VILLAIN'S SIDE
There's a great Bogart film called BLACK LEGION about a KKK-like group. Bogart is a machinist
with a family to support who has his job "stolen" out from under him by a minority employee who is willing to work
for lower wages... so he joins a Klan-like group. The great thing about this film is that it takes you
step-by-step on his journey from regular guy to member of a group of guys who wear sheets and lynch immigrants. At every step, you think
to yourself: I might do the same thing. There is never some point where Bogart jumps from good to evil . Where we stop identifying.
The film takes the journey from regular guy to villain in baby steps.
Here's a guy who has a family and no income...
all because they hired a minority guy. He's mad as hell, and what starts as some
"innocent" name calling turns into rock throwing in minority neighborhoods turns into torching people's houses
and hanging them when they refuse to quit their jobs and go back where they came
from. These guys think it's a matter of survival. They will die of starvation if these
minorities don't quit the jobs that they used to work at. Because we understand Bogart's character, every
horrible thing that he does we see as a mistake - he is on the wrong path. The path of hatred.
And that is the path of murder. We understand his motivations, but also know that what he is doing is wrong.
Because Bogart is the lead, he sees the error of his ways and turns against the BLACK LEGION...
but your villain may not. Your villain may take these understandable motivations and take them to the extremes....
and do terrible things.
Even villains have *reasons* behind what they do.
1) Look at what your villain does and dig into your own experiences to find something similar. Some
reason why you broke a rule. Something that you believe in strongly - and flip it to the opposite of that. If you believe in
Equal Opporunity, how can that be twisted into something that takes you down the wrong path? If you believe in obeying religious doctrine,
how can that be twisted into something that takes you down the wrong path? If you believe in reversing centuries of oppression,
how can that take you down the wrong path? Positive beliefs and negative beliefs are both beliefs - those emotional reactions are connected.
Once you dig deep enough to find the motivations and emotions under the actions, you can find a way to see the
world from your villain's POV. You may not *want* to do that, but that's the only way to
write the villain as more than just some two dimensional evil dude. Neither Bogart in
BLACK LEGION nor Killmonger in BLACK PATHER are two dimensional characters.
They have understandable mottivatioins... and that makes what they do even more frightening. As Hitchcock said, the
better the villain the better the movie. If the audience doesn't believe your villain,
they won't believe your script.
2) You have given the villain a goal that is just evil. Something that is IMPOSSIBLE to
understand. Something that really can't be defended. Heroes and villains are connected
- they are often two sides of the same coin. If your villain's plan is too mean for you to
fathom ("I'm going to kill all of the babies in the city.") you aren't going to be able to get
under their skin. So find a villain that you CAN understand. A villain that would be the
hero of the film if it was told from his POV.
Again - it really comes down to the motivations of the villain. It's 1889 and you get a
message from the future that a child born in a certain town in Austria will grown up to
become a dictator who will exterminate 16 million people... So you kill every baby in
Braunau, Austria in order to save 16 million Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and Gays. Can you
understand that motivation? Could you see yourself killing a handful of babies so that
16 million people can live? It wouldn't be an easy thing to do... but could you imagine
Let's try that again - this time with a government leader who is trying to protect his
country by killing the firstborn sons (Exodus xii). Our hero has now become a villain...
but the motives are exactly the same.
Okay, one more time - It's the Terminator coming back to 1984 to kill Sarah Conners
before she gives birth to JC (John Conners) who will lead the rebellion against the
machines years later. If you don't kill every woman in Los Angeles named Sarah
Conners one will give birth to the man who will wipe out your entire race! From Michael
Biehn's perspective John Conners might be the savior... from the Terminator's
perspective he's not that much different than Hitler. John Conners is going to come to
power and kill all of the machines... the Terminator's friends and family!
CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
3) Your villain is *crazy* and you are not (well, you are writing screenplays... so maybe just not diagnosed yet).
This is the one that often pops up in horror movies, whether the story deals with Masked Serial Killers With Machetes or Monsters From Outer Space. This type of villain *does* have motivations and a thought process, but it may be too weird or alien for you to understand... without some work. A serial killer or monster is just like any other villain - they need a motivated plan that makes some sort of sense... but the audience may not be aware of that plan until the very end of Act 2 (if at all). That doesn't mean *the writer* doesn't need to understand this type of villain. The character, even if it's a crazed killer or monster still has some sort of purpose or pattern. *We* need to know what that is in order to make them consistent and "realistic".
If you've watched the TV show HANNIBAL or movies MANHUNTER or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (or better yet, read the books by Thomas Harris) you know how the FBI uses psychological profiles to find the patterns (and motivations) of serial killers. The Crawford character in both of those movies is based on real life FBI serial killer profiler John Douglas, and his book "Mindhunter: Inside The FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit" (written with Mark Olshaker) which is a fascinating look at what motivates serial killers. There is always a pattern and always a motivation. In MANHUNTER (based on RED DRAGON) the "Tooth Fairy" kills families in order to stage a post death situation where that family is accepting and adoring him... and even though his backstory is never mentioned in the movie, you can guess what motivates him to do this. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS "Buffalo Bill" is skinning women in order to make a woman suit because he'd prefer to live as a woman (um, kind of a sick way to accomplish this). In fact, that's usually the issue with serial killers: they have understandable motivations, but have found the most violent and weird means to that end. That's why we may have trouble understanding them at first: their actions are crazy. But our job, whether it shows up on screen or not, is to *know* why they do things so that we can make them believable and *consistent*.
Often with serial killers we *don't* want to give the audience too much information, because horror is *fear of the unknown* rather than the known. But that doesn't mean as writers that *we* don't have to know. If you look at slasher films like FRIDAY THE 13th, Jason has a backstory which explains why the heck he's killing those cute camp counselors. Freddy Kruger has a reason why he's killing those kids. And in the first HALLOWEEN movie Michael Myers has a *pattern* to the people he murders (which was tossed out for later entries in the series). Slashers tend to have a specific kind of target, and often this information helps the characters outsmart them in the end.
Monsters are also motivated by something... and we need to know what that is. The audience may never know, it may never come up in the story... but if we don't know what the monster is after the story will not ring true. And monster movies also often reveal the motivations at the tail end of Act 2 as a way for our protagonist to defeat them. It's pretty easy to figure out what PREDATOR is up to as the story plays out, but what about John Carpenter's version of THE THING? That monster just keeps killing and assimilating its victims. Why the heck would anybody do that? Well, the tagline was "Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide", so we know this monster wants to mask its identity to survive... and Blair's little craft project shows the creature's long term motivation... like the same year's E.T. the monster just wants to go home. So that is its motivation: to survive until it can figure out how to get home. Hey, all of those humans and dogs are just collateral damage! Survival, Not Being Discovered, and Escape are The Thing's motivations, and if you look at the movie... everything it does is part of that. The writer (Bill Lancaster from a story by Campbell) had to understand the monster's motivations in order to make the story "realistic". The audience may not *consciously* know why this film makes sense and some other monster movie seems contrived, but subconsciously they may feel that a scene or action is wrong. So we as writers must even understand our monsters and things from another world.
Our villains and monsters are not just doing things because they are evil, they have some reason that makes perfect sense to them. *We* as writers must know what those reasons are in order to make those characters believable. We must be able to get inside the villain's head and see the story through their eyes... and see why they believe they are doing the right thing (even if it involves massive collateral damage or stabbing Kevin Bacon through the neck with an arrow). Hey, THE THING has the same motivation as E.T... and both wear disguises so they won't be discovered until they can find a ride off planet.
An important thing with any script in any genre is that the characters be well rounded. You should
know why your protagonist is *wrong* and why your antagonist is *right*.
What makes FRAILTY frightening is that we understand Paxton - he's a good man
trying to do the right thing. He believes the world has become over-run with demons,
and that God has called upon him to destroy them. Everything he does makes perfect
sense... if you see the world through his eyes. Of course, we see the world through his
oldest son's eyes - so he seems crazy. Paxton thinks his mission is doing the right
thing, but we can see that he's misguided. We are both frightened of him, and feel sorry
for him - he's had this weird vision (probably from eating pizza before going to sleep)
and now he's doing these really frightening things that can only end with him being
killed or arrested. When your dad is acting crazy, what do you do? Obey him or defy
him? Paxton may be a monster, but he also has a goal we understand - a goal that
makes sense from his character's point of view.
Whether you are writing a story about Superheroes or Serial Killers or Social Issues or Crime Films, your
antagonist, your villain, is the fuel for your story. You don't want to use bad fuel. What is your villain's motivation? What is your villain's goal? Do his actions make sense
- are they the best way to achieve that goal? Motivation is the key to every character -
even psycho serial killers who are murdering strangers because God told them to or villains in a superhero story who want to rule the world.
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Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!
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*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!
*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more.
* * * Buy It!
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.
NAKED SCREENWRITING MP3s
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3!
The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8 MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON MP3
CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 MP3s). Full length classes on MP3. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on MP3!