X MEN APOCALYPSE was a just okay sequel to FIRST CLASS - my favorite in the series with it's origins story mixed with the always cool idea of the (fictional mutant) history behind an actual historical event. Though conspiracy theories in real life are usually the result of paranoia and mental illness, in fiction they are one of my favorite types of story, from PARALLAX VIEW to THEY LIVE. FIRST CLASS had elements of the Cold War *secretly* caused by the secret mutant wars that the government didn't want you to know about. The film before that, FUTURES PAST seemed to connect those 1960s versions of the characters with their present day versions through time travel. All of these films could use the help of the Marvel Machine, which seems to focus on character and story as well as spandex.

Yeah, you're thinking: just another superthero sequel! The reason why they make so many sequels in Hollywood? The original film was successful. and they believe the audience is ready for a second helping... or third... or fourth... or fifth! They made (the not so good) X-MEN 3 because X2: X-MEN UNITED made $85.9 million here in the US and $69.3 in other countries for a total of $155.2 million on its OPENING WEEKEND... then continued to do well for about a month in the summer. The last movie in the series, LOGAN, only made $226 million in the USA and $393 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of over $619 million... and even some Oscar buzz! The two DEADPOOL movies are kind of on the side of the X-MEN series, and have made a bundle of money - the last one made $734 million worldwide, and is being rereleased on December 21st with some new footage. If you haven't seen last year's LOGAN, check it out!

But we're not talking about box office grosses, here, we're talking about *characters*... and how to create an interesting character...

I loved Nightcrawler in X-MEN 2! From the water-color wisps of blue when he teleports to his deeply religious beliefs (can you think of any other superhero who prays before battle?) to his prattling on about his great moments as a circus performer whenever he introduces himself to somebody. And that tail! Amazing how he whips it around, grabs a knife, and hands it to himself (or should that be "tails it to himself"?). Nightcrawler was so weird and fun that you just want to whole film to be about him!

Which might have been a problem, because Nightcrawler is only a minor character in the film. He's not the lead, but he's the most interesting guy on screen. This isn't a major problem because X-MEN UNITED is an ensemble story with a bunch of protagonists - so many that at times it seems like a super hero soap opera! More characters means less time with each - and that translates to short-handing conflict so that it often seems corny. Without the time to dig deep into the conflict, we only get the surface - the love triangles and entanglements without the deeper emotions. I have no iddea why superhero movies want to add more villains and more subplots... except maybe to pad the story. Always better to go *deeper* into character and story than to go *wider* with more characters and more story. Even if you are dealing with mutants. Find the spine of the story and deal with the characters who are part of that spine, not characters on the periphery.

The closest thing we have to a protagonist in X-MEN UNITED is Wolverine... and he's a pretty interesting character. Of course, he has a metal skeleton, can heal in seconds, and has razor sharp claws. Hard not to notice a guy like that. He's not the least bit bland... which is why he's the successful spinoff character. Sure, some of that may have to do with Hugh Jackman always being shirtless (which means guys who like X MEN movies can probably find a date to see the film with), but mostly because this is a character with a strong conflict raging inside of them. A character we can care about due to their flaws.

In many scripts (where the lead doesn't have metal claws), the protagonist can be completely over-shadowed by the supporting characters. These folks who are only onscreen for a couple of minutes steal the show like Nightcrawler. Since they don't have much screen time, we tend to make every second count for them... and we're also free to exaggerate their personalities. Next thing you know, the reader remembers that great hotel clerk in your script but can't recall your lead's name. What can we do to make sure our leads stay in the lead?


Think of the movie AIRPLANE - Lloyd Bridges is just way out there ("Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue!") and makes an instant impression. But that doesn't prevent Robert Hayes from having a character and a bunch of funny bits (his drinking problem). The difference is - Bridges is concentrated, Hayes' character is spread out over the entire film... and his drinking problem is connected to his character arc (fear and guilt about being a pilot in the war, and George Zipp's death) which is connected to the plot conflict (they are on a plane that needs a pilot!).

The problem may be that you have colorful supporting characters and a bland lead. Make sure your lead has some color. If that means taking some of the sidekick's funny lines and re-assigning them to the lead, that's what you have to do. I've done that before many times. Nightcrawler is a funny character, but Wolverine isn't exactly a wallflower. Some of the funniest lines in the film come from Wolverine! He's not just the lead, he's also a fun character. You want your protagonist to have all of the best lines! What is Wolverine a professor of? When we get Wolverine and Nightcrawler in the same scene (on the plane) both are strong characters. Wolverine doesn't fall into the shadow of Nightcrawler - he's got zinger after zinger and ends up getting the last word in the conversation. Make sure your protagonist gets the good lines! A star is going to play that role, and they aren't going to want some day player to steal the movie from them. Just because *we* may be shy or introverted as writers is no reason to make your characters shy or introverted. Make them *interesting*.


Also make sure that your lead HAS a character - that he has some emotional struggle that we become involved with. Sometimes the big problem with a bland protagonist is that they are not involved in the conflict or that the conflict doesn't hit them on an emotional level... or that the reader is never put in the lead's shoes so we never EXPERIENCE what the protagonist experiences.

One reason why we shy away from creating emotional conflicts for our protagonists is that they are (secretly) us - so we are dealing with OUR emotional conflicts. So what do YOU fear? It's your story, your protagonist... so use your fears. Find an EMOTIONAL fear (rather than a fear of something physical) that fits the theme of your story.

I'd start with your concept and do a little self-analysis - why did that concept grab you? What fear of yours does it explore? That the system you believe in is wrong - and you are part of that wrong? That everything you have fought for is meaningless? Maybe you fear betraying your family (the system)?

You're searching for YOUR emotional fear... and that's going to be painful. But that's the kind of pain that makes your protagonist real, emotional, and strikes a chord with the audience. That fear is where you're going to find the theme - that fear is what the script is really about - that fear is going to dictate what happens in the script... every scene is going to explore your theme in some way (which is the protagonist battling their emotional fear). Fear is the key. If your protagonist doesn't have any emotional conflict they are just a cardboard cut out solving a problem. If you look at Wolverine in X2, he's a guy who can't remember his past. Doesn't know how he got to be the way he is. He's searching for the past... but he's afraid of what he'll find. He's afraid that he's really a monster. He's not the most social person in the world - always leaving, hiding, hunting. When he finally meets Stryker - his father in a strange way - he learns the truth... and it's not what he wants to hear. He's just an animal. A creature designed to kill. Everything he has feared is true!

It's Wolverine's fears about himself that make him an interesting character. He's not just a bland good guy - he's tortured. He's brooding. He's on a quest to discover his past - and scared of what he will find. If you look at all of the X-MEN characters, you'll find that fears define them. The bigger the fear, the more interesting the character. Compare Rogue to Storm. Rogue is more interesting because she fears hurting those that she loves... Storm just has cool powers. Rogue is like a sponge: everyone she touches; she removes their memories, their physical strength... and their life. They die an empty shell. Nice story if it ends there, but Rogue is also a young woman who is in love with a boy named David... and when she kisses him? Like Wolverine, everyone she touches dies. She is a young woman looking for love... but knowing that she can never love. One of the reasons why Nightcrawler is interesting is because he's deeply religious - and filled with guilt (and probably self-loathing). The emotional conflict, that fear, is what makes the characters interesting. Make sure your protagonist isn't just surface... give them an emotional conflict that will make them interesting and three dimensional.


THE WOLVERINE (2013) is an introspective meditation on mortality, disguised as a superhero movie... and one of the first scenes shows the protagonist's emotional conflict. He wakes up in bed with the love of his life Jean Gray (who has died, so we know this is a dream) and she wants to embrace him, make love with him... but he tries to hold her back. When he gives in to his emotions and embraces her... his metal claws pierce her flesh and kill her. He has killed the woman he loves... the way he kills anything he loves. When he wakes up from this nightmare he is alone in some rugged Canadian Yukon cabin, having isolated himself from society so that he can never hurt anyone again. He is an immortal man whose life is a filled with regret and pain that he has caused... and there will never be any escape. It sounds cool to be a mutant whose body heals itself *no matter what happens to it*, but in the end you just experience tragedy after tragedy with no release. Your life is torture without the possibility of death. You will witness everyone you love's death... and it's likely that you may be responsible for that death... and have to live with that knowledge *forever*. Okay, folks, *that's* a conflicted character. That's someone who is not a pencil sketch, but a fully fleshed out person... and that's in a stupid superhero movie.

Look for the conflict simmering inside the character... that thing that is about to explode into external conflict. In the Protagonist Blue Book I have a chapter called Pulp Friction about the raging war within great protagonists, and that chapter title comes from the hitmen in PULP FICTION who are looking for peace and redemption... but are *violent killers*. How can someone be both? They are at odds with themselves! Their nature is at war with their goals, and they become fascinating characters due to this. They have conflicting goals. The way to make your protagonist memorable is to dig deep behind the surface and find that conflict within... that thing that makes them dimensional. The thing that makes sure when Wolverine and Nightcrawler are in scenes together, we still focus on Wolverine because we worry about that dude.

THE WOLVERINE doesn't just stop at that early scene, it explores this war within the protagonist in scene after scene... because the story selected *forces* Wolverine to confront these things. Back in World War 2 he was a prisoner in Nagasaki when the atom bomb was dropped, and he risked his life to save the only Japanese soldier who was kind to him. Decades later, Wolverine looks exactly the same... but that young Japanese guard is now a dying old Japanese billionaire who offers him a chance for mortality. A genetic swap so that the billionaire can live and Wolverine can be released from his pain and die. See how the story turns Wolverine's emotional problems to the surface? Turns the internal into the external (something we can see on screen)? Again and again Wolverine will be faced with choices that he must act upon that cut right to that war raging within himself. That conflict between a man who wants to be released from his pain... but also wants the joy of love and life that has eluded him. And yes, this is still a superhero movie.

And LOGAN was even better - a modern day western that looked at aging and mortality.

Your Screenplay Checklist:

1) Give your lead character an emotional conflict - something that creates dramatic scenes.

2) Make sure that emotional conflict is a conflict: that they have conflicting goals and a war raging within.

3) Create the story which brings that emotional conflict to the surface in a series of difficult decisions.

4) Don't give all of the good lines and good character bits to the smaller roles - the star role needs to shine!

5) Make sure the conflict is *about* the protagonist, that he or she is not just a bystander in the story.

You want to make sure your protagonist is the most interesting character in the script - not some waiter who only appears in Scene 73!

If you liked this Script Tip, you'll like the Protagonist Blue Book!


Can You Make It bigger?



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If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.

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Tips FAQ

My New Script Secrets Newsletter!




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Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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The Noir & Mystery Class is only $15 (plus $5 S&H). First 20 on Limited Black Disk!


IDEAS AND CREATIVITY - 80 minute MP3 packed with information. Tools to find ideas that are both personal *and* commercial. Hollywood wants scripts with High Concept stories... but not stupid scripts. Developing *intelligent* high concept ideas. How to turn your personal story into a blockbuster - or find your personal story in a high concept idea. Brainstorming and being creative. Ideas and Creativity is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

WRITING INDIES - Writing an Indie film? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos. Using examples from SWINGERS, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and others, this 80 minute MP3 is packed with information. How Indoe films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Structures, using BOYS DON'T CRY, RUN LOLA RUN, HILARY & JACKIE, and others as example. Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget. Writing Indies is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

WRITING HORROR - The essentials of a horror screenplay - what do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS and OPEN WATER have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience. Writing Horror is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H).

Click here for more information on CLASS MP3s!



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!

copyright 2022 by William C. Martell

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bluebook 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.

Furious Action Class

Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class 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!


A Whole Week Of Programming!
(no actual sex is involved)
From Trailer Tuesday to Film Courage Plus to THRILLER Thursday to Fridays With Hitchcock and more! My blog has all kinds of great stuff! Check it out! Lots of cool stuff every day!


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 Market!


My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER

Available Scripts


Take classes on MP3!