MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

FORWARD MOMENTUM


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Why do some movies drag and others just zip along from scene to scene? Why do some stories seem to have a driving force behind them and others just limp along until the closing credits? It all comes down to character, motivations, and conflict - the basics of story!

We've seen leaked pictures of the new Batmobile and that's good because the police can use those pictures to find it now that it's been stolen. Ben Affleck is playing Batman this time around, and I hope that third time playing a superhero is a charm. He played Superman in HOLLYWOODLAND and Daredevil in the film with that title which I'm sure Ben has tried to remove from his resume because it flopped big time. Now they're doing DAREDEVIL as a TV show... will they be able to avoid the core problems of the Ben Affleck film?

DAREDEVIL did okay at the box office, but wasn't a hit... I think the studio was disappointed. Though I still sometimes wonder why Ben Affleck is a star, he didn't sink this one, the story and characters did. The film has no forward momentum because none of the characters had goals... and no one was actively trying to *do* anything. Eventually Daredevil and Kingpin bump into each other and fight - but the fight ends up dull because there are no stakes. Daredevil gains nothing if he wins, Kingpin gains nothing if he wins. Neither character has an active goal.

The film drags because no one is driving the story.

daredevil

Our protagonist, Daredevil, has no forward momentum. No driving force. Like Batman, his parents were murdered... but unlike BATMAN BEGINS the story is not about a guy searching for the killers of his father - he's just a vigilante. All criminals seem to be the same. He accidentally stumbles on the guy who killed his father (the rose clue) but it was never his goal in the film. Daredevil's quest for vengeance wasn't driving the movie. Daredevil has a *vague* goal - catching bad guys. If all bad guys are the same, he can never actually achieve his goal because there will always be another bad guy. He has no *concrete* goal - so his story is pointless. He can't make any progress towards his goal, so the story has no forward momentum.

It's not enough that Daredevil have a goal, he must be actively pursuing that goal. The goal isn't going to come to him, he has to go out there and grab it. He must be ACTIVE. He has to chase the goal, fight for the goal. The story needs to be *about* Daredevil pursuing his goal, so every *scene* will be about the pursuit of that goal. Every scene will be moving the story towards the conclusion. Even set back scenes where the protagonist may be licking his wounds or regrouping, are about pursuing the goal... *Why* are they regrouping? What is the *purpose* for regrouping? Obviously, it's so they can regain the strength necessary to go after the goal again. If they actually give up the pursuit of the goal, the story drops dead.

A screenplay is like a shark - it never sleeps, it never stops moving forward until it dies. What we have in DAREDEVIL is a dead shark.

ACTIVE VILLAINS

law and order

In most action and thriller scripts the Villain's goal is more important than the hero's goal. Heroes tend to be reactive (which is not the same as passive). If you think about the average cop show, the killer starts the story. Take an episode of LAW & ORDER - the opening scene has a pair of New Yorkers engaged in an argument trip over a dead body. The next scene has Detectives Briscoe and Green on the scene examining the dead guy, and ends with a quip from Briscoe... then on to the first commercial and titles. The murder has already been committed before the story starts. Our cop heroes now must react to the crime by going after the killer. Twenty three minutes later they've captured the killer and the story is turned over to the prosecutors for the last half of the show.

In a feature script we have two hours instead of twenty three minutes, so the villain's plan is going to be something that can sustain a story of that length. The villain's goal isn't going to be killing one person, that victim is part of a larger and more complex plan. The villain's plan will be to achieve a specific goal by the end of the story, and only the hero can stop him. The villain is usually the driving force in an action or thriller script. Their plan is what creates the forward momentum.

But Kingpin has no plan at all, so Daredevil has nothing to stop.

Kingpin wants to maintain a status quo - he wants nothing to change. That's a non-goal. It's something he *already has*, so there's nothing to pursue. Nothing active for Kingpin to do. He has already achieved his goal - which makes him PASSIVE instead of active. Had Daredevil been actively closing in on Kingpin - attacking Kingpin in scene after scene - then Kingpin could be REACTIVE. But Daredevil isn't doing anything that threatens Kingpin. We have no direct conflict in the story!

Major story flaw - there is no conflict! They could have either given Kingpin a plan that Daredevil had to stop, or given Daredevil a goal that Kingpin got in the way of... like the search for his father's killer. If that had been 100% the focus of the film, with Daredevil climbing the ladder of henchmen to find Kingpin, that would have given the story trajectory. It would have given the story the momentum needed to keep it from sagging. It also might have made for a more interesting story if Daredevil followed the trail to his father's killer and ended up at the partnership between Electra's dad and Kingpin... with the clues pointing to Electra's dad. Would you kill the father of the woman you loved? Man, that's a good dramatic dilemma!

electra

That scenario makes the whole Bullseye assassination thing more dramatic - it's what Daredevil desires. He secretly wanted Electra's dad dead, and he gets his wish. NOW go to the confessional - you're guilty for wanting him dead. The rose reveals that Electra's dad wasn't Daredevil's dad's killer... and that makes it worse. Much more dramatic! Hey - and it has that forward trajectory and conflict that a story needs.

What the film really needs is CONFLICT - it has fight scenes, but they don't really accomplish anything. Why? Because none of the characters are pursuing a goal (Except when Electra goes after her father's killer and Bullseye goes after Daredevil - two sequences where characters have goals and the two most exciting sequences in the film.) Having the protagonist actively pursuing a goal that creates a conflict with the antagonist (or vice versa) gives a script forward trajectory and would have made DAREDEVIL a really good film. Instead it's just a slow moving time killer.

SUPER HEROES, POINTLESS VILLAINS

electra

IRON MAN 2 had the same problem, so maybe Hollywood didn't learn its lesson...

Whiplash (a brilliant Mickey Rourke) wants to destroy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, jr - always great) for what Stark's father did to his father decades ago...

But when Whiplash has a chance to kill Stark, he does not... why? Instead Whiplash is arrested, and his threat is removed from the story for part of Act 2. The other villain, Justin Hammer (excellent Sam Rockwell) is a weapons manufacturer in competition with Stark on a Defense Contract. He busts Whiplash out of jail and gives him free run of his lab to create some amazing weapon thing to make Stark look foolish and win Hammer the Defense Contract - and that is the rest of Act 2.

Note: there is no real interaction between our hero and either villain! Whiplash's goal seems to be to get his pet parrot out of Russia! Hammer's goal is to get a Defense Contract! Stark's goal is to get drunk a lot! (Stark's conflict is completely internal for Act 2 - and sleep inducing.)

Though the Defense Contract does put Stark and Hammer on mild collision course, if Hammer gets the contract, who cares? It doesn't hurt Stark, it doesn't hurt anybody. Whiplash already had a chance to kill Stark and did not - so what is his plan now? To build a better weapon and make Stark look like a fool? No plan! No conflict! No Act 2! This is why IRON MAN 2 isn't as good as IRON MAN or IRON MAN 3 - basic structure issues! Nothing is driving the story, so it loses momentum in Act 2.

There are all kinds of possibilities in IRON MAN 2 - like Stark discovering his father was a cheat who would do anything to get ahead... and worrying that he may be his father's son. And Whiplash wants revenge for how his father was treated. Seems like there was a juicy conflict that was never really explored. Too bad. IRON MAN might have gone the way of DAREDEVIL if they hadn't hired Shane Black on the third one. You always have to pay close attention to the script and the conflict and the character's goals.

THE DARK KNIGHT FALLS?

dark knight rises DARK KNIGHT RISES lagged behind THE DARK KNIGHT in ticket sales and Box Office. The reviews were positive but mixed... and that wasn't just because the critics don't get it. The film was a fun summer movie... but not as good as the first two films. The great thing it did have going for it was that it comes full circle to BATMAN BEGINS - bringing back character and plot elements from that (underappreciated) film.

It also started well, with a handful of thematic discussions about masks - Bane says "No one cared who I was before I put on the mask", Bruce Wayne talks about wearing a mask to protect the ones you love, Arthur says "You don't outsmart the truth - you let it have it's day" (removing the mask), and Commissioner Gordon sets out to remove the "mask" of Harvey Dent to expose the truth: Dent tried to kill his son and *Batman* was the hero they should be honoring. The story is on track for Bruce Wayne to step up and take responsibility for being Batman...

Except that doesn't really happen.

SPOILERS!

And when we come to Bane's plot, the film sputters like DAREDEVIL because Batman is *not involved*. So there is no *conflict* between Batman and Bane. We get a couple of *fist fights* but that's all. For much of the first part of the film Bruce Wayne is wondering if he should put on the Batsuit again... then we get a chase scene where the focus isn't on Batman Vs. Bane, then a fist fight... then Batman is held captive for most of the rest of the film. That means Bane has no opponents. There is no conflict. Bane just does what he wants. Batman is out of the picture (literally) until the end.

So we have an active antagonist... just no protagonist around to create a conflict.

Our supporting cast ends up filling in for Batman in the protagonist category - and that keeps the film going in ways that never happened with DAREDEVIL... but if you came for a Batman movie and end up with a Commissioner Gordon and Idealistic Young Cop (Joseph Gordon Levitt) movie. To make matters worse, the only other person in a mask who can kick ass - Catwoman - spends most of the rest of the movie, like Batman, offscreen being held captive... or just not getting involved. So we end up with a Batman movie with no Batman - and no real protagonist who can stand up to Bane. No real conflict. Another issue is that Bane has a "One Step Plan"... which I look at in the Act Two Blue Book. DARK KNIGHT RISES ended up a movie without much Dark Knight - and no real conflict because the story removes the protagonist from the action. Big mistake!

Though DARK KNIGHT RISES was a nice end to the trilogy and - like Nolan's other films - an ambitious blockbuster that tackles real social and political issues - the best of the Nolan Batman movies is *still* BATMAN BEGINS...

Please - no death threats! I *liked* DARK KNIGHT RISES... but compared to Nolan's first two Batman movies? Those are huge shoes to fill. Will Zack Snyder be able to fill the director's shoes in the new movie? Will Ben Affleck be a good Batman? Tune in March 25, 2016, same time, same Batchannel!

Your Screenplay Checklist:

1) What is your protagonist's goal?
2) What are they doing to achieve it?
3) Is every scene about the protagonist chasing their goal?

1) What is the antagonist's goal?
2) What are they doing to achieve that goal?
3) Is the antagonist active pursuing their goal in every scene?

It's not enough to have a goal - the characters have to be ACTIVELY working to achieve the goal. They have to be DOING SOMETHING. No passive protagonists, no passive antagonists! And put them in the same scenes so that they *can* do something!



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