THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

STORY vs. CHARACTER


People often ask which is more important: Story or Character?

From Aristotle's POETICS:

The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place. A similar fact is seen in painting. The most beautiful colors, laid on confusedly, will not give as much pleasure as the chalk outline of a portrait. Thus Tragedy is the imitation of an action, and of the agents mainly with a view to the action.

But that chalk outline of a portrait is a character, right? Something that we can identify with and understand. I think in a good script (or novel or story) character and story can not be separated. The purpose of story is to explore character... and as Aristotle points out - characters without story are confusing. Plus, without story - without some form of conflict - your characters are just sitting around on the Lazy-Boy eating Cheetos and watching Springer. We learn nothing about them. Story is what reveals character - and the greater the stakes in the conflict, the more character is exposed. What a character does in a life or death situation tells us more about them than what kind of cereal they buy.

A major problem with many scripts by new writers is that they have character scenes and story scenes - and they are different scenes. It's almost as if they have one idea for a character and another idea for a story and they alternate scenes. The writer has them fighting each other when they are the same thing (or should be). Since story reveals character, they either have the wrong character for their story or the wrong story for their character or haven't figured out the connection between story and character in their story.

BANK JOB works really well as a crime film *and* really well as a character story about obligations to family and friends. It does what I call the 50-50 split. If I were a guy who loved the first TRANSPORTER movie and was looking for an entertaining action film complete with suspense and fight scenes and people getting shot and scenes in topless bars, I would enjoy this film. If I were some guy who wanted to see a character based drama about an interesting event in history that impacted the British government, I would enjoy this film. It's like a Doublemint Movie - two films in one.

The movie begins with a few time jumps, then settles down... and for the TRANSPORTER audience, it may start a bit slow, but that's because there are a bunch of subplot characters we need to know about, because later in the film they become *dangerous* and create much of the reason for the shooting and fight scenes. Once all of these threads have been set up and we get to the bank robbery, it's an express train.

Terry (rugged Jason Statham) is a struggling car lot owner with a wife and two of the cutest little girls ever put on film (don't be surprised if you hear the TRANSPORTER crowd going "Aww"). He lives in the old neighborhood, and wants to make enough to money to get his family to somewhere better. When a woman from his past, Martine (Saffron Burrows), shows up with a bank robbery scheme, he needs to be convinced. Terry's pals are not above a little after hours shopping, but robbing a bank is a serious crime. Martine tells him she slept with a guy who told her about a bank where the alarm will be out of commission for a week while they make repairs, and if they only steal from the safety deposit boxes they will end up with money that hasn't been reported to the IRS, so the victims won't report it to the police. It's practically risk free. Yeah, right.

Then we get a time jump to show us the truth - the British Secret Service (MI-5... or maybe 6) wants to retrieve blackmail material against the Royal Family that is in one of the safety deposit boxes... with maximum deniability. They arrest Martine for drug possession and use her to find some thieves... Terry and his friends. Martine used to be one of the group - she dated one of the other guys, not Terry. The great thing about this movie is that it's not just a story about breaking into a bank, it's the story about a group of childhood friends who are *still* friends. When they decide to break into the bank over the weekend, the robbery impacts the friendships. No extra scenes needed - the robbery scenes also have the friendship elements. But the scenes where they meet to discuss the robbery ends up being the bachelor party for one of the guys and then the wedding. These scenes are all about the characters and their lifetime friendship, and the robbery plans *impact* those scenes.

TAG TEAM CHARACTER INTROS

In the beginning, when we have all of these dangerous subplot characters who have things in the safety deposit boxes they'd *kill* to keep secret, and they manage to find an elegant way to give us a bunch of characters in very little time and very few scenes. One character leads us to the next in kind of a tag-team (this probably was much better on paper, the direction didn't seem to get the idea.) So while the guys are taking about the robbery at a strip bar during the bachelor party, a pair of cops enter and go into the back room to talk to the boss, crime lord Lou Vogel played by David Suchet (villain in EXECUTIVE DECISION). These two cops are on the take, and are here for their payoff... and mention that Vogel's madam friend has raised her rates, so they want more money from her as well. When the cops leave, Vogel calls the madam, and we get to see her operation for a moment... including her British Government clients... and her "insurance" - she secretly photographs and films all of her clients, especially the ones in government. And guess where all of these people keep their secrets? In those safety deposit boxes our guys are about to break into.

CRIMES OF THE HEART

The wedding scene gives us a bit where Terry dances with his daughter, a sweet scene... and it shows us another side of Statham. He's a great dad and husband... but his wife wants to know what Martine is doing here and what they are discussing in secret. Another great element of this film is how the robbery impacts Terry's marriage and family life. At first the family life is a conflict because Terry's wife doesn't want him to go back to his old law breaking ways... but later, when everything goes wrong, they end up in danger and Terry really comes to realize how this criminal act has impacted his wife and kids. Oh, and there's some excitement and action that comes from that.

When we get to the break in, all of the friends and family and crime threads amplify. And many many things go wrong. One of the great things about this film is how many reversals there are - just when you think things are going okay, something terrible happens that changes everything... and Terry has to come up with some instant solution. The twists just keep coming - and Terry always comes up with some amazing way to save himself and his friends. Lots of excitement - and we are *invested in the characters* so we care what happens. The character elements and story elements are the same elements - if one of their guys gets caught, it's one of Terry's *friends*. He's responsible for all of these guys!

As usual, there are double crosses and team members who do not survive... but unlike your usual caper movie, these things happen with friends and family! So there's an emotional element *and* a conflict element. That sand blaster is being used on one of Terry's friends! Though it may have a slow start for you TRANSPORTER fans, hang in there and you'll be treated to an exciting movie where Statham finds an interesting use for an old brick wall.

OTHER EXAMPLES OF STORY/CHARACTER

Look at 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN - every scene in that film is about the protagonist dealing with his issues and his choice between solving that problem with love or lust. So that speed dating scene is about the character, moves the story forward (since the goal is trying to resolve his virginity problem) and is also entertaining... and entertaining through humor about male and female relationships and sexuality - which is both story *and* character. We also get all kinds of great bits with the supporting characters - things that expose and explore those characters - and each of them shows us a different aspect of male / female relationships and sexuality: from Paul Rudd who is completely hung up on his ex girlfriend... and runs into her at the speed dating event (and she isn't what you expected) to the married horn-dog guy to the guy with all of the dating theories... and each of these bits exposes their character and is also funny... and is all about moving the story forward (getting the virgin laid). Story is all about character.

I always use THE MATRIX as an example (the first one, the good one) in classes. Here the story is about a guy in a tie in a cubicle becoming the Chosen One who will save the human race from enslavement by the big machine. The *action scenes* in that film are *character scenes* - Neo is on the ledge trying to escape the police and can't get around the obstruction - why? Because he doesn't believe in himself (character) and he will need to believe in himself to save the human race (story). The reason why Neo can't beat Morpheus in the kung fu fight scene - same thing. The action scenes are all about Neo's character - and they *show us* Neo's character issues - his emotional problems - move the story forward. That scene where the agents attack them and they try to escape through the walls - all about character. Morpheus sacrifices himself because he believes Neo is the Chosen One, Neo hesitates because he doubts himself. It's all about character - and it's an action scene and the pivotal story scene where Morpheus is captured (story).

So how is your story exposing character?

Now take that to the scene level - how is this *scene* moving the story forward, exposing character, and entertaining?

If you have one scene that is character and one scene that is story, find the way to combine them... or find a new scene that uses story to explore character. Story *is* character.


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