One day, Chas saw Avengers: Endgame for the second time and wrote a review on Letterboxd. In particular, he had issues with how little he perceived the characters of Cap and Tony changed within the film, their big finale (spoiler). Then friend and patron of the podcast Julio vehemently disagreed in the comments. He was egged on by Stu. And there in the comments began a debate that looked a lot like an episode of Draft Zero. So we decided to make it one.
And what began as an exploration of how to dramatise character change swiftly became an exploration of how to position audience in relation to your characters. Do you want the audience empathising with the characters? Feeling what they are feeling in the moment? Or do you want your audience sympathising with your characters? Being rocked by surprise after the fact? Reminding your audience of their own personal relationship with the characters.
As always, spoiler-tastic.
It is time (in fact, well past time) for our semi-annual #Backmatter episode. For the uninitiated, this is an episode where Stu and Chas discuss career and craft-related topics beyond what makes great screenplays work. To that end, Stu and Chas dive into: a five year review of Draft Zero and how it has changed their writing craft and process; a discussion on the aesthetics of writing; learnings for emerging writers in having their work produced; and finally forgiving yourself for not writing.As always: an amazing thank you to out Patreons for supporting more Draft Zero more often, and in particular Patreon Chris Walker who edited this episode for us.
In part 1 of this 2-part episode, Chas & Stu look at examples of good character motivation. We’ve all watched movies where we don’t believe the motivation of a character or characters. We may have even written scripts where readers don’t buy the character’s choices. And that’s often a real problem because most of these choices coincide with key structural moments — e.g. the moments where the characters decide to do something “out of character” in order to progress to the next part of the story. To help us solve the problem of how to improve our character motivations, in this episode we explore great examples of character motivation and how they have helped the audience believe a character’s decision.
This episode started out as an exploration of bad character decisions; ones which are universally derided by audiences. And, sadly for us filmmakers, it is often a key structural decision being made by a character that audiences just don’t buy. However, as Stu and Chas did their homework, this episode swiftly became an exploration of character motivations (because that is really what you have to get across in order for your audience to believe a decision) and – in true DZ style – good examples of character motivations.
And so Chas and Stu dive into NOTTING HILL, TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, GAME NIGHT, ARRIVAL, IN THE BEDROOM, BEIRUT, BREAKING BAD, THE MATRIX, BLOCKERS, A NEW HOPE (of course) and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Passing/honourable mention also to MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, THE COMMUTER, THE LOBSTER, GAME OF THRONES, IRON MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and DOCTOR STRANGE (as we re-visit and re-contextualise stuff we’ve analysed previously).
The potential craft tools they uncover are character patterning, structural timing of the decision, debating the decision (both internally and externally), withholding the decision from the audience, and using external plot elements to either remove obstacles or push the character into making a decision that is… well… out of character. But believably so.