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.
Chas and Stu are joined, once again, by the inestimable Stephen Cleary. This episode is a spiritual sequel to our last episode with Stephen, the one on sequence structure. That episode explored how sequences could be broken into plot, character, and plot/character sequences.
Well, Stephen’s back to talk about a different type of sequence: the thematic sequence. By limiting (or removing all together) questions related to character or plot, filmmakers can force their audience to engage with the deeper, underlying meaning of the story.
Our deep dive onto this topic focuses on LOVE ACTUALLY, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, APOCALYPSE NOW, and IN THE BEDROOM. But it wouldn’t be a Draft Zero without numerous digressions including into HUNGER, GET OUT, INFINITY WAR, and THE THIN RED LINE.