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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Script Club Feb/2020 Moderators: George Willson
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MarkItZero
Posted: February 17th, 2020, 2:36pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Colkurtz8
Sorry, I don't mean to derail the thread but just on a side note since we are talking about unlikeable protagonists (I'm sure this has been discussed many times before, I know I've banged on about it more than once) but what are people's opinions on the necessity of having a likeable protagonist, or more broadly speaking, a "hero"?

Putting commercial concerns aside, is this a requirement for you?


Are you asking if it's necessary for our enjoyment of a film or whether we'd ever write an unlikable one?


That rug really tied the room together.
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Scar Tissue Films
Posted: February 17th, 2020, 2:57pm Report to Moderator
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It depends what you mean by unlikeable.

There are people who are morally unpleasant, but are still compelling. The Nightcrawler example above is a good example. The difference there was that it was a lot of fun watching his rise into the heart of real power and there was something very primal about that naked ambition. It's that Archetypal Luciferian aspect, that pursuit of power and ambition that's thrilling, even if it's wrong. I think, from what I remember, it was also a very dog-eat dog world he was in, so there was a certain empathy the character was able to garner. He was more ruthless than all the other ruthless people.

So, although I suppose he was "unlikeable", I liked that character a lot.

Nothing here about the character or what she was trying to achieve was compelling for me. I didn't care about the non-entity Dora Bishop, I definitely didn't care about the popularity of her Podcast.

She didn't come across as compellingly ruthless, it was more like she was an entitled brat who ultimately just wanted Social Media likes. Like someone else said, she's a Narcissist. She's not obsessed with the Truth, she's not even obsessed with Power, she's obsessed with herself.

If she had anything at all about her, either that she'd survived a similar attack from the same killer, or she was really broke and miserable and desperate for recognition and money, or both, she'd be more compelling imo.

As it is, nothing worked for me here. The fact she was an arse meant any thriller aspect failed, because that relies on you being worried she'll fail, and the whodunnit aspect was undercut by the fact we never spent any time with anyone who, ultimately, mattered to the story.
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PrussianMosby
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Hey, quick input.

Read the first act a few days ago and I think it's a very good concept.

I think the "pull" here is the characterization of the protagonist as being an absolute nihilist, an egocentric I-person of our times. Feels like current state.

So, I actually think the script is topically strong and up to date from a message-art point of view.

Valuable at least for sure.

I didn't enjoy it nevertheless, so I stopped reading. That said, I've been interested to see her fail since she just felt as someone I know, someone from the media, someone from the here and now, all around, from anywhere...  

So, for an educational movie it might be fine, even quite okay for a young audience - but not for me personally. For an older person it just reads like a social documentary... and I had my movies of this kind as you yourself.

Well, I however read the last pages and was suprised that she seems to survive the script.

With regards to how I see the script re: above, this is a very good choice imo. It strengthens the message and plays with the idea, that at one place in time, nihilism, I dislike that word, so, say ultra-self-centrism, could be winning. And then we'd have heavy bread and circuses again... which again makes it a valuable attempt - to me at least.

It's kind of a "the experiment" and therelike type of movie for the new generation I guess. It has some weight in my eyes.



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MarkItZero
Posted: February 17th, 2020, 9:20pm Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Grandma Bear
Why would a studio buy a script with such an unlikable character that doesn't even seem to change at all or even realize what a total bitch she is? How does the studio figure it will go over with an audience? Especially with such a cold ending.


I wish I knew! I personally don't have a problem with her not changing. She was challenged to change many, many times throughout the script... in efficient ways that fit organically into the mystery she was solving. I found one such challenge quite poignant. Considering this is a relatively fast-paced studio film, the script was well above average in that regard.

My best guess as to why it would work for the intended audience....

I Heart Murder starts off right away with things that young people will respond to integrated into the story. Podcasts, tweets, young female lead. The main character is extremely driven, self-assured, and isn't afraid of anyone. Perhaps things they aspire to be.

Once they go on the road, there's comedy. Fish out of water stuff and I guess sort of buddy comedy stuff. IMO, there are many funny exchanges, and it has good energy overall, despite the fact not much is happening plot-wise. Ana's manic energy and inappropriate enthusiasm play well with Seth's timid pessimism.

Once the plot really gets underway, then you have your average detective/thriller going on. They get suspects, clues, all that stuff. You probably know this genre way better than I do. It had the "pull" of a pro script for me, so I assume it was done to a professional level. Young people respond to this genre well.

Then the terrible ending happens, and it'll be over.

The 19-year old who just finished watching will think it was "lit", tweet about it, then forget about it completely.


That rug really tied the room together.

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James McClung
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Quoted from Colkurtz8
Sorry, I don't mean to derail the thread but just on a side note since we are talking about unlikeable protagonists (I'm sure this has been discussed many times before, I know I've banged on about it more than once) but what are people's opinions on the necessity of having a likeable protagonist, or more broadly speaking, a "hero"?

Putting commercial concerns aside, is this a requirement for you?


Not a requirement at all. The whole concept of a "hero" actually kinda irks me. Of course, a likable protagonist generally speaking is great, but I think it's more important that they be interesting. Sometimes an unlikeable protagonist is much more compelling.

An exception for me is if a character's annoying. That was almost the case here. I say almost because Ana's character didn't hurt the overall experience of reading the script. I thought she was a douchebag, though, for multiple reasons.

I did think she was well written though. Her decisions consistently drive the story. I also thought she was pretty realistic (for this type of person) and got the sense that she had a life beyond the plot. I had to wonder from time to time if she didn't have some hidden baggage that made her behave the way she does. I never really believed she was in this for justice or "the truth" as she says; seemed much more like her investigation was filling some sort of void or making up for a personal failing of some kind.

Also an interesting showcase of how shitty and toxic social media can be and what it does to some people. I feel like I've seen people like Ana online before (on Facebook, YouTube, etc). It does keep many people chasing that dopamine rush via constant posting, likes, etc. I wonder if that's something along the lines of what the writer was going for. I feel reasonably confident that the way Ana comes off is intentional, especially with the fallout with Seth on the final page.


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Grandma Bear
Posted: February 18th, 2020, 12:42pm Report to Moderator
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Okay, I think we've got an idea of why the readers kept turning the pages. A very important part in order to get eyes on our scripts in the first place.

Characters were fairly weak except for the lead who seems to have been an almost 50/50 like dislike. It still got sold. Maybe Universal thought that can be worked out before production starts? I have no idea how that works.

So, what about the story itself? IMHO, the whodunnit part is very generic and nothing new. It's always someone you didn't suspect. (can't remember his name right now, lol) This was a weak part for me and as I've mentioned earlier, the whole dog mask masturbation part didn't seem to go with his real motives.

One thing I did like though was that Ana's actions led that couple, that can't remember the name of right now, to take action into their own hands and thus killing the wrong person. That is something Ana should really have felt bad about, IMO.

So, I think when you really think about it, this story isn't really about who killed Dora, see I remembered her name. It's really about what lengths Ana is willing to go in order to get her show to be the biggest and herself famous. I guess that's why the story works. As a whodunnit, it's weak. I just wished I had liked her better or that she had shown at lleast a little bit of guilt or remorse for her actions.


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Colkurtz8
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Quoted from Geezis
I don't mind a lead character being unlikeable as long as there is an attempt at least to change or grow. Ana for me was far too self absorbed and even in the moments she appeared to soften she quickly reverted to form.

Examples I'm thinking of are Edward Norton's character in American History X. A despicable man but looking for forgiveness and redemption.


While I agree that witnessing a character change during a film can be emotionally satisfying, I'm not adverse to it by any means, I do push back against the idea that its a must. The words "always", "must", "have to" should be antithetical to art. Nothing should be assumed or expected. That kind of thinking results in the kind of derivative mainstream cinema we've seen for many years now. Its why I tend to rail against the rigidity of screenwriting rules that so many are only too happy to glom on to.

For every American History X there is an American Psycho.  


Quoted from MarkItZero
Are you asking if it's necessary for our enjoyment of a film or whether we'd ever write an unlikable one?


The former. Do you believe it's necessary? I guess that will answer the latter part of your question.


Quoted from Scar Tissue Films
It depends what you mean by unlikeable.

There are people who are morally unpleasant, but are still compelling. The Nightcrawler example above is a good example. The difference there was that it was a lot of fun watching his rise into the heart of real power and there was something very primal about that naked ambition. It's that Archetypal Luciferian aspect, that pursuit of power and ambition that's thrilling, even if it's wrong. I think, from what I remember, it was also a very dog-eat dog world he was in, so there was a certain empathy the character was able to garner. He was more ruthless than all the other ruthless people.

So, although I suppose he was "unlikeable", I liked that character a lot.

Nothing here about the character or what she was trying to achieve was compelling for me. I didn't care about the non-entity Dora Bishop, I definitely didn't care about the popularity of her Podcast.

She didn't come across as compellingly ruthless, it was more like she was an entitled brat who ultimately just wanted Social Media likes. Like someone else said, she's a Narcissist. She's not obsessed with the Truth, she's not even obsessed with Power, she's obsessed with herself.

If she had anything at all about her, either that she'd survived a similar attack from the same killer, or she was really broke and miserable and desperate for recognition and money, or both, she'd be more compelling imo.

As it is, nothing worked for me here. The fact she was an arse meant any thriller aspect failed, because that relies on you being worried she'll fail, and the whodunnit aspect was undercut by the fact we never spent any time with anyone who, ultimately, mattered to the story.


I totally agree with your response insofar that unlikeable characters can be compelling. That trumps likeability in my opinion. Compelling doesn't discriminate between likeable or unlikeable. It can be generated by both sides.

I do think she has more in common with Nightcrawler than you give her credit for but we'll agree to disagree on that. I detected some of the same compelling attributes I felt when watching Nightcrawler which was why I referenced it. Different films for sure but there is a kinship between them. They come from a similar place


Quoted from James McClung
Not a requirement at all. The whole concept of a "hero" actually kinda irks me. Of course, a likable protagonist generally speaking is great, but I think it's more important that they be interesting. Sometimes an unlikeable protagonist is much more compelling.

An exception for me is if a character's annoying.


I concur with this completely. Although an annoying character can work too if they have some other quality i.e. comedic. There are a lot of great annoying characters in cinema.


Quoted from James McClung
That was almost the case here. I say almost because Ana's character didn't hurt the overall experience of reading the script. I thought she was a douchebag, though, for multiple reasons.

I did think she was well written though. Her decisions consistently drive the story. I also thought she was pretty realistic (for this type of person) and got the sense that she had a life beyond the plot. I had to wonder from time to time if she didn't have some hidden baggage that made her behave the way she does. I never really believed she was in this for justice or "the truth" as she says; seemed much more like her investigation was filling some sort of void or making up for a personal failing of some kind.

Also an interesting showcase of how shitty and toxic social media can be and what it does to some people. I feel like I've seen people like Ana online before (on Facebook, YouTube, etc). It does keep many people chasing that dopamine rush via constant posting, likes, etc. I wonder if that's something along the lines of what the writer was going for. I feel reasonably confident that the way Ana comes off is intentional, especially with the fallout with Seth on the final page.


Yeah, big time.

I think another character trait that's more important than likeability/sympathetic is relatability, or at least understanding where they're coming from even if you don't agree with their decisions. Not a requirement of course but if you can recognize that person, see a correlation with someone in your life, or even parts of yourself, you will stay with them to see how things turn out. If we're honest with ourselves, we can see ourselves in all types of characters; good, bad and those in between.


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Scar Tissue Films
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Quoted from Grandma Bear
Okay, I think we've got an idea of why the readers kept turning the pages. A very important part in order to get eyes on our scripts in the first place.

Characters were fairly weak except for the lead who seems to have been an almost 50/50 like dislike. It still got sold. Maybe Universal thought that can be worked out before production starts? I have no idea how that works.

So, what about the story itself? IMHO, the whodunnit part is very generic and nothing new. It's always someone you didn't suspect. (can't remember his name right now, lol) This was a weak part for me and as I've mentioned earlier, the whole dog mask masturbation part didn't seem to go with his real motives.

One thing I did like though was that Ana's actions led that couple, that can't remember the name of right now, to take action into their own hands and thus killing the wrong person. That is something Ana should really have felt bad about, IMO.

So, I think when you really think about it, this story isn't really about who killed Dora, see I remembered her name. It's really about what lengths Ana is willing to go in order to get her show to be the biggest and herself famous. I guess that's why the story works. As a whodunnit, it's weak. I just wished I had liked her better or that she had shown at lleast a little bit of guilt or remorse for her actions.


I thought some aspects of the story were potentially interesting, but as I said above, they worked against each other, rather than supporting each other, for me.

I agree, the "Fans" are probably the most interesting thing in the story, yet they are in it so little that the revelation has no power. It's the same with the Cop/Killer reveal. The story wastes forever on someone who you can tell isn't the killer from the first second he's introduced and spends no time on the people who ultimately matter.

It'd be far more effective if the Cop was present throughout, was very helpful, established a strong relationship with Ana..and then there was the reveal.

From a writer's point of view, the script was so obviously crafted from certain formulas that you could see all the cogs. Audiences won't be as aware as that, so that's a very specific criticism.
However, it barely attempted to rise above the formulaic.

These are the Twenty-Two building blocks from Truby's Anatomy of a Story:

Act 1
Opening Image
Ghost & Context
Problem/Need
Inciting Incident/Catalyst
Overall Desire (start low)
Ally/Allies
Opponent/Mystery
Opponent/Ally
1st Reversal & Decision: changed desire & motive


Act 2
Plan
Opponent�s Plan & 1st Counter Attack
Drive
Attack by Ally
Apparent Defeat
2nd Reversal & Decision: obsessive drive, changed desire & motive
Audience revelation about opponent-ally
3rd Reversal & Decision


Act 3
Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death
Battle
Self-Revelation/Thematic Revelation
Moral Decision
New Equilibrium


You can see how closely they were followed...with the two twists being predicted entirely by the formula: Attack by allies (The Fans) and The reveal about the Opponent Ally (The Cop). The story is completely "By the Book".

On a technical level, for those that didn't feel the characters, what's missing from the script is Step Two: Ghost/Context.

That's the backstory that haunts each character, and is usually seeped right through the story.
It's not an arbitrary thing. It's essentially human psychology. A person's Past creates their Present, their Present creates their future. In order to change their future they must revisit and re-frame their past, thereby changing who they are in the Present and thereby affecting change on their Future. That's key to human experience and its absence gives the whole a script a very hollow feeling. The only people with any 'ghost' are Cody, Dora's Mum, and the criminal guy (Randolph?)....everyone else is a blank slate.

Overall, the story isn't bad. I think it just needs selling a lot better.  The first one hundred pages could do with a lot more balance between the people who don't really matter and those that do. It's not really an effective twist if some minor character comes out of the blue, you don't get that sense of betrayal or shock.
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Colkurtz8
Posted: February 18th, 2020, 1:45pm Report to Moderator
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Oh, Jesus, those " Twenty-Two building blocks from Truby's Anatomy of a Story" is the most depressing thing I've read this week...and I'm halfway through reading The Completed Stories of Franz Kafka.



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StevenClark
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It was written well enough, the story was just good enough and just relatable enough to be able to market into a tight little bundle, and the writer has the connections. They saw a budget that could be workable and make some money in return. They got this all figured out.


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mmmarnie
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I felt way too many things were unbelievable, unanswered and some way too convenient.

First, can a podcast about one random murder really become that popular, that fast? To the point where there are bootleg keychains being sold? I don't know...seemed kinda out there to me. And are you really allowed to publicly slander people like she does? And in the diner...she walks in and everyone recognizes her? Mostly old people? In this hick town with poor cell reception old folks are computer savvy and watch podcasts?

Second...that drunk person running into her. Cheap jump scare. And when she recognizes Cody in a parking lot, someone I assume she's only ever seen a photo of, who happens to be there at the exact time she is. There are a few more conveniences that struck me throughout.

I just didn't buy the story. We have no idea why Ana chose this particular murder out of thousands. We know nothing about Dora. And I found the whole extreme popularity of a pretty new podcast to be unbelievable. Maybe if it was an established podcast and she gained notoriety for helping to solve a case in the past...and if someone in that town had requested she take a look at Dora's case...to me that would be more believable.


  
“If someone is trying to bring you down, it just means you are above them."
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mmmarnie
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Quoted from Scar Tissue Films



These are the Twenty-Two building blocks from Truby's Anatomy of a Story:

Act 1
Opening Image
Ghost & Context
Problem/Need
Inciting Incident/Catalyst
Overall Desire (start low)
Ally/Allies
Opponent/Mystery
Opponent/Ally
1st Reversal & Decision: changed desire & motive


Act 2
Plan
Opponent�s Plan & 1st Counter Attack
Drive
Attack by Ally
Apparent Defeat
2nd Reversal & Decision: obsessive drive, changed desire & motive
Audience revelation about opponent-ally
3rd Reversal & Decision


Act 3
Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death
Battle
Self-Revelation/Thematic Revelation
Moral Decision
New Equilibrium



I read Truby after I wrote my first 2 features. When I dissected them I found that I had naturally followed this formula, without even knowing it. I think many writers do. IMO, it's just a common way to tell a story.



  
“If someone is trying to bring you down, it just means you are above them."
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Colkurtz8
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Quoted from mmmarnie

First, can a podcast about one random murder really become that popular, that fast? To the point where there are bootleg keychains being sold? I don't know...seemed kinda out there to me. And are you really allowed to publicly slander people like she does? And in the diner...she walks in and everyone recognizes her? Mostly old people? In this hick town with poor cell reception old folks are computer savvy and watch podcasts?


It is certainly heightened for dramatic effect but I assumed the podcast, it's subject matter and popularity was inspired by the Serial podcast.

Yeah, her open accusations of the 3 suspects was overdone and implausible. It also meant that it definitely wasn't any of them. The red herring-ness was laid on way too thick.

I didn't question Ana being infamous in the town because the podcast, being as popular as it was, had put the town 'on the map" so to speak. If they weren't the podcasting type before, they certainly are now. Every week, someone was elected to go to the local library, download it via their 56kbit/s dial up connection then file share the shit out of it!


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mmmarnie
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Quoted from Colkurtz8

Every week, someone was elected to go to the local library, download it via their 56kbit/s dial up connection then file share the shit out of it!


     that's a funny visual and something that would have pulled me in more rather than just Ana, Ana, Ana...


  
“If someone is trying to bring you down, it just means you are above them."
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Colkurtz8
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Quoted from mmmarnie


     that's a funny visual and something that would have pulled me in more rather than just Ana, Ana, Ana...


Surely worthy of a deleted scene on the bonus DVD


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