Thursday, 2 March 2017

2016 BLACKLIST - LIFE ITSELF

LIFE ITSELF

35 votes on the 2016 blacklist which made it the second top screenplay of that year.

Written by Dan Fogelman.

Logline: A multigenerational love story that weaves together a number of characters whose lives intersect over the course of decades, from the streets of New York to the Spanish countryside and back.


THE STORY:

This is a complicated tale to summarize. There is no one single protagonist. There are about 6 main players. And as the logline suggests, these players are spread out over several years. To summarize this story would be to give away many of the plot points. Which I'd rather not do as this is a great script, very worth reading. 

This story is about connectivity. It's really about the butterfly effect - that the smallest of actions can lead to the biggest of actions. 

The first main player we meet is WILL. Will is an enigmatic chap who sees a therapist as his wife and mother of his child died in a bus accident. 

From this jumping off point we look back into the past and how it came to be that the bus accident occurred. After that, we look forward into the future and see how the bus accident affected Will's child. 

I'll leave the story summary there as to give any more detail really would give the story away. 

INITIAL REACTION:

When I first read the logline I rolled my eyes and groaned... I imagined a slow paced, deep character study that was going to be so soporific it would soon have me unconscious. 

How wrong I was. 

Even though this story eschews the single protagonist mold that Hollywood loves - it manages to keep you invested in every character and each set of character's story.

How does he do this? 

EMPATHY.

That's the main takeaway for today. 

Every character we care about. 

How do you make an audience care about a character or multiple characters?

The first step toward creating characters we care about is to put them in positions that we can RELATE TO.

Think about that word.

RELATABILITY.

Thrillers are very exciting. CIA operatives doing international espionage is a lot of fun, but as far as reliability goes? Almost no one watching a CIA film is going to have actual international espionage experience.

The only way to make a CIA thriller relatable is through the relationship problems the characters have because we all have relationship problems. 

LIFE ITSELF is not a CIA thriller at all. It is a plain drama. But every character story is about relationship problems - which is something all humans can relate to. 

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you go and see a movie and you come away having had almost no emotional experience at all? 

Then other films make you cry and really shake you up, get you thinking?

The reason for this is RELATABILITY.

Creating an emotional connection between your characters and your audience will create a far more well-received screenplay than focusing on plot and structure. 

Don't get me wrong - a film with no plot and structure and ALL emotional connectivity would be a terrible film. Plot and structure are the frame over which you drape the emotional element of your story. 

So - in specific how do you make an audience like your characters?

Think about real life... we judge people on the ACTIONS they make. 

Put your hero in a situation that requires a REACTION. Think about what the expected reaction would be.

Then, here's the trick - switch up that reaction. Surprise us with how the hero reacts. But make sure that the reaction is altruistic. We love watching heroes who sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of others.

The reason I bring this up is there is a main character in LIFE ITSELF who is presented with a problem.

He makes a decision that at first seems rough and uncalled for. 

Then as a reveal at the end of the story - we come to understand that the decision was really a huge self-sacrifice. He essentially gave up his joy and happiness for the sake of his wife and child. 

That really hit me on a gut level when the beat was revealed. I was blown away that someone should sacrifice so much for the sake of their loved ones - and here's the kicker - the loved ones didn't even KNOW that he sacrificed so much.

It is one thing to sacrifice when those you are doing it for are aware you're doing so. 

Then it is the next level up to sacrifice for people who don't even know you are doing so. 

That is true altruism. 

Look at DONNIE DARKO - the one thing that made that film sooooo exceptional was that Donnie gave his life to save the life of a girl - who would NEVER KNOW that he died so she could live. 

That is a powerful story point. 

LIFE ITSELF is full of powerful story points. Which is why it succeeds.

It is a lot like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY in that it spans decades and is a really true look at life. 

That's another good word to consider when you're trying to write a story that lands on an emotional level. 

TRUTH.

I find myself tuning out of so many films these days simply because the story doesn't ring true. 

It doesn't matter what world you are creating - be it a sci-fi, a western, a horror - the story beats need to ring true in accordance to the world rules you are creating. 

My major problem with the LOVE story in Ben Affleck's The Town was how unreal the life story was of Ben's love interest Claire - played by Rebecca Hall. 

In the story - Claire lives a solitary existence and she can't find any decent man. 

Then along comes Ben and even though he's a bank robber she loves him. 

I'm sorry - that doesn't ring true. 

Have you seen Rebecca Hall? She is incredibly beautiful, intelligent, charismatic. In real life, women like Rebecca have countless beau's seeking her affection. 

In The Town - we were supposed to believe someone like Rebecca had no other options in her life. 

It just didn't ring true. 

When writing your story - don't write what you NEED TO HAVE happen for the sake of your story - consider what would happen in real life.

If you have written a female lead who is charismatic and beautiful and intelligent but just can't find the right guy - you need to give us a REALLY good reason why she can't find the right guy. It can't just be that all the guys she dates are idiots - because - in real life - there are countless great guys out there. 

Only in badly written film scripts are all the guys out there - bad eggs. 

So they're the two TAKEAWAYS for today. 

RELATABILITY - and TRUTH. 

If you can create characters that RING TRUE in the world you are creating, and if you can make us RELATE to them, your script will sing. 

As did LIFE ITSELF.