What format should I send my script in?

questionmarkI’ve just finished my first script and a few people who I’d like to impress have asked me to send it to them over email. My question is, what is the proper format for sending scripts through email? Do I attach it as a Final Draft document? Convert it to a Word document? Something else I don’t know about? Thanks.

–Ryan
Los Angeles

Since you can’t count on your friends having the right version of any given program, your best bet is to convert it to a .pdf document. Both Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter can do this pretty easily.

In Screenwriter, choose “Print…” from the File menu, then choose “PDF (Adobe Acrobat) File” from the “Print To:” pop-up menu. Screenwriter gives you the option to make bookmarks from all the scene headings in the file, which is helpful.

In Final Draft, simply choose “Save as PDF…” from the File menu. One caveat: in some versions of Final Draft, the .pdfs generated this way are huge.

As an alternate for Mac OS X, you can choose “PDF” from the main print dialog box, which bypasses the program and grabs the real information that would be sent to the printer. This system-wide ability of Mac OS X is a godsend; I use it all the time.

Almost everyone I know uses .pdfs these days to turn in scripts. You can pretty much count on them printing out properly, and it saves a lot of hassle dealing with couriers and photocopiers.


What’s the difference between Hero, Main Character and Protagonist?

questionmarkI have a supporting character that seems to fill a far greater purpose than I originally anticipated. The supporting character fits Wikipedia’s definition of Hero. However, your definition says hero and main character are synonymous.

In my story, the protagonist is the main character; it’s his story. But everything is affected by this supporting character’s possession of “character far greater than that of a typical person.”

Is it wheels off to have a main character and protagonist not be the hero in the end? Do you think the audience will feel cheated by a decision like this?

– Trey
Dallas, TX

We’re venturing into Dramatic Theory 101, so if you’re the type who begins squirming in your seat when professor-types talk about Joseph Campbell and character arcs, you can save yourself a lot of frustration by stopping after the following sentence:

In most cases, “Hero,” “Main Character,” and “Protagonist” are the same character.

Seriously, you can stop reading now. Here’s a nice article about raising orphaned squirrels.

Now, for readers who are still with me, let’s try to come up with more specific definitions for these three terms, and explore why they may apply to different characters in certain stories.

Hero
My incredibly-simplified definition: this is the character who you hope to see “win.” While it’s fine to think of Superman, or Aladdin, the hero doesn’t have to be noble, or courageous, or especially talented. As long as you’re rooting for him, that’s what matters.

Main Character
Just what it sounds like: this is the character who the story is mostly about. Confused? Often his or her name is in the title: Shrek, King Arthur, Tootsie, Citizen Kane.

Protagonist
The character who changes over the course of the story, travelling from Point A to Point B, either literally or figuratively. She learns and grows as the story progresses. Generally, Protagonists want something at the start of the tale, and discover they need something else.

Now, remember, most times, one character is all three of these things. For example, Ripley in Aliens is clearly the Hero (fighting the monster), the Main Character (the story is mostly about her), and the Protagonist (she reluctantly joins the trip, but ends up descending to the depths to fight for her “daughter”).

The same triple-aspect applies to Cher in Clueless, and John McClane in Die Hard. And it’s fine for movies to have “teams” of characters fulfiling these roles; in Charlie’s Angels, Dylan, Natalie and Alex are each Hero, Main Character and Protagonist.

However, in some stories, the Hero, the Protagonist and the Main Character are not all the same person. One very current example is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

There’s no question that Charlie’s the Hero. You want to see him win that Golden Ticket, and for only good things to happen to him. Likewise, he’s also the Main Character — though Wonka’s a close second. While Charlie recedes into the background a bit during the factory tour, he’s still the main focus of the movie’s storytelling energies. When the Narrator talks, it’s mostly to fill in details about Charlie.

However, Charlie is not a classic Protagonist. Charlie doesn’t grow or change over the course of the story. He doesn’t need to. He starts out a really nice kid, and ends up a really nice kid.

In terms of Classical Dramatic Structure, that leaves us one Protagonist short, which leads to the biggest change in the screenplay versus the book (or the 1971 film). In our movie, Willy Wonka is the protagonist. He grows and changes. We see his rise and fall, along with his nervous breakdown during the tour. Charlie’s the one who’s always asking — ever so politely, in the Freddie Highmore Whisper(TM) — the questions that lead to Wonka’s flashbacks upon his rotten childhood. (In Classic Dramatic terms, that makes Charlie an Antagonist. Not to be confused with a Villain. Are you sure you don’t want to read about some squirrels?)

As I pitched it to Tim: Charlie gets a factory, and Willy Wonka gets a family. It’s the whole want-versus-need thing. Charlie doesn’t need a factory. Wonka really needs a family. Otherwise, he’s going to die a giggling misanthropic weirdo.

Assigning labels

Playing “spot the protagonist” can be a good intellectual exercise — up to a point. As I started writing Charlie, asking “Who’s the protagonist?” led to some important decisions about the storytelling. But trying to pin firm labels on the characters in Go or Pirates of the Caribbean would only prove frustrating.

If a story works, it works — regardless of whether characters are fulfilling their archetypal roles. So be wary of trying to wedge characters into defined classes, simply because that’s how they “should” fit.


Two big debuts

Charlie TicketThis past weekend, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened to strong reviews and a hefty $56.2 million at the box office. I’m happy, of course, but that good news was eclipsed by even better news: the birth of my daughter on Monday.

Her long-awaited arrival explains my lack of posting this past week, and the sporadic schedule for the next few weeks. As I start to figure out What I’ve Gotten Myself Into, I’m taking a month off from my real career (umm, screenwriting?) to focus on my new job, tackling life’s eternal questions:

  1. Was that a burp, or a grunt?
  2. How did poop get there?
  3. Whoosa good girl? Whoosa good girl?

I’ll still try to post as much as I can; babies do sleep, even if I don’t. But if the flow dwindles for the next little bit, please trust that I’ve not lost interest in the site. With a hungry mouth needing to be fed every three hours, the word count is bound to drop.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of stopping by: bring food.


Is that how the line was supposed to go?

GainesSomething that’s always bothered me about Go. When Ronna is in Todd’s apartment she says “Todd, I would never fuck you like that.” And he says, “How would -you- fuck -me-?”

Like, how would a nothing like you ever screw over a big drug dealer like me? But he just explained how she could fuck him: twenty hits is intent to distribute. Did you mean for the line to be read like “How -would- you fuck me?” As in, why should I trust you? And if so, how did the director fuck that up so badly?

– Rebecca
Los Angeles

Actually, the intent behind the line is completely different — and this is an example of how acting choices and editing room decisions can impact a scene. If you download the original script, you’ll see that the scene in question actually reads:

  • GAINES
  • You come here out of the blue asking for twenty hits. Just so happens twenty is the magic number where intent to sell becomes trafficking.
  • RONNA
  • Todd, I would never fuck you like that.
  • GAINES
  • How would you fuck me? Would you strap it on?
  • He climbs over the sofa to a dresser. In a drawer, he digs down through a pile of socks to find a wide-mouthed bottle. And an empty Tylenol bottle. Blows out the dust.

The “Would you strap it on?” line makes it clear that he’s sort-of-joking, in a very sexual way. Unfortunately, on the night we shot this scene, the energy was all wrong.

The producers and I still talk about that bad night, because Timothy Olyphant, who completely nailed the role of Gaines otherwise, was not finding the right rhythms. That’s incredibly frustrating as a writer on the set, because you can hear in your head just how the line should sound, but nothing you do can get it to come out that way. And this isn’t a criticism of Tim or director Doug Liman. Everyone has bad nights; they’re usually not captured on film for posterity.

In fact, the next night we ended up re-shooting Gaines’ side of the later Claire scene, when Tim suddenly had a breakthrough and really figured out how to play the moments. Those are some of my favorites moments in the movie, and it’s all credit to Tim’s acting.

That still left us with some challenges cutting together the Ronna scene. Ultimately, the version that worked best dropped the “Would you strap it on?” line. But you’re right: the inflections in the previous line don’t really make sense. I cringe a little when I watch it.

The other reason I miss the strap-it-on reference is that it played into Ronna having balls. In an earlier scene, Ronna said she’d go straight to Todd, because buying through a middle man would cut her profit: “That’s like, a hundred dollars I’d be pissing out my dick.” I love that Ronna sees herself as hard-boiled, even when she’s terrified.


Writing characters you would hate in real life

How do you go about writing characters that you don’t identify with, or even find abhorrent, as good as the ones you like?

– Dan
Redditch, England

The same way many actors find playing villains liberating, I often enjoy writing characters who, in real life, I would actively avoid.

For instance, in Go, the four guys who go to Vegas in the middle chapter are sort of my bete noire. Simon is id-driven, wantonly impulsive, and only gets away with it because of his accent. Marcus is too righteous by half, the self-appointed leader who only got the title by picking the least-capable of travelling companions. Tiny is a faux-Black chihuahua, and Singh is sort of a perma-stoner. They’re all little lizard brains, and I kinda love them, though I wouldn’t want to be within 20 feet of any of them.

[For the record, the character in Go who I best relate to is Claire. Like her, I’m the one who’s always trying to be the voice of reason. But eventually I give up, and hook up with the hot, scary guy.]

In many ways, it can be easier to write characters with whom you don’t have a lot in common. Unlike a novel, where you’re digging inside a character’s head, screenwriting is about what you see and hear. Even the most rigorous self-examination probably won’t reveal the dialogue and behavior you would notice just watching actual people going about their lives. Sometimes, the most fascinating people are the most annoying, or the most abhorrent.

So don’t strive for likeability. It’s a fool’s errand. Rather, aim for believability. Make sure your characters are consistent, and real within the universe you’ve built for them. The audience will happily watch loathsome characters doing terrible things, as long as you keep them engaging.


New, longer Corpse Bride trailer up

emilyThere’s a new trailer up for Corpse Bride, which tells a lot more of the story than the teaser trailer did.

I have mixed feelings about the new trailer. Visually, it all looks great. This one shows a lot more of what makes the animation so distinctive. For instance, pay attention to Corpse Bride’s veil, how it flutters and flows. Then remember that this was all shot one frame at a time. Creating the illusion of continuous movement was incredibly difficult, and they did it incredibly well.

I’m not crazy about the voice-over. The rhyming doesn’t really work for me, and the announcer is the same guy who does all the stuff for the WB Network (“Tonight, on an all-new Gilmore Girls, Rory blah blah blah”). It feels too much like a featurette for my taste. I would have suggested stopping at the shorter, funnier teaser. But that’s just me.

See it here.

Corpse Bride trailer up