Conscious Goal and Unconscious Goal

May 6th, 2016 by

An interesting discussion arose from this post the other day on the question how to raise the stakes in a plot. I suggested one way was to track a shift that often happens with a Protagonist — from Want to Need — and one of the movie examples I cited in my analysis was Casablanca.

matthewkane noted this in comments:

This is a reason for the romcom trope of one or both of the romantic leads to have no interest in romance until the midpoint. When romance complicates the original goal, it ups the stakes. Though it’s usually good to add another complication at the same time to stretch the rack tighter from both directions.

My response:

Matthew, your point illustrates why I oftentimes think of character work this way: Want and Need can refer to the generalized state of what a Protagonist brings into the story at its beginning. By the end of Act One, they have may have crystallized things into a Conscious Goal, a specific target they have in mind, and an Unstated or Unconscious Goal, a specific psychological end point that emerges from their inner world.

So for example, Rick in Casablanca:

The Want he brings into the story is to be left alone to run his business so he can busy himself with avoiding dealing with the pain of the past (associated with his loss of Ilsa).

Since that way of being has led him to isolationism, the Need he brings into the story is to break out of his cynicism.

In Act One: Enter Ilsa, Victor Laszlo, and the letters of transit. How does this sharpen his Want and Need?

Conscious Goal: Determine what to do with letters of transit.

Unconscious Goal: Confront pain of the past [when Ilsa rejected him] and resolve that relationship.

In dealing with those new narrative elements — letters of transit, Ilsa, Victor — Rick goes on his own psychological journey resulting in the classic ending we all know and love.

I also should note, per the language of Michael Arndt (screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) who says a great ending must answer a philosophical question, Rick confronts an existential choice: Cynicism or Idealism? He opts for the latter, choosing to ‘sacrifice’ his love for Ilsa for the greater good, represented by Victor’s work as a freedom fighter.

Per your observation about romcoms having “no interest in romance until the midpoint,” it’s interesting to note that the Paris flashback sequence doesn’t happen in Casablanca until the middle of the movie (in a commonly available 127 page version of the script, the sequence ends at P. 61). That flashback represents the very first time we’ve seen what the romance between Rick and Ilsa had been, and understand how and why Rick has been so badly hurt on an emotional level when it ended. So even though not a romcom, your point is relevant to Casablanca.

The usual caveats: This is all psychological language which is in a way ‘artificial’ when applied to a story, organic by its very nature. Some writers may benefit from using these tools — Want, Need, Conscious Goal, Unconscious Goal — others may not. Our goal is to create living, breathing characters in a living, breathing story universe. We do what we can do to get there.

But in my teaching, often I find writers benefit from honing in on a Protagonist’s Conscious Goal and Unconscious Goal at the end of Act One as it sharpens their understanding of their story’s structure and the nature of the Protagonist’s metamorphosis.

[Originally posted August 16, 2013]

Daily Dialogue — December 31, 2015

December 31st, 2015 by

Sam: Boss, ain’t you going to bed?
Rick: Not right now.
Sam: Ain’t you planning on going to bed in the near future?
Rick: No.
Sam: You ever going to bed?
Rick: No!
Sam: Well, I ain’t sleepy either.
Rick: Good, have a drink.
Sam: No, not me–
Rick: Then don’t have a drink.
Sam: Boss, let’s get outta here.
Rick: No. I’m waiting for a lady.
Sam: Please, boss, let’s go. There ain’t nothin’ but trouble for you here.
Rick: She’s coming back, I know she’s coming back.
Sam: We’ll take the car and go drivin’ all night. We’ll get drunk. We’ll go fishin’ until she’s–
Rick: Go home, will ya’?
Sam: No, sir. I’m stayin’ right here.

Sam starts to play piano.

Rick: They grab Ugarte, then she walks in. That’s the way it goes. One in, one out. Sam.
Sam: Yes, boss.
Rick: It’s December 1941 in Casablanca. What time is it in New York?
Sam: My watch stopped.
Rick: I’ll be they’re asleep in New York. I’ll bet they’re asleep all over America. [pounds fist on table] Of all the gin joints and all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

Rick turns to Sam.

Rick: What’s that you’re playing?
Sam: Oh, just a little somethin’ on my own.
Rick: Well, stop it, you know what I want to hear.
Sam: No, I don’t.
Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me.
Sam: I don’t think I can remember–
Rick: If she can stand it, I can. Play it.
Sam: Yes, boss.

Sam reluctantly begins to play “As Time Goes By”.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Drunk. Today’s suggestion by Katha.

Trivia: When Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein won an Oscar for their script, they became the first (and only) Academy Award winning twins.

Dialogue on Dialogue: Alcohol is technically a depressant, so a perfect match for Rick’s mood once Ilsa suddenly reenters his life. In this scene, we get a chance to peer into the pain at the core of Rick’s psyche and artfully transition into one of the most famous flashbacks in cinema history: Rick and Ilsa’s time together in Paris.

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca”

October 3rd, 2015 by

This week, we analyzed the movie Casablanca, written by screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

IMDb plot summary: Set in Casablanca, Morocco during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

General Comments
Plot
Characters
Themes
Takeaways

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of watching and analyzing movies.

To access all of the movies we have analyzed in this series, go here.

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca” – Takeaways

October 2nd, 2015 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

IMDb plot summary: Set in Casablanca, Morocco during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Casablanca, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen Casablanca, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca” – Themes

October 1st, 2015 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

IMDb plot summary: Set in Casablanca, Morocco during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Casablanca, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen Casablanca, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca” – Characters

September 30th, 2015 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Casablanca, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen Casablanca, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca” – Plot

September 29th, 2015 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Casablanca, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen Casablanca, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Movie Analysis: “Casablanca”

September 28th, 2015 by

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.

Yes, a classic movie. Indeed, perhaps the classic movie, voted the #1 screenplay by WGA members.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Casablanca, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen Casablanca, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

(more…)

Go Into The Story Movie Analysis: “Casablanca”

September 25th, 2015 by

Starting Monday, I thought we’d try something different with our bi-weekly Go Into The Story Movie Analysis series: Dig into and analyze a classic movie. Since September is Classic 40s Movies month here at the blog, I figured why not review the 1941 movie Casablanca.

What a great excuse to watch this movie again, which you can do here for as little as $2.99. But I’ll bet you own a DVD like I do. And if for some reason have not seen Casablanca… well, correct that problem by watching it this weekend.

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

Why watch movies?

Because to be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Movies must be in your lifeblood – and the best way to do that is to watch and analyze them.

This series is your Call To Adventure! Do yourself a favor: Watch Casablanca and join the discussion beginning Monday, September 28.

If you find interviews and/or analysis of the movie, please post in comments.

For an excellent Casablanca fan website, go here.

To access all of the movies we have analyzed in this series, go here.

Finally let me know what you think about this for a monthly schedule for this series: One movie currently in theaters, one movie from the past.

Daily Dialogue — March 11, 2015

March 11th, 2015 by

ILSA: No, Rick. Not tonight.
RICK: Especially tonight.
ILSA: Please don’t.
RICK: Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places.
ILSA: I wouldn’t have come if I’d known you were here. Believe me, Rick, it’s true. I didn’t know.
RICK: It’s funny about your voice, how it hasn’t changed. I can still hear it. “Richard, dear, I’ll go with you anyplace. We’ll get on a train together and never stop.”
ILSA: Don’t, Rick. I can understand how you feel.
RICK: You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey?
ILSA: I didn’t count the days.
RICK: Well, I did. Every one of them. Mostly I remember the last one. The wow finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out.
ILSA: Can I tell you a story, Rick?
RICK: Does it got a wow finish?
ILSA: I don’t know the finish yet.
RICK: Go on, tell it. Maybe one’ll come to you as you go along.
ILSA: It’s about a girl who had just come to Paris from her home in Oslo. At the house of some friends. She met a man about whom she’d heard her whole life — A very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or ever became was because of him. And she looked up to him and worshiped him with a feeling she supposed was love–
RICK: Yes, that’s very pretty. I heard a story once. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard a lot of stories in my time. They went along with the sound of a tinny piano playing in the parlor downstairs. “Mister, I met a man once when I was a kid,” they’d always begin. I guess neither one of our stories is very funny. Tell me–who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo–or were there others in between–or aren’t you the kind that tells?

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Reunion. Today’s suggestion by Will Johnson.

Trivia: Humphrey Bogart’s wife Mayo Methot continually accused him of having an affair with Ingrid Bergman, often confronting him in his dressing room before a shot. Bogart would come onto the set in a rage. In fact, despite the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Bergman, they hardly spoke, and the only time they bonded was when the two had lunch with Geraldine Fitzgerald. According to Fitzgerald, “the whole subject at lunch was how they could get out of that movie. They thought the dialogue was ridiculous and the situations were unbelievable… I knew Bogart very well, and I think he wanted to join forces with Bergman, to make sure they both said the same things.” For whatever reasons, Bogart and Bergman rarely spoke after that.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Will notes, “One of the most famous reunions in film, but not a pleasant one.” And think about this: It is a huge coincidence that Ilsa just happens to end up in the very same city as Rick, without knowing he’s there. But as they say in Hollywood, you are allowed one coincidence per movie. Might as well make it a big one!

If you have a good suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.