Daily Dialogue — June 22, 2016

June 22nd, 2016 by

Jonah: I think he’s doing the dice thing too much.
Jay: That’s really all he’s got.

Knocked Up (2007), written by Judd Apatow

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: First Dates.

Trivia: Since “knocked up” doesn’t mean anything in most languages, the film’s translation in Russia is “A little bit pregnant.” In Brazil it’s “Slightly Pregnant”. In Italy it’s ‘Very Pregnant’ (‘Molto Incinta’).

Dialogue On Dialogue: Dice thing too much or not, Seth goes home with Alison. One things leads to another and… somebody is pregnant. A first date gone awry.

Daily Dialogue — March 26, 2016

March 26th, 2016 by

DOORMAN: All right, you want to come in, you’re gonna have to go to the end of the line and wait like everybody else.
DEBBIE: I’m not gonna go to the end of the fucking line. Who the fuck are you? I have just as much of a right to be here as any of these little skanky girls! What, am I not skanky enough for you? You want me to hike up my fucking skirt? What the fuck is your problem? I’m not going anywhere! You’re just some roided out freak with a fucking clipboard! And your stupid little fucking rope! You know what? You may have power now, but you’re not God! You’re a doorman! Okay? You’re a doorman, doorman, doorman, doorman, doorman! So, fuck you, you fucking fag with your fucking little faggy gloves.
DOORMAN: I know. You’re right. I’m so sorry. I fucking hate this job. I don’t want to be the one to pass judgement and decide who gets in. This shit makes me sick to my stomach. I get the runs from the stress. It’s not ’cause you’re not hot. I would love to tap that ass. I would tear that ass up. I can’t let you in ’cause you’re old as fuck, for this club, not, you know, for the Earth.
DEBBIE: What?
DOORMAN: You old. She pregnant. Can’t have a bunch of old, pregnant bitches running around. That’s crazy. I’m only allowed to let in 5% black people. He said that. 5%. That mean if there’s 25 people here, I get to let in one-and-a-quarter black people. So I got to hope there’s a black midget in the crowd.
DEBBIE: Now I feel guilty. I’m sorry.
DOORMAN: Why y’all wanna be in here anyway? Y’all need to be at a yoga class or something. What the fuck is she doing at the club? That’s not even good parenting right there. Your old ass should know better than that.
DEBBIE: Oh, God.

Knocked Up (2007), written by Judd Apatow

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

Trivia: Since “knocked up” doesn’t mean anything in most languages, the film’s translation in Russia is “A little bit pregnant.” In Brazil it’s “Slightly Pregnant”. In Italy it’s ‘Very Pregnant’ (‘Molto Incinta’). In Germany “At the first go”.

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is tangentially about pregnancy – the subject comes up once late in the scene – but it’s a great scene with some wonderful reversals and character revelations.

Reader Question: Is it possible to have a screenplay without a specific Antagonist character?

October 20th, 2015 by

Open Forum question from Eve Montana:

I’m having trouble locating my antagonist and character goal in my character-driven movie. In “Juno”, her goal is to find suitable parents for her unborn baby, but who is the antagonist?

And coincidentally a similar question via email from Jeff:

I have a question regarding the villain character in a screenplay. Many screenwriting books, articles, and blogs suggest that a screenplay needs to have a Villain. This villain needs to be a formidable opponent that stands directly in the way of our hero obtaining his goal. Well, some concepts I come up with don’t really have a “villain” per se. According to everything I read this could be wrong. But I feel like there are a lot of successful movies that don’t have classic villains — Who’s the villain in 40 Year Old Virgin? Knocked Up? Juno? A lot of movies don’t have this maniacal evil villain working against the hero. Sometimes the world/society/circumstance is the villain. Or our hero is his own villain. Or maybe I’m just missing it?

The short answer is no – your script does not need to have a specific Nemesis / Antagonist / Villain character. However all movies must have some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic – or else you have no conflict. And if you have no conflict, you likely have no drama.

Some background. My working theory re screenplays is that if Plot equals Structure, then Character equals Function. Every character in a screenplay should have a function tied to the narrative. In most movies, there are five primary functions filled by these archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, and Trickster.

One way of looking at the Nemesis function is per Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.

The shadow is everything in us that is unconscious and undeveloped, those aspects of our psyche which we repress and deny. Most often these represent our ‘dark’ impulses, however as long as it exists only in our unconscious, we experience it indirectly — through dreams, underlying and unknown intentions behind our actions and thoughts, and so on.

Jung asserted this:

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.

Therefore in any movie story where the Protagonist is involved in some sort of significant transformation-journey, the Nemesis can be seen as the physicalization of the shadow, an expression of the Protagonist’s need to become conscious of, connect with, and oftentimes combat their dark, hidden impulses and aspects.

In other words, psychologically speaking, if you ask this question of the story you are writing — “Why does this story have to happen to this Protagonist right now?” a Jungian response might be, “Because the Protagonist must now deal with their Shadow.”

The classic cinematic example of this is in the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker ventures deep into the swamps of Degobah to encounter his Nemesis Darth Vader — only to sever Vader’s head off Vader’s body, his helmet explodes, revealing that the face within is Luke’s. In other words, Luke has within him the dark side of the Force as well as light side – just as all humans have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instincts. As Jung would argue, we can not move toward any approximation of wholeness or unity unless we engage all of the aspects of our psyche and that includes those parts of who we are that we fear and repress.

Now notice I used the term physicalization, not “personification.” That is because in a screenplay, an oppositional dynamic to the Protagonist does not need to be provided by a sentient being. An example of a movie that doesn’t have a personal Nemesis character is Cast Away (2000), where the Protagonist Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) is stranded for four years alone on a remote island. In this story, geography and weather generate the primary conflict in the life of the Protagonist by creating his isolation and standing in the way of his escape — it is those elements that provide the oppositional dynamic.

Per the question re Juno: Who’s the Nemesis in that story? Here’s my character archetype breakdown of that movie:

Protagonist – Juno
Attractor – Paulie
Mentor – Juno’s father / Juno’s step-mother / The baby
Trickster – Mark Loring (dark) / Vanessa Loring (light)

And the Nemesis? Let’s look at the two big questions that typically help to define the Protagonist character:

What does Juno want? To make sure her baby finds a good home.
What does Juno need? To be a teenager.

In my view of the movie, all that snarky slanguage that Juno uses and her cooler-than-cool attitude she adopts is a response to her shadow, arising from this key factor — she was rejected by her mother:

She [her mother] lives on a Havasu reservation in Arizona and three replacement kids. Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine’s Day. And I’m like, “Thanks a heap, Coyote Ugly. This cactus gram stings worse than your abandonment.” [P. 16]

Juno has never recovered from that hurt. This one side of dialogue is the only overt sign of that pain, but if you look at Juno from a macro perspective, throughout the first two acts of the movie, it’s clear – at least to me – that she has tried her best to jump past and out of her youth into adulthood. Over and over, she attempts to distinguish herself from her peers — through her attire, habits, language and, her likes / dislikes (e.g., weird horror movies, early 80s punk bands). In my view, she has ‘grown up’ quickly to put as much distance as she can from the experience of her mother’s rejection, and therefore as a means to avoid dealing with that pain. And so I think what she needs is to give up her pseudo-adult ‘mask,’ and be what by rights she ought to be: a teenage girl.

I believe this is borne out in the Denouement: We see her riding a bike (not driving a car), pulling out a guitar to sing a silly little duet with Paulie (innocence), then chastely kisses Paulie on the cheek. In contrast to the opening scene where we see her dropping her panties and initiating sex with Paulie, the whole tone of the ending scene is spring, innocence, and youth — she’s a happy teenager.

So I would see the Nemesis in Juno being the mask of her adult-self, eventually ripped away when Mark Loring – an adult who ends up acting like a child – betrays her, and the very real and very raw experience of childbirth.

Similarly in 40 Year Old Virgin, the nemesis isn’t a person, it’s a state of being: Andy’s virginity. And in Knocked Up, the nemesis is Ben’s immaturity: It provides opposition in that Ben has to overcome his infantile instincts to prove to be a worthy father and Alison has to get over her fear of Ben’s immaturity to learn to trust and love him.

So again, a screenplay does not need a real, live, human Nemesis, but it does require some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic, whether it’s physical — like being stranded on an island — psychological — like immaturity — or a state of being — like virginity.

That said, a word of caution: Most movies have strong Nemesis characters, ones that are human and do act overtly in opposition to a Protagonist. To this point, Jeff emailed me later to say this:

BTW — I posed this question to a friend who just wrote a book on screenwriting.

His response — There are those movies, I don’t suggest you write them.

Probably two reasons for that response: (1) Movies without actual human Nemesis characters are harder to write because the central conflict is almost by definition more difficult to locate and steer without a specific Nemesis; (2) Studios feel a lot more comfortable with movies where there is a strong central Nemesis.

For more of my thoughts on the Nemesis character:

How to build a powerful Nemesis?

Does a story absolutely need an antagonist?

The psychopathology of heroism

How about you? Do you think a screenplay needs a Nemesis or can it function without one?

[Originally posted March 23, 2010]

Daily Dialogue — January 23, 2013

January 23rd, 2013 by

CHARLOTTE: Who’s he?
BEN: I’m Ben Stone.
ALISON: He’s my boyfriend.
PETE: That’s nice.
SADIE: I never met him before.
ALISON: He’s a new boyfriend.
BEN: But a boyfriend.
SADIE: So he came over for breakfast because he’s your new boyfriend?
DEBBIE: He came from his house, drove over to
our house because he thought it would be fun to have breakfast with us, so he drove his car from his house to our house to have breakfast.
PETE: Because he likes breakfast so much.
CHARLOTTE: I love breakfast.
BEN: You guys wanna hear something neat? We’re gonna have a baby together.
SADIE: What?
BEN:Yeah, a baby.
SADIE: Well, you’re not married. Aren’t you supposed to be married to have a baby?
PETE: You don’t have to be.
DEBBIE: But they should be because they love
each other and people who love each other get married and have babies.
SADIE: Where do babies come from?
DEBBIE: Where do you think they come from?
SADIE: Well, I think a stork, he drops it
down, and then, a hole goes in your body and there’s blood everywhere, coming out of your head, and then you push your belly-button, and then your butt falls off and then you hold your butt and you have to dig and you find a little baby.
DEBBIE: That’s exactly right.

Knocked Up (2007), written by Judd Apatow

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is answering children’s questions, suggested by @BillieJeanVK. Today’s suggestion by David Laudenslager.

Trivia: Much of the dialogue was improvised by the actors or fed to them in the moment by Judd Apatow just before a take.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary from David: “Clearly the adults have some awkwardness about Ben being at breakfast. The kid’s break up the tension, causing Ben to tell them about the baby, annoying Debbie. Debbie and Pete’s dialogue illustrate how they try to keep their kid’s innocent. A child asking questions is a good device to move an awkward scene along naturally.” That is a really good point. Writers can use children to create all sorts of awkwardness in social settings because they’re too young to know better.

Daily Dialogue — April 19, 2012

April 19th, 2012 by

Ben: Look, Alison, I’m sure this isn’t how you pictured it being, exactly, and it’s not how I wanted it to be, but that is why I’m presenting you this empty box. It’s a promise, Allison. It’s a promise that one day I will… I will fill this box with a ring that you deserve, a beautiful ring. And I can’t afford it yet. I’ve picked it out already, though, and it’s at De Beers, and it’s really nice. So basically I’m asking you, will you marry me? Because I’m in love with you.

Alison: I love you, too.

Ben: Really? Oh, man, that’s so nice to hear. That’s the first time a girl’s ever said that to me, so…

Alison: But here’s the thing.

Ben: There’s a thing?

Alison: I don’t really know yet what that love means, you know. Just ’cause it’s so new, and it’s so exciting that it’s great. I don’t know. We’ve only known each other 17 weeks, so it’s…

Ben: Okay. Honestly, I mean, I thought… I thought you felt weird that we’re having a baby and we’re not engaged or anything. I’m gonna get off my knee.

Alison: Yeah.

Ben: It’s hurting a little bit.

Alison: No, I’m okay with that.

— Ben (Seth Rogen), Alison (Katherine Heigl), Knocked Up (2007), written by Judd Apatow

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is marriage proposals, suggested by Teddy Pasternak. Today’s suggestion by Phillip Gruneich

Trivia:

Dialogue On Dialogue: Great use of a physical object — an empty ring box. It’s funny, touching, and fits with Ben’s personality.

Reader Question: Is it possible to have a screenplay without a specific Antagonist character?

March 23rd, 2010 by

Open Forum question from Eve Montana:

I’m having trouble locating my antagonist and character goal in my character-driven movie. In “Juno”, her goal is to find suitable parents for her unborn baby, but who is the antagonist?

And coincidentally a similar question via email from Jeff:

I have a question regarding the villain character in a screenplay. Many screenwriting books, articles, and blogs suggest that a screenplay needs to have a Villain. This villain needs to be a formidable opponent that stands directly in the way of our hero obtaining his goal. Well, some concepts I come up with don’t really have a “villain” per se. According to everything I read this could be wrong. But I feel like there are a lot of successful movies that don’t have classic villains — Who’s the villain in 40 Year Old Virgin? Knocked Up? Juno? A lot of movies don’t have this maniacal evil villain working against the hero. Sometimes the world/society/circumstance is the villain. Or our hero is his own villain. Or maybe I’m just missing it?

The short answer is no – your script does not need to have a specific Nemesis / Antagonist / Villain character. However all movies must have some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic – or else you have no conflict. And if you have no conflict, you likely have no drama.

Some background. My working theory re screenplays is that if Plot equals Structure, then Character equals Function. Every character in a screenplay should have a function tied to the narrative. In most movies, there are five primary functions filled by these archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, and Trickster.

One way of looking at the Nemesis function is per Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.

The shadow is everything in us that is unconscious and undeveloped, those aspects of our psyche which we repress and deny. Most often these represent our ‘dark’ impulses, however as long as it exists only in our unconscious, we experience it indirectly — through dreams, underlying and unknown intentions behind our actions and thoughts, and so on.

Jung asserted this:

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.

Therefore in any movie story where the Protagonist is involved in some sort of significant transformation-journey, the Nemesis can be seen as the physicalization of the shadow, an expression of the Protagonist’s need to become conscious of, connect with, and oftentimes combat their dark, hidden impulses and aspects.

In other words, psychologically speaking, if you ask this question of the story you are writing — “Why does this story have to happen to this Protagonist right now?” a Jungian response might be, “Because the Protagonist must now deal with their Shadow.”

The classic cinematic example of this is in the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker ventures deep into the swamps of Degobah to encounter his Nemesis Darth Vader — only to sever Vader’s head off Vader’s body, his helmet explodes, revealing that the face within is Luke’s. In other words, Luke has within him the dark side of the Force as well as light side – just as all humans have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instincts. As Jung would argue, we can not move toward any approximation of wholeness or unity unless we engage all of the aspects of our psyche and that includes those parts of who we are that we fear and repress.

Now notice I used the term physicalization, not “personification.” That is because in a screenplay, an oppositional dynamic to the Protagonist does not need to be provided by a sentient being. An example of a movie that doesn’t have a personal Nemesis character is Cast Away (2000), where the Protagonist Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) is stranded for four years alone on a remote island. In this story, geography and weather generate the primary conflict in the life of the Protagonist by creating his isolation and standing in the way of his escape — it is those elements that provide the oppositional dynamic.

Per the question re Juno: Who’s the Nemesis in that story? Here’s my character archetype breakdown of that movie:

Protagonist – Juno
Attractor – Paulie
Mentor – Juno’s father / Juno’s step-mother / The baby
Trickster – Mark Loring (dark) / Vanessa Loring (light)

And the Nemesis? Let’s look at the two big questions that typically help to define the Protagonist character:

What does Juno want? To make sure her baby finds a good home.
What does Juno need? To be a teenager.

In my view of the movie, all that snarky slanguage that Juno uses and her cooler-than-cool attitude she adopts is a response to her shadow, arising from this key factor — she was rejected by her mother:

She [her mother] lives on a Havasu reservation in Arizona and three replacement kids. Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine’s Day. And I’m like, “Thanks a heap, Coyote Ugly. This cactus gram stings worse than your abandonment.” [P. 16]

Juno has never recovered from that hurt. This one side of dialogue is the only overt sign of that pain, but if you look at Juno from a macro perspective, throughout the first two acts of the movie, it’s clear – at least to me – that she has tried her best to jump past and out of her youth into adulthood. Over and over, she attempts to distinguish herself from her peers — through her attire, habits, language and, her likes / dislikes (e.g., weird horror movies, early 80s punk bands). In my view, she has ‘grown up’ quickly to put as much distance as she can from the experience of her mother’s rejection, and therefore as a means to avoid dealing with that pain. And so I think what she needs is to give up her pseudo-adult ‘mask,’ and be what by rights she ought to be: a teenage girl.

I believe this is borne out in the Denouement: We see her riding a bike (not driving a car), pulling out a guitar to sing a silly little duet with Paulie (innocence), then chastely kisses Paulie on the cheek. In contrast to the opening scene where we see her dropping her panties and initiating sex with Paulie, the whole tone of the ending scene is spring, innocence, and youth — she’s a happy teenager.

So I would see the Nemesis in Juno being the mask of her adult-self, eventually ripped away when Mark Loring – an adult who ends up acting like a child – betrays her, and the very real and very raw experience of childbirth.

Similarly in 40 Year Old Virgin, the nemesis isn’t a person, it’s a state of being: Andy’s virginity. And in Knocked Up, the nemesis is Ben’s immaturity: It provides opposition in that Ben has to overcome his infantile instincts to prove to be a worthy father and Alison has to get over her fear of Ben’s immaturity to learn to trust and love him.

So again, a screenplay does not need a real, live, human Nemesis, but it does require some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic, whether it’s physical — like being stranded on an island — psychological — like immaturity — or a state of being — like virginity.

That said, a word of caution: Most movies have strong Nemesis characters, ones that are human and do act overtly in opposition to a Protagonist. To this point, Jeff emailed me later to say this:

BTW — I posed this question to a friend who just wrote a book on screenwriting.

His response — There are those movies, I don’t suggest you write them.

Probably two reasons for that response: (1) Movies without actual human Nemesis characters are harder to write because the central conflict is almost by definition more difficult to locate and steer without a specific Nemesis; (2) Studios feel a lot more comfortable with movies where there is a strong central Nemesis.

For more of my thoughts on the Nemesis character:

How to build a powerful Nemesis?

Does a story absolutely need an antagonist?

The psychopathology of heroism

How about you? Do you think a screenplay needs a Nemesis or can it function without one?