How is your screenplay going? I think at this point you should be somewhere in the Second Act already. Are you? It’s okay if you’re not, but keep pushing forward. The only way you’ll get to move forward to the second draft, is if you finish the first draft. I don’t want to disturb your writing so I have selected a different topic for this week.
Week Eight – Making Bad Villains Good
Opposition to the Hero
During our Writing Your Screenplay in 70 Days project I spoke about how the Villain (capitalized, as I use it as a title) of your story must oppose your Hero. This is the central purpose of any Villain. A story is conflict and opposition leads to conflict. If you’re Hero is trying to rob a bank the Villain must be trying to stop him in some way. If your Hero is trying to find the cure for cancer, then your Villain must be working against him. Some of the best Villains can be found in genre films, even romance. The Villain is often the other person of the couple. Boy meets girl; the Boy is the Hero and the girl is the Villain. The boy is looking to date the girl; however the girl opposes the boy because she would rather date the bad boy.
How does your Villain oppose your Hero? Can you make the opposition stronger? In my boy meets girl example if the girl just simply didn’t want to date the boy that would be a simple opposition, however by making her instead want to date the bad boy you’ve made the opposition more complicated. Looking at the original Back to the Future (1985) is a great example of this. Marty is trying to get his mom to go on a date with his dad in 1955. This makes George the Hero of this subplot and Lorraine the Villain. George is a nerd and that could have been enough to keep Lorraine from dating him, however Lorraine would rather date Marty. Even though this is just a subplot of the film, it is a strong opposition because Lorraine has a specific reason she refuses to date George. This leads us directly into the Villains goals.
Giving Your Villain a Goal
Lorraine didn’t want to date George because her goal was in fact to date Marty. Giving your Villains a realistic goal gives your Villain a purpose in the film. Let’s go back to the example where the Hero is on the verge of curing cancer and the Villain is trying to stop him and ask ourselves why anyone would want to stop someone from curing cancer. Maybe the Villain is the chief financial officer of the lab and he’s realized that the lab would lose funding if they actually cured cancer. The Villain would be preventing the cure in an effort to save the jobs of the lab’s 250 employees. We’ve given our Villain a goal; a reason why he takes the actions he does. Action films are the best places to find villainous goals because the Villain will often monologue about them. In Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) the Villain, Simon Gruber had a couple of goals, this first being revenge. His brother, Hans Gruber, was killed by John McClane while trying to rob the Nakatomi Plaza giving Simon a logical reason to fixate and target John throughout the film. Simon’s primary goal was to rob the Federal Reserve Building. These two goals are what made With a Vengeance such a great film; the Villain was realistic with plausible goals.
What is your Villain’s goal? He’s not out to oppose the Hero for the sake of it, but rather he has his own purpose that just happens to oppose the Hero. If the Villain does not have a specific goal that is going to be a problem throughout your screenplay and it should be corrected as soon as possible. A good way to think about it is to ask; what is the Hero’s primary goal and what would be the opposite of that goal? Luke’s goal in Star Wars (1977) is to destroy the Imperial’s battle station using the rebels, while Darth Vader’s goal is to destroy the rebels using the Imperial’s battle station. It’s a simplistic look at it, but I’ve created the Villain’s goal by flipping around a couple of words of the Hero’s goal. It’s a great way to form a starting point in developing your Villain’s goal.
Powerful Villains make good Stories
Who is your Villain? Would you describe him as powerful? If you don’t then I think you need to redevelop your Villain. Many of the great Villains are more powerful than their Heroes. Audiences enjoy cheering for the underdog in a story, therefore by making your Villain stronger than the Hero you help the audience side with the Hero. This was a common theme of many of the ancient Greek stories where a Hero set out to defeat great armies or the very gods themselves. Again, in Back to the Future Marty faces off against Biff who is much larger than Marty and has both a car and a posse at his command. This makes Marty’s defeat of Biff (into the manure truck) all the more enjoyable. The same thing can be said about George finding the courage to punch Biff in order to save Lorraine. Making Biff larger and stronger than both of the heroic characters makes the heroic characters the underdogs within the confrontation. Power doesn’t always mean strength. In police stories, Officer Hero must follow rules and procedures while the Villain does not, meaning that the Villain’s actions cannot be predicted. This is what always made The Joker a powerful opponent for Batman. Batman refuses to kill whereas the Joker kills whenever the whim strikes him (he’s killed a couple of Robins in the comics). It’s this unpredictability and ruthlessness that has made The Joker a great Villain.
How is your Villain more powerful than the Hero? Looking at our cancer cure story idea the Hero is obviously a lab jockey, maybe even new employee at the firm while the Villain is the CFO of the entire company. A new lab jockey is not going to be able to make his voice heard when he asks for more funding to finalize his testing when the CFO is telling the CEO and COO that the money is being redirected to other projects with my public visibility. What can the Hero do to move the story forward? See how a well-defined Villain is going help you structure your story?
Keeping Your Frienemies Close
How many stories can you think of where the Villain of the story is also the Hero’s Friend? I’ve mentioned Twister (1996) on this blog before and it’s a great example of the Frienemy (Friend/Enemy) story. The Villain of the story is Jo Harding who has dedicated her life to learning how to detect tornados after watching her father be sucked up by one. Her husband Bill Harding has returned to get the divorce papers signed so that he can proceed with marrying his new girlfriend. Bill has the character arc and makes many of the decisions within the story so that makes him the Hero. He just wants her to sign some paperwork, a fifteen minute thing but instead he gets caught up in Jo’s world once again. My favourite example (again I wrote about this film about a year ago) is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) even though Ferris is the title character; he is in fact the Villain of the story while his best friend Cameron Frye is the Hero. Cameron makes all of the story choices. He agrees to go along with Ferris to get Sloane out of school (First Plot Point) and he has the break down, going catatonic (Second Plot Point). While Cameron doesn’t ‘defeat’ Ferris he does experience a major character development arc, making him a better person.
Does your story include a Hero and Villain who are friends? Could you? What would happen to your story if you were to create some sort of relationship between your Hero and Villain? How would the cancer cure story develop if the Hero was the Villain’s son-in-law or even grandson? The story begins with the Hero getting the job right after university because his grandfather is CFO and that the grandfather is so very proud of his grandson, but things start to change when the grandfather is made aware of his grandson’s test results of a new drug that appears to be very effective against cancer cells. It creates a feeling of betrayal which most people can relate to.
CASE STUDY: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Considered to be the worse of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace (1999) has been panned by critics and fans alike. Most blame Jar Jar Binks for the film’s failure I actually blame the lack of a solid Hero-Villain relationship for the film’s failure to resonate with the fans. Most of the film’s characters are not required to tell the story that they are looking to tell. The Villain, Darth Maul, doesn’t have a goal of his own as he is simply ordered around by Palpatine. By assigning Darth Maul to head the blockade of Naboo we now give the Villain a specific goal that will directly oppose the Hero. Throughout the film they are pushing to end the blockade of Naboo, but there is so much else going on with the adventures on Tatooine, the Jedi Council and with the Gungans. By focusing on just the blockade the Story goal is much tighter and it does a better job controlling the limits of our story. Let’s see what this new goal-specific focus does to the story.
First we need to determine the Hero of our new story. Since we follow Obi-Wan through to his death in Episode IV he is my first choice as Hero. His back story would be that Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi grew up on Tatooine with his sister Beru Kenobi. When ben was just three years old a Jedi Master took Ben to Coruscant for training. Now 20 years later his training is complete and the mission to Naboo is his first solo mission as a Jedi Knight. His goal would be to negotiate an end to the Naboo blockade. The Villain will be Darth Maul (Palpatine would be the Villain of our new Episode II). Maul’s goal is to ensure Palpatine gains control of Naboo allowing his master to take the next step towards galactic control. Now Obi-Wan and Maul directly oppose each other. They will battle over control of Naboo. This gives us our Story Question; “Will Obi-Wan Kenobi discover a way to overcome Darth Maul and stop the illegal blockade of the Naboo by the Trade Federation.” With this new focus this is how I would plan the story’s Nine Beats.
Opening Scene: Obi-Wan, representing the Naboo, boards the Trade Federation ship to negotiate an end to the blockade of Naboo. The Federation and Obi-Wan begin talks and Obi-Wan wishes to be taken to the surface of Naboo to see the condition of the people for himself. Seeing this as an opportunity to take a Jedi hostage the Trade Federation agrees and Obi-Wan is escorted to the surface.
Inciting Incident: Obi-Wan meets Maul, the Trade Federation lieutenant in charge of the blockade who takes Obi-Wan to the Queen’s palace where Obi-Wan is turned over to Anakin Skywalker of the Queen’s guard. Obi-Wan can feel the strength of the Force within young Anakin as the two are taken to see the Queen, a prisoner in her own palace.
First Plot Point: Obi-Wan decides that Naboo must remain free and he helps Queen Amidala and Anakin Skywalker free their world.
First Story Obstacle: Darth Maul is directed to confront Obi-Wan in an effort to kill the Jedi before he can ruin Palpatine’s plan to take control of Naboo (a light sabre duel where Anakin saves Obi-Wan). Palpatine is the Senate Leader of the Trade Federation (as well as a Sith Lord) who has his eyes set on so much more and Darth Maul is his apprentice who is in charge of Naboo’s occupation.
Midpoint: Obi-Wan gets the Queen and Anakin to the launch bay where Anakin’s piloting skills gets a small ship past the blockade. They’re heading to Coruscant to petition the Senate as they are the only one’s who has the power to end the blockade (we can introduce Artoo-Detoo here).
Second Story Obstacle: Based on Palpatine’s false testimony, the Galactic Senate legalizes the blockade over Naboo and the Trade Federation takes control of the planet, and arresting the Queen and Anakin.
Second Plot Point: Obi-Wan frees the Queen and Anakin from the Senate’s Prison and leads them back to Naboo where they start a Rebellion against the occupying Trade Federation. The Rebellion is formed and those on Naboo start to fight back against the Blockade.
Climax: Darth Maul is defeated and the blockade is crushed.
Closing Scene: Naboo is banished from the Galactic Senate for crimes against the Senate (the defeat of the Blockade). This will trigger the Clone Wars in Episode II as star systems start to choose sides between Naboo and the Senate. The Jedi will chose to protect Naboo, turning against the Galactic Senate.
Giving Darth Maul a goal and direct leadership over the blockade we set the story in motion that will eventually bring Kenobi and Maul together in direct opposition. A well defined Villain can lead to a lean and focused story.
Get back to writing your screenplay and I’ll talk to you next week.