Trust the Rolling Stones

Posted November 9, 2009 by Benjamin
Categories: Uncategorized

“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you just might find, you get what you need.” — the Rolling Stones

Enter choir.

The above quote could be the underlying theme of every modern story. If you’re ever not sure where your protagonist should be headed, remember the lyrics above. Heroes step out into the world to get what they want. By the end of the story, they may have acquired what they WANT, but they have definitely gotten what they NEED.

Some examples…

The Apartment (1960) — C.C. Baxter has habitually allowed use of his apartment by his supervisors for their extra-marital affairs. He hopes his many nights, stuck out in the cold will result in a promotion — kissing his way up to the top. He thinks he WANTS his bosses’ lives. By the end of the film, he learns how shallow and hypocritical their corporate culture is and no longer wants it. He discovers that what he NEEDS is love and throws away his promotion for it.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Dorothy thinks what she WANTS is to go somewhere over the rainbow — someplace exciting and…in color. But by the time she sees the extent of strangeness and weirdos that are out there, she realizes what she NEEDS most is home and family.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) Elliot thinks he WANTS to keep E.T. — his parents recently divorced and his father is in Mexico with another woman. He’s desperate for someone who will be there for him; heal his wounds, keep him company, give him hope. He’s lost faith in adults. By the end of the film, his brother, sister and mother come together to help him send E.T. home. He loses his friend, but gets back the family he NEEDS so badly.

If you’re struggling to know how to end your film, consider taking away the thing your hero started out claiming to want the most. Instead, substitute it with something they have clearly needed all along. The exchange may seem harsh. But even if they lose the pile of gold, your character’s journey will seem worth while if all they gain back is their piece of mind. In films, victory doesn’t always involve a medal. Sometimes it can simply be the acquiring of a truth.


LIE MORE (it’s good for you).

Posted November 8, 2009 by Benjamin
Categories: Uncategorized


No one knows the truth about themselves, let alone anyone else. Even our understandings of our closest friends and family members are limited to a very small sliver of what we can observe.  So when a character in a film tries to tell the audience, the “truth” about themselves it doesn’t resonate. A character can say “I’m an honest person.” But if you’re writing that line of dialogue to convey that the character is truly honest — HIT DELETE. Most of us think of ourselves as fairly honest people, yet we know that, occasionally, we’ve been guilty of being a tad dishonest. A character telling us he’s honest is like a friend telling you that they’re awake. It’s true until it isn’t. And it’s a bad way to convey a characters…well…character.

Force your character to lie. The lies tell the audience truth they can trust. The audience’s brains are forced into truth-seeking overdrive when they know a character is lying. They’re wondering “What are they trying to hide about themselves? How far will they take the lie?” Lying does not equal “bad person”. But many writers are understandably shy about having their hero do bad things, lest it turn off the audience. But everyone watching your film has sinned and has knowingly loved others who have sinned. Not convinced? Well then just remember that the audience has fallen in love with lying characters over and over. The Godfather, Some Like it Hot, Rain Man, Election, Tootsie, Fargo, the Apartment, A Wish Called Wanda, There’s Something About Mary, Fetal Attraction… Need I go on? All of these films and thousands more have sympathetic characters who lie about huge, terrible things.

The act of lying shows vulnerability in a character. It draws us in.  Our lies tell the story of how we desire the world to perceive us, and expose what we most fear the world will find out. By giving your character lies to tell, you’re not only increasing the chances for drama and suspense, you’re also forcing the audience to make value choices. When you’re watching the TV show Dexter, and you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, hoping he’ll get away with lying to his girlfriend yet again about what he was doing that night (he was murdering someone), you start to think about the rationalizations you make in your own life. You think, “I’m like Dexter. We both lie to our girlfriends from time to time, but it’s always to spare her feelings, so it’s okay. Dexter lies about killing. I lie about how much I lost in Vegas with my friends.”  The details may be different, but they FEEL the same.

Lastly, every time you write a lie for one of your characters, you’re writing them into corner where they have to make hard choices. And choices expose character. Want to show the audience that a character is honest? Have them lie, and then show them jumping over the moon to purge their guilt and right that wrong. I’ve never felt so honest as the day I chose to admit I had lied .