Antagonists & Protagonists: A Love Story



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  • Antagonists & Protagonists: A Love Story

    Callit's second topic and Steeves' question about antagonists' relationship to the protagonist are similar, so I'm going to stick them in the same thread (but answer each separately). Lots of discussion room in the thread!

    But... I'm going to get to this over the weekend (I have some actual work to do tomorrow). Just wanted you guys to know that I will get to it! You are not forgotten!

    - Bill

  • #2
    Antagonists - Preamble

    Story comes from character and character comes from story - the two are connected. Impossible to separate them. And deciding which is more important is like trying to figure out which came first - the chicken or the egg (if you've seen CHICKEN RUN you know how impossible that is to figure out). Antagonists are an important part of the story... the most important part. They provide the conflict. Without conflict, you have no story.

    Whatever you conflict is, it has to be something strong enough to carry your story for 110 pages. Something that can go the distance. So your antagonist needs to create a big enough problem that it will take the whole film for your protagonist to solve it.

    Your conflict also must be able to escalate - things have to keep getting worse, or your script has "flat-lined". If things are just as bad on page 90 as they were on page 30, you have sixty pages of time-killer. So your antagonist must be raising the ante, or your protagonist must be doing things to avoid the conflict which only make it worse (or both). This must always get worse before they can get better (Orcutt's Law).

    The antagonist represents the conflict. He or she is the conflict in human form (unless you're writing sci-fi, then it may be alien form) (and you can have an animal as an antagonist, too - lions, tigers, bears - oh, my! Even sharks.) (Hey, the WEATHER is the antagonist in THE PERFECT STORM - but the film missed giving it a character. The weather was the antagonist in TWISTER, too - but some silly Hollywood executive thought it would be a good idea to have Cary Elwes as an EVIL meteorologist in a black van... some weird idea of a human antagonist. This might have worked if Elwes had created the twister, or was controlling it, or was talking people into driving into the twister's path... but in the film he was just kind of silly.) Antagonists don't have to be people... but they have to be tangible.

    So your conflict has to be something that can be visually expressed. We have to be able to record it on film. That leaves out some moral and ethical conflicts, because they are all about what people THINK - and we can't see that. You CAN make some moral and ethical conflicts visual through symbols. You can also make some choices visual by creating situations where physical actions show moral decisions. If two people are running away from an escaped tiger, and one trips and falls... does the other go back to rescue them (and put his own life in peril for a stranger)? By creating a situation where PHYSICAL ACTIONS show decisions we can explore some internal conflicts...

    But that external conflict will be personified by the antagonist. That escaped tiger... or maybe the mad zoo keeper who read some obscure book by John Irving and believes all of the zoo animals (including the bears) should be set free... to hunt humans! Okay - that's not a very good idea... but the antagonist is still the person who represents the conflict in the story. The antagonist is the person the protagonist must battle and vanquish in order to survive.

    Battle doesn't necessarily mean a steel cage match to the death with chainsaws and tire irons. In WORKING GIRL the antagonist was the scheming, back-stabbing boss played by Sigourney Weaver. Melanie Griffith was the secretary who was smarter than her boss (Weaver) who came up with a great business idea... and her boss stole it! Strangely enough, this film is about the class system in America - and Weaver is from the best colleges, while Griffith is a working class high school graduate. Remember that your protagonist and antagonist are also part of the theme - they may be two sides of the same coin. Their DIFFERENCES are what's important. By the end of WORKING GIRL Griffith and Weaver face off in a board room... and only one comes out with the account. Only one survives. In a way, it IS a steel cage match. Griffith must "destroy" Weaver (in the business world) in order to resolve the conflict between them. Only one survives.

    Another thing about movie conflicts (and antagonists) - Will 20 million people pay $8.50 to see this conflict and it's resolution? Is the conflict big enough to fill the screen? Big can work two ways: it could be as big as an asteroid about to hit earth... or as big as your first broken heart. Physically powerful or emotionally powerful (or both). ORDINARY PEOPLE has no asteroids - but it has a family destroyed by the death of the protagonist's brother. The antagonist was his mother... who loved his brother more and blames him for the brother's death. That's a pretty big conflict! Your brother is dead, your mom hates you, and maybe you DID cause his death!

    So a mom can be an antagonist!

    Here 's another thing about antagonists: We have to want the protagonist to succeed in his or her quest to destroy them. In ORDINARY PEOPLE Mary Tyler Moore was such a cold manipulating bitch, you wanted Tim Hutton to stand up to her. You wanted Donald Sutherland to snap at her. You wanted them to TELL HER THAT SHE WAS A B1TCH. You wanted her to be HURT AND ALONE at the end of the film. Guess what? The audience got their wish! Remember - we're creating an emotional experience within the audience. We want them to cheer or cry or laugh or scream. When the antagonist is vanquished, we want the to cheer. The protagonist has been successful. This will play into my answer for Steeves...

    Coming up next!

    - WC (artist formerly known as Bill)


    • #3
      Some Of My Best Friends Are Antagonists!


      Now that the preamble is over, here's the amble:

      A loveable bad guy is okay. Bad guys don't have to be pure evil (better if they're not). I like to have funny bad guys - it's kind of creepy.

      But if the protagonist is going to square off against the antagonist to resolve the conflict, they won't be friends for long. If the antagonist is making things worse for the protagonist, they won't be friends for long.

      Unless the antagonist is keeping their role a secret from the protagonist. You know - if the guy's a back stabbing SOB. I love scripts like this, because there's a lot of EMOTIONAL content in the conflict. If you find out the guy who has been ruining your life is your best friend, you want to cry and beat him up at the same time. It creates conflicted emotions.

      In my HARD EVIDENCE movie I had the hero's best friend end up as the villain behind the who scheme. In order to do that, I had to have a surrogate villain - a guy who could PERSONIFY the conflict - a guy our hero could go into the steel cage of conflict with. That way I could continue to have the best friend seem like a best friend... until the hero discovers the truth. When the best friend character is revealed as the antagonist, the hero must go into the steel cage match of conflict with him... and come out victorious. Conflict is not resolved peacefully. Someone wins, someone loses.

      If the antagonist is the hero's friend, is there enough conflict for a movie?

      I was trying to come up with an example of a friend-as-antagonist without duplicity, and the best I could do was MEAN STREETS. The hero (Harvey Keitel) has a cousin with a hair trigger temper (DeNiro). The two are best friends, but DeNiro keeps getting Keitel deeper and deeper in trouble. DeNiro borrows money from a local hood, then refuses to pay. DeNiro keeps insulting the local hood, until the hood decides to kill him... and Keitel is caught in the cross-fire. But here's the thing - that local hood is the villain. We KNOW the local hood is dangerous. We KNOW that if DeNiro keeps taunting him, the guy will pull out a gun and start shooting. So if you have a situation like this, remember that there still has to be a threat - a way for the conflict to effect the protagonist. Which makes the best friend NOT really the antagonist, but kind of a magnet pulling the protagonist towards the antagonist.

      By the way, DeNiro is the funniest guy in MEAN STREETS - you love him. While the other characters try to keep a low profile, he's cracking jokes and pulling pranks and having a great time. You love the guy!

      - WC (artist formerly known as Bill)


      • #4
        You Always Hurt The One You Love


        Love interest as antagonist? Ever seen JAGGED EDGE? How about DOUBLE INDEMNITY? Or BODY HEAT? Or CRISS-CROSS (with Burt Lancaster)?

        When I read your scenario, though, I was wondering if this particular love interest is going to have enough conflict to fuel the story. I don't know details, and your "character oriented" opening was filled with conflict, so maybe this relationship is, too. Big question is - can that love interest produce a conflict big enough to last 110 pages? Can this conflict escalate? Is the conflict BIG enough?

        And how will the conflict be resolved? Will the protagonist be able to destroy the love interest? Will the audience WANT that to happen? Will they be screaming DUMP THE B1TCH! at the screen?

        If we are rooting for them to be together, the love interest is NOT the antagonist. What do you want the audience to feel? What emotion are you trying to create in them?

        Again - similar answer to Steeves. In SOMETHING WILD (I swear I'm not a fan of Melanie Griffith), MG is the magnet that draws nice guy Jeff Daniels to dangerous Ray Liotta. She really isn't the antagonist, Liotta is. But their relationship is what puts Daniels in peril. If he broke it off, he'd be safe. This is very similar to the above film noirs - the spider woman lures her prey to his doom.

        When you say their professional life forces them to make decisions it sounds like there's something out there that is a bigger threat than the love interest... is that the true antagonist? Think about that.

        - WC (artist formerly known as Bill)


        • #5
          Re: Some Of My Best Friends Are Antagonists!

          some good answers, bill... thanks for taking the time it took

          clarification & information time:

          on reflection, my protag's main conflict is with himself - he is a coke addict (tho, again, i stress, this is not a typical approach to the addict in a movie that we have seen again and again - not brightlightsbigcity, not clean*sober, in a backwards kinda way it is a murder mystery, more of a "the usual suspects meets hurlyburly" if ya can believe that but i don't think i'll be using that line)

          the antag is the dealer, who keeps supplying him, giving him credit to buy more - he owes him over $10grand - because a-they are friends and b-he knows the protag is good for it and c-he knows that otherwise the protag will quit and he will lose a good customer (and one of the few he has that is on an even intellectual level with him and whose company he enjoys)... the antag is more the antag in the mind of the protag than he is in actuality - the protag transfers the blame from himself and it lands on the only viable target: the antag

          note that most of this is backstory - not explicitly detailed - god, would it be boring otherwise and then it would become a typical movie of that sort...

          anyway i am still working on it - thanks again for the responses - good stuff there.