Character Arc and Genre



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  • Character Arc and Genre

    This is more of a philosophical question than anything else, but is there a difference in character development between genres? Everyone strives to create interesting characters, but some attributes given characters appear to be â€add-ons†because a screenwriting 101 class said there has to be character growth. In a script like â€The Big Chill,†where basically nothing happens, I can see where engaging dialogue and interesting characters are a necessity for those ninety minutes. But in a movie like â€Jurassic Park,†the heroes are the dinosaurs. People went to see that movie because of T-Rex, not to see Sam Neill become more comfortable around kids. Same is true with â€Aliens.†People went to see that movie because of the aliens, not to see Ripley become a surrogate mother to Newt. No one will accuse Arnold Schwarzenegger of a growth spurt in his movies, but he drew folks to the box office. Many, if not most, of the artsy, human interest stuff that wins screenplay competitions rarely, if ever, draws big at the box office. And, Hollywood is about the Benjamins.

    Any thoughts from folks that have been doing this a lot longer than me? Thanks.

  • #2
    I like to think of it as a cake. The action elements are the icing, but the characters are the cake!

    With that said, Sam Neill's character arc in "Jurassic Park" was bull, tacted on.

    Question, what was Bruce Willis' arc in "Die Hard" or Gene Hackman's in "The French Connection" (reaching back now) or Paul Newman's arc in "Hud"?


    • #3
      If what you said is true, and it's not, then Corman's Carnivore and Disney's Dinosaur would have been huge hits, as would have all the OTHER indestructible godly looking men as machine movies.

      Movies succeed, regardless of genre, when there is honest to god human pathos, and when the filmmaker gives us people we connect with, for whatever reason.

      Sure, people wanted to see dinosaurs. But why JP instead of the others?

      Because we've been kids, in frightening situations, where nothing made sense, and there wasn't anyone to look out for us.

      Or we've been in job situations that were simply way over our head.

      Or we've been snotted on by a big ass brachiosaur.

      It's about connecting with the audience. Eye candy alone is never enough.


      • #4
        Question, what was Bruce Willis' arc in "Die Hard" ...
        I have a theory about this, and it explains why Die Hard is the ultimate guy flick. Bruce Willis learns how to say "I'm sorry."

        I'm trying to find some way of fitting a character arc where the action hero learns how to ask for directions into a screenplay.


        • #5
          Thanks for the responses so far.

          I think the big selling point in Jurassic Park were the special effects.

          As far as Carnosaur, what a horrible movie. I keep hearing how hard it is to break into Hollywood screenwriting -- will someone please explain what drugs the decision makers were on who greenlighted that masterpiece.

          And yes, Bruce did "I'm sorry." But by movie III, in true guy form, he was divorced again. Guess his character arc didn't last long. And this time her attorney got the shirt off his back.


          • #6

            On reason DIE HARD was successful was because it actually had character with some depth which is unusual for a straight-up action film. Willis character totally arcs, so much so, it's almost a cliche. (tought talking cop or ex-cop who learns to care about other people's feelings, namely, women.)

            I agree, though, not all characters in all genres "arc." It's kind of something someone who's read a book or two throws around a lot. But you should never aim for writing stock characters.


            • #7
              You answered your own question - your examples all had character arcs.

              I've said this about a hundred times (here and on other message boards): Car chases don't go to the movies, *people* do. So the most important part of an action flick is still gonna be the people.

              - Bill (writes action for a living)


              • #8
                "Die Hard" may be a guy flick, but it is one of my favorite movies for storytelling. It's more than just 90 or whatever minutes of people getting killed or stuff blowing up. It has a plot that is ever-accelerating toward The End and it draws the audience in and doesn't let go until The End. It's like a great and very fast roller-coaster ride - you just can't leave in the middle of the ride. You feel yourself heading faster and faster toward the end of the ride.


                • #9
                  At what point in the DIE HARD script does the bad guy Hans (isn't that his name) ask for the money, or bonds, whatever?

                  What page?


                  • #10
                    DIE HARD

                    Sample chapter from my book:

                    Willis is *introduced* as a guy who has come to LA to drag his wife back with him to NY. We get that in the limo before Hans is even introduced. I have the script somewhere, if you really want the page numbers I'll look it up.

                    - Bill


                    • #11
                      Re: DIE HARD

                      And from memory, Hans never asks for the money. He asks for everything else... classic left hand, right hand.


                      • #12
                        Re: DIE HARD


                        If it's not a problem. The script is on script o'rama but there's no page numbers, just scene. I working on something and when I reveal what the bad guys want it's at the end of first act, but I keep hearing from the note givers - "in Die hard it's revealed up front, first ten pages" - I want to win this one, if you know what I mean.

                        - Phoenix- I think he does actually ask for money. Like $650 million.



                        • #13
                          Re: DIE HARD

                          Well, I can tell you from memory that he doesn't ask for money up front at all - he asks for the release of political prisoners (including one guy from some group called "Asian Dawn"). But he *does* demand the release of these guys as soon as the communicates with the police. I'll get the page # and get back to you (I have a hard copy).

                          DIE HARD has a villain who *says* he wants one thing, but that's all part of his plan to get something else ($).

                          - Bill


                          • #14
                            Re: DIE HARD

                            landis, you jogged my memory. But still... he never expected to get that $650 mill. It was a smokescreen.


                            • #15
                              In my most recent work I have a minor character who, as a young overly ambitious, grasping youth alters the protaganists life in a very negative way. He returns at the end as a very old man who, with the wisdom of age deeply regrets what he has done and plays a hand in setting things right. He's a minor character but I gave him an arc because I needed him to return at the end to resolve the plot and the only way I could do it was to arc him. It's a very simple arc but it works extremely well because he's a minor character. Small character, simple arc. Bigger character, more complex arc.

                              It's a fine balance between creating a believable, likable and enagaging character with a goal intermixed with a plausible arc. What the @#!* does that mean, you ask?

                              Character A has their life altered by the antoginist and is propelled in a negative direction from which character A seeks escape. Character A becomes obsessed with achieving their goal to the point that he/she becomes selfish and is determined to accomplish their goal by any means necessary regardless of the consequences. As a result character A fails at every turn. It is only after character A befriends some people that he/she realizes the error of their ways. But it is this newfound loyalty and friendship than in the end helps he/she to achieve their goal.

                              This is an arc intertwined with the protags goal. Not an easy trick to pull off. You can also see how this arc could work for a variety of genres. As long as there is a balance between the protags (or antags) goal and their arc genre really doesn'y play a part in it.