Protagonist issues -- those damn foreigners

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  • Protagonist issues -- those damn foreigners

    My protagonist is from a foreign country. He does not speak english. He ends up in New York, where some people speak english, by the end of Act I. One of the obstacles to to the protagonist reaching his goal is of course the language barrier. My concern is the subtitle barrier I would be placing in front of the audience.

    Personally, I like this take. This is, however, a spec script and needs every advantage. My question is, should I reverse the situation, ie. have the protagonist be from New York and end up in a foreign country? I just can't think of many successful Hollywood films where the protagonist wasn't english speaking. I thoroughly enjoyed The Terminal but it was a bomb by Hollywood standards.

  • #2
    I'd reverse the situation. Knowing what a character is saying helps the audience to understand and bond with the character. That IMHO is much more important a consideration than how subtitles will be received by the audience. If you are going to subtitle it so the audience knows what the character is saying, why not just make the character speak English?

    Films that use this approach:

    Dances with Wolves
    A Man Called Horse
    To a lesser degree - Last Samurai
    Lost In Translation
    13th Warrior
    Black Robe

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    • #3
      He ends up in New York, where some people speak english...
      Some. Ain't that the truth. I had a cabbie once who got us lost cause he didn't understand me.

      Hunt For Red October
      Star Wars
      Alive

      And there are some other films that do the "English as understood as their native languauge" thing. You can try that. Know what I mean?

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      • #4
        I just can't think of many successful Hollywood films where the protagonist wasn't english speaking.
        MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON with Robin Williams and Maria Conchita Alonso(sp?)...doesn't matter how you spell it, she was a hottie!

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        • #5
          Re: Moscow

          Moscow on the Hudson is another example reinforcing my thoughts of reversing the situation. It bombed also.

          If you are going to subtitle it so the audience knows what the character is saying, why not just make the character speak English?
          The subtitles would be necessary up to the point where the protagonist begins to learn english. In fact once he's in New York he would be forced to stop speaking his native language because no one would understand him. Therefore subtitles would be used in the first act only. I should refine the question to:

          Do audiences typically tolerate subtitles? I think they will if it's not for the entire movie. Since I'm an unknown writer, however, will readers tolerate it? Will studio execs tolerate it? The last thing I want is for someone to think Moscow on the Hudson when they read my spec (my protagonist is Russian at this point).

          Thank you all for your replies.

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          • #6
            Damn Foreigners

            THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! managed to win several awards and several Oscar nominations. In this ensemble film, Rozanov and Kolchin were the only Russians who spoke any English.

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            • #7
              Re: Damn Foreigners

              Are you talking about successful films or blockbusters? Moscow didn't bomb...it made money.

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              • #8
                Re: Damn Foreigners

                Aren't we putting the cart before the horse?

                Just write the best story possible. You are assuming 1) that you will sell the script. 2) you will get the movie made.

                when you should be focused on:

                1) telling a compelling story
                2) with characters whose journeys the audience will want to follow
                3) writing a script that showcases your writing and storytelling abilities.

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                • #9
                  Re: Damn Foreigners

                  posted twice...sorry.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Damn Foreigners

                    A film made $25M in 1984 and you're calling it a bomb?

                    Have you considered starting your film after the character learns English?

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                    • #11
                      Re: carts and horses

                      1) telling a compelling story
                      2) with characters whose journeys the audience will want to follow
                      3) writing a script that showcases your writing and storytelling abilities.
                      Agreed.

                      I'm in the outline stage right now. The story can be told in a compelling manner either way with equally compelling journeys for the protagonist. The ability to decide which path to choose and the fact that I can adapt to either should showcase my writing ability (or lack thereof). A spec script has a greater chance of success if it's "commercial". Do we agree on that? My concern is choosing a non-english speaking protagonist will be marks against me, compelling story or no.

                      Let's assume the story is told in a compelling manner. The script is optioned. I'm told it will have to be re-written with an english speaking protagonist. If I can forsee that now, I can save that step.

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                      • #12
                        Re: carts and horses

                        In what genre are you writing?

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                        • #13
                          re: Moscow

                          A film made $25M in 1984 and you're calling it a bomb?
                          It grossed $25M, it didn't make $25M. I'm not trying to argue the point with anyone but for the sake of argument, if I'm making a comparison to an existing film, it's more pretty and shiny if I draw a comparison to a film that clearly did well at the box office. That's all.

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                          • #14
                            re: genre

                            Genre is action/thriller.

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                            • #15
                              re: language

                              If the "other" language is no longer spoken after page 10 (the ten minute mark) leave it in.

                              If there is a distinct break between Act 1 and Act 2, like he's in Russia in the first act and suddenly he's in America, keep it all in English.

                              Have y ou ever thought about hiring a mime??? um, never mind.

                              R28

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