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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Who's the Main Character?

Today I read a script titled after the main character. But as I read the script, I realized he wasn't the main character at all. So why is the script named after him? And worse - who was the main character? I couldn't quite tell.

The other evening as my friend Keith and I played Rummy 500 (final score: Keith 485, Wave-inatrix 415) Keith posed an interesting question to me: Who is the main character in ELECTION? Mathew Broderick, I said. Natch. Ah but no, Keith countered. Reese Witherspoon (Tracy Flick) is the main character. The movie focuses on her and she has a flaw and a character arc.

Puzzled, I asked my friend Billy Mernit what he thought. Billy puzzled for a moment then said "Election's a sticky one because the narration is so evenly split, but it feels (to me) ultimately like the Broderick character's movie."

In this month's Vanity Fair, Francis Ford Coppola, in discussing Youth Without Youth, said that Leonardo Di Caprio once said to him (and I paraphrase) that in order to consider a script "I have to be the guy the movie's about". That sentiment is something that any A-list actor would share with The King of the World.

So as you read the pages of your script ask yourself - is your main character the focal point of the script? Does he or she get most of the page time? Is this a part an actor would love to play? Is it edgy, funny, imaginative and utterly original? Is this character, in other words, a juicy role?

Some stories obviously have dual main characters - romcom is a prime example of that. A romantic comedy is the story of two characters who intersect and change one another. And this concept is not just limited to romcom - MIDNIGHT RUN, with Robert Deniro and Charles Grodin is a movie that immediately comes to mind, which loosely falls into the "buddy movie" category and focuses on both main characters and generates its entertainment value from the dynamic between them.

You may very well have a story with dual main characters and that will still fall within acceptable dramatic parameters. But if that's the case, think twice about the title - don't let one character hog it and appear to be the main character and then be overshadowed by secondary characters.

A clear sense of who and what your movie is about is pivotal when getting a read by an agent, producer or exec. If a reader can't quite grasp who your main character is, chances are you don't either. At the end of the day, every movie is character-driven. So who's your main character?

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Anonymous said...

Speaking of Leonardo Di Caprio, who's the main character in Marvin's room? Definitely not Marvin, the dying father. Do you think sometimes Hollywood movie is about who's playing the character, in this case Streep was much bigger than other actors at the time, not who the main character is?

Anonymous said...

Arguably Hudson is the main character in Dream Girls, yet she was given Oscar for supporting. Is it subjective?

Christina said...

I once wrote a script that I thought was about a daughter but the mother had the arc. Someone pointed out that this was a problem. Now I keep that stuff straight.

I think Election, a film I know well, is a dark "anti-romantic comedy" and both main characters are fully developed like in traditional Harry-Met-Sally type of rom coms. However, in most rom coms, one character has slightly more weight. In When Harry Met Sally, it's "When Harry..." for a reason, not When Sally Met Harry. Harry goes through the bigger change. In Tao of Steve, it's more about Steve and his philosophy being tested than it is about the girl, though the girl has an arc too.

I think in Election, the Matthew Broderick character is slightly favored, though I have no concrete reason why - just a gut feeling from watching it a few times.

Julie Gray said...

I think who the main character is according to the writer's intention and hopefully therefore plainly borne out on the pages is not a matter for interpretation. I think Hudson was robbed, personally. She should have been nominated for Best Actress because she was the main character. The problem arises, however, in the fact that her character drops out of the story about halfway through, yes? Perhaps that was the consideration? And so by sheer dint of percentage time spent on screen, she was considered supporting? I'm not sure I know the answers to those questions but that was an interesting turn of events.