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Screenwriting: The Six Stages of Character Development – IFH Film School – The Hero’s Journey

Screenwriting: The Six Stages of Character Development – IFH Film School – The Hero’s Journey


– And that brings us back
to this six-stage structure. Now, I used to think the
character arc just occurred in its own sweet time wherever it was. I think if you read my book, I sort of refer to it that way. I say there’s a structure to the plot but not to the character
arc, and I was wrong. I think there’s a very clear structure to the arc for the character because each of the six
stages I gave you before correspond to a stage of
the hero’s inner journey. Even though through the
movie there is a constant tug of war between identity and essence. That’s why they call it an arc. It’s a gradual transition
or transformation. In the setup, remember that first 10%, this is where your hero
exists completely and totally within her identity. Shrek is just an ogre
who keeps people away. Rose is just a woman who
exists in all of this protective wealth. Mitch McDeere is just a guy
who is going after money. He says to Abby, “Did you
ever believe that I’d be able “to make this kind of money?” And she says, “Sure,” ’cause, of course, she sees his essence. We’re gonna get back to her in a second. Then, an opportunity at 10%
is presented to the hero and for the next 15% of the film, in that new situation, not
only are they getting used to the new situation, your hero is going to
get a glimpse, a peak, at what life would be like
living in his essence. So, not only does Rose
start getting acclimated to the Titanic, starts to get a sense of what the other thing
might be ’cause she sees Jack making these passionate drawings. And she looks and then
he catches her looking and she looks away. She has this beautiful art
that nobody else understands. But it touches her. In Shrek, there’s this very pointed moment which also is, to me,
a very subtle form of, it’d be interesting to see if Chris agrees ’cause I haven’t talked to him about this, but it seems like there’s a
very subtle but obvious sense at which Shrek is refusing the call. Because he steps out and he says, “All I want is privacy,”
living in his identity. And then what’s the opportunity? All these fairy tale creatures. And he says, “Oh, no.” And he says, “I want
to get you off my land. “I’m gonna do whatever it
takes to get you back.” And he thinks they’re gonna just run away and instead they all applaud. And somebody comes up and
drapes a robe over him. There must be some name for a royal robe. It’s like he’s being
crowned, “You’re our hero.” And he shakes his head and
immediately shrugs it off. He’s getting a glimpse
of what it would be like to be accepted but he wants
nothing to do with it. He just wants to be in his identity. But he’s still getting a picture of it. Then what happens? Stage three. That leads him into the new situation. Same thing happens when
he goes to Lord Farquaad. It’s preceded by him
fighting off the soldiers who come after him and it’s
like a mock wrestling match, like a WWF match. And when it’s done, there’s
this scene just for a joke where he’s going like this. He says, “Thank you, thank you,
I’ll be here ’til Thursday.” But it’s also, look at this, now he’s starting to accept the
possibility of being a hero, getting more of a glimpse. Then, of course, at the 1/4 mark, Lord Farquaad says, “Okay,
you want your land back? “Here’s your goal, rescue the princess, “bring her back to me.” That’s the outer motivation,
that’s the visible goal. And it happens precisely at the 25%. So, now what happens? For the next stage, the
hero is straddling the fence or straddling something. One foot into essence, one foot back. Not fully committed. He’s still talking abut onions and layers and he just wants to go
in, get the princess, take her back and be done with it. But he is starting to pursue something that is gonna make him more of a leader, more popular, more accepted, and he’s starting to get closer to Donkey. Which takes risk because he’s never really had a friend before. Then at the midpoint,
he gets the princess, they come down the hill,
precisely at the midpoint. What happens? He takes off his helmet and tries, there’s that wonderful moment when he smiles that
sort of toothless smile trying to look his best. And, now, he realizes, “Wait a minute, “I’m starting to fall for her.” And that’s the point of no return. Especially because the scene that follows, this also runs parallel for the princess, but the princess has been talking in this artificial language. “Thou art my prince and
doth thou want to save me? “Thou musteth carry me
and give me a kiss,” and all this malarkey. And that’s her living in her identity. The opening shot of the
princess is her in a tower. A perfect image of identity because towers are both
protective and they’re prisons. Exactly the same opening
in Shakespeare in Love. Opens in a castle so
she’s perfectly protected. She’s there and safe and
apparently well fed and stuff. But she can’t leave. She’s stuck. And, of course, her
identity is she is defined by others because she’s
defined by fairy tales. She knows all the rules, you know? “You’ve gotta carry me away “and then you gotta give me a kiss.” He says, “You’ve had
a lot of time to think “about this, haven’t you?” Because he’s saying,
“This is your identity,” but he sees her as something more. Later when they have
the Robin Hood encounter and she shows that Charlie’s
Angels parody kick, he starts to respect her as something more than this hot house
flower that he’s rescuing and they start to fall in love. So, that’s the point of no return. He starts pursuing her
until he overhears her. He gets too frightened
when he hears her talking about ogres as too ugly and
you can’t have a relationship with an ogre. He doesn’t know she’s
talking about herself because she’s also
retreating, at that point, to her identity. But that’s when major setback. Typical for a romantic
comedy, which is what this is, the two people will
separate at that point. In Sleepless in Seattle,
right at the 3/4 mark, Annie, the Meg Ryan character, declares, “I’m back, I’m going back to Walter. “Sleepless in Seattle is history.” Of course, then the audience
thinks that all is lost because what’s happened
is on the inner level, once the character passes
the point of no return, they fully commit to
living in their essence. Shrek is gonna open up and risk doing that and now the outside
world starts coming in. The conflict in the first half of act two, and someone was asking
about that first half, the conflict comes obstacles
inherent in the goal. The moat and the dragon and all the things we knew he was gonna encounter. But now what happens is the
other world’s coming in. He doesn’t think she can love him. Lord Farquaad comes in and takes her away. So, the hero retreats. The hero gets finally,
so frightened of risking this new thing that they make one last try at retreating to their identity. And that really is the major
setback at the end of act two. So, they run away and they go back. It’s when, remember, she
jumps on the lifeboat. It’s the lifeboat for the rich. She’s gonna make one last
stab at being rescued in Titanic by her identity. And then she says what
all heroes must then say in stage five. That is, “Wait a minute, this sucks. “This may have worked
for me at the beginning “but I’ve had a glimpse, “I’ve had a taste of who I truly am. “This doesn’t work for me anymore. “I can’t do this. “I have to go after who I truly am. “I have to be myself. “And I certainly have to find my destiny.” Which, in a love story,
is the other person. And so, that’s the final push. It’s saying, “I don’t care what it takes, “I will risk death because
I already experienced it. “My identity is already
dead, I can do this.” And they take every last
ounce of courage they have until they reach the climax. And the climax is the
moment, not only of achieving that visible goal, it’s the
moment of fully realizing the character’s essence. And that takes us into the aftermath. The aftermath is the part
of the story where we say, “This is now the new life
the hero is going to live “having fully realized
who they truly are.” At the end of Shrek, we
see him leaving the swamp that was his protection and leaving behind the fairy tale creatures. Because the fairy tale
creatures were her identity. This is really a movie about getting rid of the fairy tale definition of the way you should
be or the way life is and defining themselves. So, they ride off into the sunset and they’re fully living their essence. Or when he says at the end of The Firm. “We’re going back to Boston.” It was interesting when Chris was talking about the elixir ’cause
sometimes it’s very subtle but I think the elixir
in that movie is the law. He’s saying, “We’re going
right back where we started,” which is, I mean there’s
a circular pattern if you ever saw one. But now he’s going back to the law because he says, when
he’s talking to Ed Harris in that movie, the FBI guy. And he says, “Here’s the
tape of our conversation “where you tried to bribe me, “where you forced me to do this.” He says, “I could get a lot for this,” or something like that. He says, “Well, why are
you giving it back?” He says, “‘Cause it’s against the law.” And then he says, “You know what you did?” He says, “You made me remember the law.” He said, “Four years of
law school didn’t do that. “But you made me remember the law,” meaning, “You put me in
touch with who I truly am,” which is someone who
stands up for what’s right. Then when Abby comes back,
there’s that wonderful line where he says, “Did I lose you?” And she says, “How could you lose me? “I have loved you since
the moment I knew you. “And before I loved you, I
loved the promise of you. “And you have now fulfilled that promise.” That’s what brings two people together. She says, “I see, I have
always known who you truly are. “You just had to step up
into it and you’ve done that “so, now, you cannot lose me “’cause that’s who I was
always in love with,” not the guy who was
scared of the trailer park who had forgotten a lot, the
guy who lived his essence. So, the elixir that they take back is he has found his ideals
and now he’s gonna go back and be a lawyer that
stands up for what’s right and goes serve the law
or society or whatever in a different way at
the end of the story. One last thing before I
open it for questions, which you may or may not want to hear, but as I said at the top, this
is very much about real life. Everyone in this room has a visible goal. Might be slightly different but you either want to finish a script or you want to get an agent or you want to finish your novel or you want to get it published or you want to get your movie produced, you want to finish your film, or you have some brass ring you’re after because you long at a deeper level to be a part of making movies. And you are pursuing that goal because it’s part of your longing. That’s the good news. But here’s what I gotta tell you. We all pay lip service
to what we long for. There’s a part of all of us that we always have to
go back and revisit. That you can say, “Yeah, I
want to make it in Hollywood.” But what you also have to ask is, how would you fill in the blank? “I’ll do whatever it
takes to sell my script “just don’t ask me to blank.” I did this as an exercise in a
class with one of my students and I said, “Would you be willing “to go through this process?” So, she got up in front of the room and she said, “The thing
is, I can’t figure out “why I can’t sell my script.” She says, “I’ve written
a number of scripts.” I said, “Well, have you read
books on screenwriting?” “Yeah, I’ve read books,
I’ve taken classes.” “Well, do you have a regular regiment?” “Yeah, I write everyday.” I said, “God, it sounds like you’re doing “everything you can do.” And she said, “Oh, yeah,
because when I grew up, I was taught if you want something done, “you do it yourself.” I thought, “Ah-ha.” So, I turned into the
sort of shrink/asshole that I sometimes am prone to be and I say, ’cause she was making
an identity statement. “Oh, this is who I am. “This is how I was raised.” So, I said, “Let me ask you something. “When was the last time
you phoned somebody “and asked them to help
you sell your script?” And you could practically see her melt. It was like the Wicked Witch of the West. “No, no, no,” because when
you touch somebody’s identity, it is, you’ve, like,
slapped them upside the head because that’s what her wound was. She was raised to believe
you can’t ask for help. And I said, “Let me ask you something.” And I said, “Why not?” She just got very
frightened at the prospect. But I said, “Let me ask you something. “Why do you want to be a screenwriter?” She said, “‘Cause I love it. “I just love movies and I
love taking that story and–” And I said, “If I could promise you “you would have that experience
every day of your life, “would you be willing
to risk calling people “and asking for help?” And she said, “Sure,”
because that’s the solution. You’ve got to get in touch
with your inner conflict. You’ve got to get in
touch with your identity but the answer is find your longing and live in that space,
risk going into that space because that’s what heroes do. They want so badly to get that, that finally it’s worth the
danger and worth the risk of dying, of letting who
they thought they were, die and resurrecting
at something much more.

34 comments on “Screenwriting: The Six Stages of Character Development – IFH Film School – The Hero’s Journey

  1. He just gave so much insight on how to develop your characters. Thanks a ton, Michael! Gotta love YouTube and the content creators. Subbed.

  2. I think 'Taxi driver' could be a better example with regards to this aspect. What is the book he wrote? Going to place an order…

  3. The second he admitted that something he had believed previously was wrong I knew I needed to listen to this man.

  4. I think these ideas also apply to some classic movies. In Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is getting taken advantage of by the senior execs at the insurance company where he works. He makes his apartment available and makes himself scarce so that they can have a place to chase women without word getting back to their wives. Baxter takes this because he wants to get ahead quickly and believes these guys will honor their IOUs that he's holding. That is until the VP of Personnel finds out and artfully gets Baxter under his thumb and cuts the other members of "the club" out. Baxter gets another view of himself as regarding this game when the girl he has a crush on, Fran Kubelik, (Shirley MacLaine) who is the boss's girl of the moment wants out of the affair so badly she swallows half a bottle of sleeping pills. Baxter gets her back to health and falls in love with her. He plans to tell his boss that "good old" Baxter will marry Miss Kubelik allowing the boss to go back to his wife and family. Except that the boss doesn't want to go back. In fact, he can't because the boss's secretary, an earlier mistress, tells all to the boss's wife who wants a really big settlement. Baxter thinks he best leave Fran alone and concentrate on his new job, assistant to the V.P.. of Personnel. Until he learns that the boss doesn't want to "rush in" to a new marriage. Why spoil things now? And then he pushes Baxter last button when he asks for a new key to Baxter's apartment. He had thrown his copy away when he thought Fran might die and the key could implicate him. Baxter gives him the key to the executive washroom, Baxter walks out Fran later chases after him and they start a new life symbolized by a gin rummy game.

  5. Just read Joseph Campbell. He wrote a book called "The Hero's Journey" …..Shrek as worthy of film analysis? no wonder shitty movies get made.

  6. As much as I agree that he’s a great teacher, and as much as he does make valid, interesting points New writers shouldn’t obsess with structure rules. Scorsese says throw the structures out the window. Create something that hasn’t been created before. Which is exactly what Scorsese has done over and over. Unless of course, you want to write Shrek.

  7. Shrek, Sleepless in seatle, Titanic….wow really, yes that are awesome films to put on someone top 10 list who loves cinema. Ofcourse those rule work on those films cause they are made for children, simply to entertain, to watch and be stupid, not that they are bad, but come on how do you put these rules on for example La cienaga from Martel or 100.000 other films that are actually meaningful to cinema.

  8. Ladies and gentlemen this is why Shrek is one of the greatest story ever told
    After walking dead, bioshock infinite and last of us

  9. That is what i like about the movie Shrek; it is a parody of basically every fairy tail Disney out there, but the one thing it takes absolutely dead serious is following the steps in the Hero's Journey.
    And it just works.

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