Why The Lead Character In A Comedy Movie Needs Two Goals by Steve Kaplan

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Steve Kaplan:  And so after Connections you have the part of the journey called New Directions.  And New Directions is when your discovered goal happens.  In a Hero’s Journey, the hero goes off to right a wrong.  And whether they right the wrong or not, that’s the whole movie.  Are they going to save the rebellion or not?  They might meet Yoda along the way but their goal stays the same really.  But in comedy, because your characters start off as missing a part or broken, their initial goals are broken as well.  They’re shortsighted.  They are not really the best for the character and the discovery goal is what the characters discover along the way, what they really want.

Bill Murray starts GROUNDHOG DAY thinking all that would make his life perfect would be to be a weatherman at a bigger, better station.  But along the way he realizes what he really wants is having a real relationship, and specifically, having a real relationship with Rita (Andie MacDowell’s character).  In TROPIC THUNDER the goal is simply to get back to the base camp and get out of the jungle where you might step on a landmine and blow yourself up.  But along the way, they realize that their fellow actor Ben Stiller has been captured by these drug lords and so you have them have a different goal now.  Is it simply “Do we just leave him here and go back or do we try to save him, even though we’re just actors?  We’re not action heroes.  We’re not really soldiers.”   And that’s where another really important part of comedy comes out, is decision points.  You need real decision points in terms of your comic hero’s journey.    You want to avoid a situation where there is no question of what your character is going to do.  It’s completely obvious the way it should go.  Why even bother wasting my time?

One example of that in an otherwise well-received movie, but one that I don’t think really give its protagonist a great decision point, is MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.  Because in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Owen Wilson had to choose between this whiny, harpy of a girlfriend, who he is engaged to or one of the women he has met in his time travels in Paris of earlier years.  To me, that’s not a real decision point.  Do you really think he’s going to give up the romance of Paris and go back to California with this really annoying woman?

A better decision point is in another comedy (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE) in which Meg Ryan is engaged to Bill Pullman.  Bill Pullman is a great guy!  But is he “They Guy?”  and that’s a really great decision point because you could support her going either way.  You could see it from her point of view going either way.  There is this “Maybe” waiting for her at the top of the Empire State Building but there is Bill Pullman right in front of you being such a nice guy.  So you want real decision points.  And in SPY, you see Melissa McCarthy having some real decision points.  She has a new goal.  Her goal is no longer to have Jude Law be her boyfriend.   This whole mission started out as a way of kind of avenging him.  She often hurts her adversary by saying “That’s for Bradley.”  But eventually her goal changes.  It isn’t just to avenge Bradley Fine.  Her goal is to do what she is meant to do which is “I can do this.  I can be this spy.  I don’t have to hide behind someone else.  I can do this and I can save the world.”  And save the world from having bad guys get this destructive device.  And so you see this moment in which she’s been given these instructions:  File your report.  Do nothing else.  And there is a bad guy who is running away from her that is obviously the best lead to get to where the destructive device is hidden.  And you see it in that moment.  Do I follow orders or do I follow my own emerging, transforming sense of self and do what I think is right?  So at that moment we see her discover a new goal for herself.  Her new goal is no matter what, she is going to see this through to the end.

Question:  What are your thoughts on a hero having a second goal or a “discovered goal?”

 

Check out Steve’s Book – THE HIDDEN TOOLS OF COMEDY:
The Serious Business Of Being Funny

CONNECT WITH STEVE KAPLAN

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