Film Courage: Can you give me an example of just showing, whether it’s someone waking up in the morning and they have back pain…
Peter Russell, screenwriter and script doctor: Oh yeah…BREAKING BAD, here is this horrible guy, he got rid of his brother-in-law (we didn’t mind seeing him die), but he ends up ruining his family entirely, Jesse, etc. When we first see Walter White, actually we first see him in his underwear in the desert, when we first see him at home waking up, he’s waking up in this awful little bedroom with a terrible nightstand, he’s got this crappy little exercise machine which he gets up on which he’s broken after 10 seconds (one of those step things) and then the camera pans to the wall and we see on the wall that in 1983 Walter White was in line for a Nobel Prize in Physics (Chemistry). Then we go back to him and see he’s dead, something has hurt him. What is it? Well we find out much later what it is, that he was betrayed by his partner, by his love. And then he goes and he slumps down and he is sitting at his breakfast table and it’s his 50th birthday and he gets soy bacon for his birthday. And his wife goes “Eat it! You’ll like it!” And then his son comes out and says “Well, the water heater is not working.” “Well, you’ve got to get up early and be the first in the shower.” “Why can’t we buy a new water heater?” Right? Well, because Walter is a loser, right?
Everything about Walter shows us that he’s been horribly wounded by something. What we’re rooting for is for Walter to get better and so when Walter becomes a badass, I don’t know about you but I’m on his side. I know he’s hurting innocent people, I don’t care…”Walter, get ‘em, get ‘em! Get that guy!”
So that is a terrible part of the human soul baby. But it’s the device by which we make a character sympathetic is to show their wounds because as human beings we’re not going to be interested in good-looking, perfect people who are making a lot of money and they are great in everything they do. Who gives a crap? We want to see people that we can identify with because that’s not us. We’ve got problems, right? I’ve got problems, right? I want to see my problems and somebody else with problems, dealing with problems, okay?
And you can say Okay a show like RIVERDALE doesn’t do that, but they do. And there’s fantasy shows where that’s not the case. But most of the time you do want to see a wound. That’s what likability really means. “Oh, they’re like me? They’re screwed up. They don’t have it all together. Wish I did. Maybe they’ll get it all together, right?
Film Courage: And then that means “I’ll get it together.”
Peter: Uh-huh. How did they get it together? But mostly it’s just like “Yeah, they’re like me. They’re not perfect, they are like me.”
Film Courage: Well, you’ve been using an acronym for a little bit. And what’s funny is driving over I was looking through the notes and I think that David [Branin] had said off camera that BMOC stands for Big Man On Campus in the basketball world which I was not privy to, I did not know that. For writing what is your take on this acronym?
Peter: Beginning, middle, obstacle and climax. That’s what that stands for. I found this out years ago analyzing all movies that there was an E = mc2 moment for me. There were four crescendos in a movie where the hero is asked to change and asked to learn the theme of the movie and asked to learn how to heal. All the things I talk about, the big things I talk about, healing, learning the theme, stopping bleeding, all that. There’s four times in a movie inevitably that that happens at a crescendo. It’s 30 pages in, 60 pages in, 90 pages in and about a 108 pages in. Those I call the beginning, middle and climax. The BMOC, right? Now that’s a structure that is in every great movie practically that you’ve ever seen. It’s not in a [Jean-Luc] Godard movie, okay. If you’re writing a French Wave movie, I’m sorry I won’t be able to help you. That’s just a French guy peeing in an alley for two hours and that’s great! I love those movies.
But in a Hollywood film that structure is invariably in the story and if it’s not there’s usually something missing. It will be superseded some day but that’s what’s operating now.
That BMOC operates in everything, every movie DUNKIRK, in DEADPOOL, everything. But now in DEADPOOL (let’s just take an example) which is a great movie again I’m big on wounds, right? What’s our wound in DEADPOOL? The guy…well he’s wounded because he’s ugly. He becomes extremely disfigured by a chemical bath right. And because of his wound…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
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