Warning Spoilers Ahead!
Review: The first act story structure. One of the reasons why we love Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen is because they are active protagonists ( a protagonist that causes things to happen in the story ). For a female action protagonist this is far more empowering than a passive protagonist. Katniss volunteers in place of Primrose causing Katniss’s journey in the Hungers Games tournament, that’s taking an active approach. Usually we see the main protagonist take on a passive role and then takes on the active role at the end of act one. In the film Black Swan (2010), Nina Sayers ( Natalie Portman ) has a very passive role as the main protagonist. Her mother babies her, she goes to work and hopes she gets picked for a significant role in the ballet, and she hopes for a bright future. Only when Nina convinces Thomas the producer that she should be chosen for the main role does Nina become an active protagonist, effecting the world around her. The first act ends with Nina Sayers having been picked by Thomas for the main character role of the Swan Lake ballet. In Star Wars A new Hope (1977) Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a farm boy that lives with his relatives. Luke has a passive role where he works as a farm boy, cleans droids, wants to go to the flight academy but is denied buy his uncle to leave the farm and pursue his dream. When his family is killed, Luke buries his relatives and tells Obi Wan that he will go with him to Alderaan because there is nothing left for him on the moisture farm, taking on the active protagonist role by making a life changing choice and ending act 1. Most of the best protagonists in film start out this way. They have some kind of goal or dream that they want to accomplish, there is some sort of obstacle that is in their way of achieving that goal, and at some point they make a dramatic choice that will allow them to start out on their journey. But why? Why this way of starting the story off? The audience wants to see a protagonist that has some sort of ‘energy’ about them not a bum with no ambition and low energy. A desire to do something, be someone, or go somewhere. This is far more attractive and passionate to the audience watching the film. They wants to see a new adventure on the screen, to be taken away by the journey and an ambitious protagonist can help do that.
Building out the character:
Through out the whole series or movie it is important for the audience to be attached to the protagonist, care for character, or want to see them win. One way to make a character seem more human and relatable is to build out the character. Hermione Granger is one of those really likeable characters. She has many likes and dislike just as anyone would, but this is a fictional character who does not exist in real life. So how do we build out a fictional character? Lets look at how the writers of both Hermione and Katniss wrote the character traits of both women. The characters as a friend. Hermione is a true friend of Harry and Ron. In real life most people have at least some friends. Hermione has chosen quality over quantity when it comes to friendship. She has even risked her life many times for her friends. She is also very loyal. Katniss is the friend of Gale, Haymitch, Peeta, and Effie. They help Katniss with everything. They show her how to be better than she was before. She does not always think about her friends first like Hermione would, but she does care about them. Hermione balances and heals Harry and Ron. Katniss encourages her team by her heroic actions while they teach and support her. The characters as imperfect people. Both women are wonderfully flawed. So we get to see a journey of them becoming who they are meant to be. If they both started out at the top of their abilities, there would not be much to see. These two women learn from others. The characters as healers. In the Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Gale was publicly beaten. Katniss, her sister, and her mother all helped him recover. In the movie Harry Potter and the deathly Hollows part-1 (2010) Ron was in need of assistance and Hermione was there to help him. The characters as a helper. In the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Hermione used the Time Tuner to help Harry complete his objectives. In The Hunger Games Catching Fire, Katniss helped Beetee with his lightning rod. If Katniss and Hermione was not there for their friends, it would call into question if their friends could even complete their objectives without our main protagonist. This adds to the protagonist’s worth to the story. The characters as warriors. Both women have their own abilities to fight. They are not perfect fighters by no means. Hermione was over powered by Bellatrix Lestrange and tortured. Katniss was over powered by Clove when she wrestle Katniss down to the ground, put a knife to Katniss’s neck, and then taunted Katniss about the death of Rue. Both women stick to their strengths and specialties. This is also a opportunity for the main protagonist to learn some new skills from the mentor of the story, much like Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan.
The characters as ladies. I love the fact that these two women are so versatile. That can be tough when needed but also go back to being who they really are. They are strong enough to keep their original personality and not let the main villains destroy their original personality, that shows strength. The characters as thinkers. Both women think situations through from an objective point of view. Katniss attacks Snow in the capital by herself in The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part-2 and Hermione speaks to Harry, convinces him to calm, down, and think of his troubles from another point of view. The characters as researchers. Hermione is always researching new magic that will not only make her better as a practitioner, but also help the ones she loves. Katniss is always learning about the changing political situation in Panem. In the movie Mockingjay Part-2, Boggs , the leader of the strike team against Snow, tells Katniss not to trust Alma Coin because Alma is afraid that Katniss has the hearts and minds of the people. Alma wants to be the new president, so Katniss is a threat. So why did I say all of this? There is a movie technique called ‘Show, don’t tell’. I have mentioned this before, but it is very important to use for motion picture film because this technique helps the audience care for the characters ‘organically’ rather than rushing the character on the audience who have not created an attachment to. Some of the best screen writers and directors do this in their films. Another reason why this information is so important is because some of the worst movies do not fill in the blanks. They create shallow characters that are more like robots than real people. Director Rob Cohen has said before that film making is mostly an illusion. If a screen writer and director can make the audience feel like a character could be a real person and make the audience feel something for them all base on a illusion than the film makers are on the right track.
Fill in the Blanks:
What is the movie Regression (2015) about? Is the film about a lying girl? How a young woman can use her femininity to social engineer people into believing what she wants them to believe? Is the film about the guilt of her father? How he feels like he should have been there for the children that he has abandoned most of their lives? Or is the film about memories and how fragile they are? The movie knows how to layer the story very well. A lot of the characters information is brought to the audience in the first act in order to create ‘Set up and pay off’. In the movie Regression, we learn a lot about the supporting characters from Ethan Hawke’s character in the first act. This causes the ‘set up’ that will ‘pay off’ in final act. This is part of layering a movie. Another example is when a character is taught something. Usually a mentor will teach the main protagonist something important in the first act and it will ‘pay off’ in the final act when the main protagonist needs it. Bruce Wayne learns from Ra’s al Ghul that he must ‘always mind his surroundings’. In the final boss fight between the two, Bruce uses this advice against Ra’s and defeats him. This is an example of using set up and pay off in ‘one’ movie. An example of using set up and pay off over an episodic series is when Luke Skywalker learns from Obi Wan how to use the force in A New Hope and is saves Luke in The Empire Strikes Back when escaping the wampa cave.
In The Force Awakens Rey looks at an old woman cleaning a salvaged part. Rey fears turning into the old woman stuck on Jakku as if she is looking at a reflection of herself in the future. To his credit, J.J. Abrams did an amazing job at the first act of Rey‘s story arc. Giving us ‘show don’t tell’ is really the best part of that movie. Hermione wants to be the best and be accepted because her family is considered to be ‘mud bloods‘ to the elitists of the wizard community. The trouble that Hermione has to over come is ’Out Side Validation’, which is very dangerous. She must to learn to accept herself and love the fact that she has individuality, to change the elitist ‘narrative’ from a low point to a high point. Being very happy and proud of being who she is, so that the narrative celebrates the fact that she is not ‘pure’. Katniss tells Gale in the first Hunger Games movie ‘don’t let them starve’. This is her biggest fear. Katniss is the ‘defender’ like the Greek goddess Artemis. She uses her specialized skill to prevent her family from starving. We will better understand the desires of the main protagonist when we understand their fears, like two side of a coin.
The gatekeeper of the main protagonists dreams is the Mentor. The mentor will help the main protagonists only if they pay a high price ‘change’. The character must change into someone better in order to achieve their dreams. Haymitch tells Katniss she must make the audience and the sponsors like her in order to survive the Hunger Games. Dumbledore Give points to Gryffindor for Ron’, Harry’s, and Hermione’s bravery and skill. Nina Sayers must become the Black Swan and lose her self in the ballet in order to perform on stage for the performance of Swan Lake. For Luke its leaving his home and embarking on a journey. The first step is the challenge. For Katniss her challenge is when she is being interviewed at the capital for the first Hunger Games tournament. With the coaching of Haymitch she passes the first challenge. Luke Passes his first challenge on board the millennium falcon with his force training. Nina Sayers fails her first challenge when dancing ballet as the Black Swan for Thomas. Hermione passes her challenges at Hogwarts by making the feather levitate. After this the mentor tends to give the main protagonist some kind of ‘home work’ so to speak. For Hermione, it is her friendship and compassion for Ron and Harry. For Katniss its talking to people and becoming more likable. For Luke its trusting his feelings. For Nina its having a sexual experience to loosen up her character and become more like the Black Swan. When the character decides to make a change, this is what is typically known as the turning point for our main protagonist. It happens when the main character either is offended by the failure of the challenge given to them by their mentor or they pass the test and feels great about winning and being better.
For Nina Sayers, she fails her test and instead of giving up, she tries even harder and challenges herself even more. This ‘inciting event’ makes her dig deep within her self and makes the necessary change in order to take the first step on her journey to accomplishing her objective. The main protagonists is knocked down and lifts herself up. Sometime this is better because we get to see the true grit of the main protagonist. When you get to see how dedicated and ambitious the main protagonist is, you can actually respect how passionate the character is to being the best, how much they love their art, and the industry as a whole. In some way seeing all of the hard work pay off can be very entertaining.
Conclusion: Remember that motion picture film is an art and not just a series of clinical techniques to follow. These technique are meant to ‘help’ when writing a screen play and not write the screen play for you. This is for when your stuck and don’t know what to do to push the plot forward. To better understand what your main protagonists needs to ‘want’ or ‘desire’ to make them more appealing to the audience. To push the story forward and rid the screen play of useless scenes and red herrings. Understand that there is no rule that says that you must make a movie a certain way, but there is also a reason why the films that make the most money and are the biggest blockbusters use these techniques. For those who want to be taken seriously in screen writing these techniques do ‘help’ you along the way. As a film critic I see a lot of movies that I do not write about because they are so horrible that I don’t even want them in any of my web sites. Seriously, have a stack of really bad films, most of which have A-list actors in the billing. I really do wonder if the producers just happened to know the right people in order to get this terrible films made. One critical problem these movies have in common, is the lack of necessary story telling elements. so the film leaves you confused rather than entertained. Instead of understanding how a film focuses on the philosophical concept of a particular story, you feel empty and wonder what exactly was the film about?
I don’t fault the movie that tried to do something new or tell a story in a deferent way. If we did not have people trying new things, we would not have new things. I appreciate the effort. Artistic balance and precision comes from you. These techniques are here to help bring out the best in your art not substitute artistic ability for quick film making. Artistic balance and precision is what to keep in mind. So act 1 sets up the foundation of the story, which is not always easy to do, especially if your going for a 4 act structure. Understanding the audiences perspective is the key to making this happen the right way.
This blog focuses on the top ten British actresses of today. Showing our appreciation for all of the wonderful hard work these incredible women do to entertain us with their truly magnificent art.