Sunday, August 24, 2008

What Do You Want?

"No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need."

These lines by the Stones have been quoted to me often enough to make a mention on this blog.

In the context of a character's journey, there often is a clear difference between what the character wants and what it needs.

The 'want' is also referred to as the 'visible goal', or the Outer Journey. It is often lacking in arthouse films or films with a so-called 'passive protagonist'.

The 'need' is the inner counterpart, the Inner Journey. It is about the weakness that needs to be overcome, the subconscious desire for a character quality or a type of behaviour that will make the character stronger, more complete.

In Jaws, the conscious desire of Chief Brody is to protect the people of Amity. His need or subconscious desire is to deal with the cause of a problem rather than its symptoms.

In many great movies, the conscious goal cannot be achieved without first achieving the subconscious goal. In Jaws, Brody cannot adequately protect Amity without killing the shark.

Finally, and additional to the 'want' and the 'need', Chief Brody also has a half-conscious longing: to make a difference.

Martin Brody moved with his family from New York to Amity because in the Big Apple he was a nobody. He wasn't equipped to make a difference because of the magnitude of the issues the police corps was facing. So he moved to a peaceful little island community where unlike in New York "one man can make a difference".

Brody hadn't foreseen the obstacles in his new environment: an idiot mayor, his own fear of water and his reluctance to deal with the heart of the matter.

His failure to deal with the cause of a problem is evidenced at two crucial moments in the story.

In the first scene Brody's son appears in the kitchen with a bleeding hand and he tells him not to play on the swings any more until he has fixed them.

At the mid point of the story, just before he ventures out into the sea, Brody warns his wife not to use the fireplace in the den while he is away.

In both instances, the Chief was aware of the problem. Still he hadn't fixed it.

Rather than protecting his family by dealing with the cause of each problem, he tells them to just avoid the dangers.

In the same way, in the first half of Jaws, Brody tries to close the beach, rather than go out and kill the shark.

Brody's WANT is to protect the people. His NEED is to deal with the cause of the problem. Only then can he make a difference and fulfill his longing.

(Check out this structural overview of Jaws)

Mick Jagger was obviously not thinking about movie characters.

We all have 'wants' and 'needs' and interestingly we usually attribute a higher value to the visible goals than to what we really need. Because we don't always realise what it is we need.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we really want something, although we may not need it at all.

The first thing many screenwriters want is not a great story. It is not even a great script. What they want is Final Draft, the screenwriting software. Because that will make them a screenwriter.

Recently I decided last minute not to deliver a workshop in the way I had planned because it was not enough of what they needed.

It was an honest choice because I genuinely want my students to succeed. But from their feedback I learned that teaching also has a commercial reality and if you don't give students what they want to only give them what they need, you go out of business.

The revised workshop was 200% more constructive, practical, relevant to the job and providing a better skills set. Yet one screenwriter was profoundly unhappy, even without knowing the new course content, simply because she was not getting what she wanted.

The others were initially reluctant to the course's new direction also. Afterwards all but one agreed what they had received was of greater value than what had been promised.

"If you try sometime you find
You get what you need."

This Sunday 31 August I'm teaching exactly what you both want AND need: The Hero's Journey.

On Saturday 13 September writers have the opportunity to stay in Sydney and pitch to Hollywood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great opportunity there!
Mind you, I am doomed to failure given I am using Celtx. Oh the screenwriting humanity!!