Bringing Drama into Focus
Plotting your film?Plotting your film?
Drama is about Conflict
Conflict is the basis for Drama
Audiences don’t flock to see a film where all the character’s play nice and live their lives free
of obstacles. Good drama shows characters in confrontation, in dynamic relationships that
emphasize their differences and force them to transform.
Conflict must have meaningConflict must have meaning
If the conflict only consists of a problem that needs to be solved, the story will be flat and theIf the conflict only consists of a problem that needs to be solved, the story will be flat and the
audience will lose interest. The audience needs to know what the conflict means to theaudience will lose interest. The audience needs to know what the conflict means to the
characters – how does it affect their actions, their relationships and most importantly, whatcharacters – how does it affect their actions, their relationships and most importantly, what
are the consequences. Showing how a character responds and copes with the conflictare the consequences. Showing how a character responds and copes with the conflict
helps the audience connect and engage with the story. If the conflict has no affect on thehelps the audience connect and engage with the story. If the conflict has no affect on the
characters, the story will stay stuck on a superficial level. Good dramatic conflict pushescharacters, the story will stay stuck on a superficial level. Good dramatic conflict pushes
characters to express human qualities that reveal a deeper understanding of the story,characters to express human qualities that reveal a deeper understanding of the story,
ourselves and the world around us.ourselves and the world around us.
Films are about a central
Will Harry and Sally ever be more than friends?
A tennis star’s hands are damaged in an accident. Will she ever play tennis again?
A boy has had a fight with his best friend. Will they resolve it?
A student wants to cheat in an exam. Will he get away with it?
Once the question is answered, the film is often over.
Four Types of
Inner conflict occurs when a character struggles with himself. The
struggle could be anything from a lack of self-confidence to
addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Inner conflict is tricky to
express on screen because… well, it’s inner. The conflict is within
the character. For the audience to understand the inner conflict the
character must reveal it. The inner conflict must be projected
outward onto something else – visually, or via voice-over, or through
the character expressing his feelings to another character.
For example: Johnny Cash in Walk The Line.
The most predominant type of conflict is relational, often
the battle between the mutually exclusive goals of the
protagonist and antagonist, though this also occurs
between “buddies” and “couples”.
Examples include, Harry and Sally (When Harry Met
Sally), William Munny and Little Bill (Unforgiven),
Chigurh and Moss (No Country for Old Men), and
Dillinger and Purvis (Public Enemies).
Societal conflict occurs between a person and a group
and is usually present in films about corruption, justice,
or oppression. Films with societal conflict often
incorporate scenes or subplots involving personal
Examples include: Erin Brockovich, Hotel Rwanda, Star
Situational conflict occurs when a character is in conflict with a
specific situation – a woman trapped in a burning building, a man
hiding in a married woman’s closet when her husband arrives home,
a group of stranded adventurers trying to find a way off a deserted
island. In films containing situational conflict, the main conflict is still
usually relational. Audiences need a personal connection to stay
Examples include: The Poseidon Adventure, Night at the Museum,
Aliens, Castaway, World Trade Center.
Three Types of Protagonists
PASSIVEPASSIVE - Lump: no goals, no plans, no energy to do anything.- Lump: no goals, no plans, no energy to do anything.
Part of the scenery, like colourful statues in a garden.Part of the scenery, like colourful statues in a garden.
REACTIVEREACTIVE - Goal, plan,- Goal, plan, oror pursuit; two out of three: Needs a littlepursuit; two out of three: Needs a little
boost to get going, but heading toward goal.boost to get going, but heading toward goal.
ACTIVEACTIVE - Goal, plan,- Goal, plan, andand pursuit; fully engaged in quest to achievepursuit; fully engaged in quest to achieve
Have your characters makeHave your characters make active choicesactive choices thatthat make eventsmake events
happenhappen. Force your characters to deal and learn from these. Force your characters to deal and learn from these
choices as the story develops.choices as the story develops.
What does your character want?
Your protagonist should have two basic goals related to both plotYour protagonist should have two basic goals related to both plot
(want) and theme (need).(want) and theme (need).
WantWant is the worldly plot goal to save the princess, rob the bank,is the worldly plot goal to save the princess, rob the bank,
save the world, find the treasure, or win the race.save the world, find the treasure, or win the race.
NeedNeed is usually the unconscious inner motivation that compels theis usually the unconscious inner motivation that compels the
character to act in irrational ways.character to act in irrational ways.
Character drives plot
As characters attempt to get what they want, they often get whatAs characters attempt to get what they want, they often get what
they need. Need may oppose want. Needs never change in a film,they need. Need may oppose want. Needs never change in a film,
whereas wants often do. A character may want to die of a brokenwhereas wants often do. A character may want to die of a broken
heart, when what he or she really needs is love. Need is somethingheart, when what he or she really needs is love. Need is something
the audience often starts to see before the protagonist does,the audience often starts to see before the protagonist does,
watching as the character learns throughout the story. Studywatching as the character learns throughout the story. Study
yourself and other people. See what makes people tick underneathyourself and other people. See what makes people tick underneath
what they want and need to create believable characters.what they want and need to create believable characters.
Character wantCharacter want = Plot goal= Plot goal
Character needCharacter need = Theme goal= Theme goal
MotivationsMotivations = Why they made these decisions based on= Why they made these decisions based on
Film & Character Themes
Theme of filmTheme of film
Controlling idea, moral message, underlying essence, or deeper meaning of film.Controlling idea, moral message, underlying essence, or deeper meaning of film.
Character theme goalCharacter theme goal
How a character needs to grow to accomplish plot goal or show the film theme.How a character needs to grow to accomplish plot goal or show the film theme.
Character Theme Goals
To let go of pastTo let go of past
To take responsibility for actionsTo take responsibility for actions
To find happinessTo find happiness
To find inner peaceTo find inner peace
To let go of being a victimTo let go of being a victim
To believe in something worthwhileTo believe in something worthwhile
To define new version of selfTo define new version of self
To find a balance between extremesTo find a balance between extremes
To let go of self-destructive behavioursTo let go of self-destructive behaviours
To fit into new worldTo fit into new world
To find loveTo find love
To change inner beliefsTo change inner beliefs
To come of ageTo come of age
To see perfection in themselves and othersTo see perfection in themselves and others
To let go of any fears and trust that everything isTo let go of any fears and trust that everything is
happening perfectlyhappening perfectly
To learn somethingTo learn something
To change way of being in the worldTo change way of being in the world
To be honest with themselves or othersTo be honest with themselves or others
To resolve conflicting inner beliefsTo resolve conflicting inner beliefs
To learn compassion for othersTo learn compassion for others
To see the world in a new wayTo see the world in a new way
To find one's own truthTo find one's own truth
To make peace with the pastTo make peace with the past
To overcome past traumaTo overcome past trauma
To gain self-confidenceTo gain self-confidence
To redefine self in worldTo redefine self in world
To reach a new level of understandingTo reach a new level of understanding
To overcome a fear of somethingTo overcome a fear of something
To find purpose in lifeTo find purpose in life
To realize something that changes perspective onTo realize something that changes perspective on
To become a leaderTo become a leader
To create life intentionally instead of being carriedTo create life intentionally instead of being carried
along by circumstancesalong by circumstances
To trust inner guidance rather than logicTo trust inner guidance rather than logic
Make the audience care for the protagonist by having them do thingsMake the audience care for the protagonist by having them do things
that make usthat make us CARECARE..
Make themMake them REALREAL by having them engage in believable activities.by having them engage in believable activities.
Make themMake them VULNERABLEVULNERABLE..
Make themMake them SYMPATHETICSYMPATHETIC by giving them loads of problems.by giving them loads of problems.
Make themMake them LIKEABLELIKEABLE by giving them personal qualities we canby giving them personal qualities we can
warm to as an audience.warm to as an audience.
Elements of the Plot
PP = Perspective: Whose= Perspective: Whose point of viewpoint of view (POV) is the story told from? (A main(POV) is the story told from? (A main
or minor character, or an omniscient observer?)or minor character, or an omniscient observer?)
LL = Lead: Who is the main character?= Lead: Who is the main character?
OO = Objective: What is the lead character= Objective: What is the lead character’s goal, want or desire? And what’s goal, want or desire? And what
do they do to achieve these goals?do they do to achieve these goals?
TT = Trouble: What trials, tribulations, confrontations, complications, or= Trouble: What trials, tribulations, confrontations, complications, or
opposition, will be faced by the lead character as they attempt to realizeopposition, will be faced by the lead character as they attempt to realize
their objective?their objective?
SS = Setting: Where will the story unfold? (Typically for a short story it should= Setting: Where will the story unfold? (Typically for a short story it should
be a single or very small number of locations)be a single or very small number of locations)
The Three Act Plot Structure
ACT I – The Hook (Orientation)
The main character is living their everyday life then something happens that
disrupts their life and sends them on a ‘journey’. Situate your lead in the problem context,
establish the ‘tone’ of your story, and hook your audience in. Make me want to watch!
ACT II – The Struggle (Complication)
Obstacles and complications make it difficult for the protagonist to achieve their goal,
which is solving the problem and returning things to normal… eventually they find out what to
do, but it is too late – a catastrophic event keeps them from their goal. Keep me engaged!
ACT III – The Payoff (Resolution)
A surprising resolution is achieved (which may be comedic, tragic, or positive)
often with the assistance of an ‘ally’, or something unexpected. Let me feel it was worth my
Creating a Cool Title
Convey the Central ConflictConvey the Central Conflict
State the ProtagonistState the Protagonist ’s Goal’s Goal
Use a MetaphorUse a Metaphor
Convey the GenreConvey the Genre
Use a Popular Phrase or SlangUse a Popular Phrase or Slang
Create a Play-on-WordsCreate a Play-on-Words
Use the ProtagonistUse the Protagonist ’s Name’s Name
Evoke an EmotionEvoke an Emotion
Provoke a QuestionProvoke a Question
Convey A Unique SubjectConvey A Unique Subject
Contrast Two WordsContrast Two Words
Emphasize a Unique SettingEmphasize a Unique Setting