By Jeff Richards
Hi folks. I'm from Canada. Did you know a few weeks ago that the mayor of Toronto was named Rob Ford? Well, I bet you do now. You've probably heard the allegations, the admissions, the whole sordid tale-to-date. And if you haven't, every media outlet in North America, and many worldwide, have been giving recaps on a regular basis. Some people see this as a comedy, but while I admit to some schadenfreude at times, it is still a human tragedy, and I think Ford is to be pitied. But...
Regardless of how you feel about the politics, most people can't turn away. We can't get enough of the Ford story. Why? Because it's a classic dramatic tale; Rob Ford's collapse covers some of the most fundamental points of screenwriting, and shows why you should never forget these four things in your own writing.
It's all about the conflict here. Ford is the definition of embattled. Constituents have filed law suits to have him removed from office even before the whole crack-smoking issue came to light. Newspapers bay for his blood. Websites raise $200K just to buy the video showing the crack-smoking episode. The Chief of Police says he is "disappointed" in the Mayor. His own council turned their backs on him while he was speaking (didn't I see Klingons do that in Star Trek?) He shoves reporters, his own allies desert him one by one... and over all of it, the inner turmoil of the substance abuser.
The lesson: Stories are based in conflict.
Strong Act One Break
His normal day-to-day is mayor of the largest city in Canada, the most culturally-diverse city in the world, and suddenly...
There's a video of him smoking crack. And a photo of him with three men, one of whom is later murdered.
If that lands on page 25 of your script, yes, you are well and truly launched into your Act Two. His life has irrevocably changed, and he is propelled into his new conflicted life, just like a protagonist should be.
The lesson: Your Act One break must change your protagonist's life in a fundamental fashion, and they cannot go back to the way it was.
Every time you turn around, it gets worse for Ford. More allies turn against him. The allegations accelerate. Every time he says he has nothing left to hide, something else happens. He admits to crack smoking, the next day a video emerges of him threatening to kill someone. He says it is now all out, and that he is moving on, and MINUTES LATER, the courts order the release of more police documents which show even more salacious allegations: prostitutes, sexual harassment, assault, more drugs... and the Premier of Ontario says she is willing, if it is the will of the people, to step in and remove Ford from office. Every day, it gets worse for Ford, and every day, we see more and more of his character because of the pressure he is under. Always increase the obstacles your protagonist faces; that's how we learn about them.
The lesson: Always be increasing the pressure on your protagonist; if they are not forced to adapt to new pressure, new things about them can't be revealed.
It could not be plainer. Rob Ford wants to remain mayor of Toronto. His opponents want him stripped of office. The goal is utterly clear, and the forces are in complete opposition. Regardless of all the other questions, if Rob Ford is still in the mayor's office when all this finishes, he will feel he's won and his opponents will feel they've lost.
The lesson: A clear goal gives us a clear understanding of where the protagonist stands, and helps the audience understand their mental and emotional state.
So there you have it. Four of the fundamentals of storytelling, playing out for you on the nightly news. Now, if he saves a cat, I'm gonna think this was a set up...
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