Too many people watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters and try to create something similar. While watching the latest releases can show you what Hollywood wants, it’s often better to watch smaller, independent films to see how to tell a story creatively without big budget special effects. Strip away the special effects and you only have a story that involves change.
Although most people probably haven’t seen or even heard of a movie called “KaBluey”, the basic idea is to study this film for its story structure. Independent films can’t rely on big budget special effects so they have to rely on what makes a story worth watching in the first place and that’s seeing change in the characters.
In “KaBluey,” the hero is a loser character who can’t even afford bus fare out of town. What’s important is not only how this hero changes, but how the other characters in the story change along with him based on his actions. As the hero changes from a loser who can’t afford bus fare to a winner who can at least afford a cheap car to get out of town, he changes the lives of those around him.
The hero lives with his sister-in-law to watch her kids while she’s at work. The kids hate him and try to kill him while his sister-in-law is lonely and miserable because her husband (the hero’s brother) is fighting in Iraq. Through the hero’s actions, he wins over the affection of the kids and helps his sister-in-law from being lonely and miserable. In the process, he gains enough money to support himself for the first time.
The key is simply that the hero must change to create an interesting story. If your hero doesn’t change, your story has to rely on visual effects such as the Indiana Jones movie or James Bond movies where the hero stays the same, but the action scenes make up for the lack of character development.
Perhaps one of the better James Bond films is “For Your Eyes Only” where James Bond is mourning the death of his wife early in the movie and then by the end, falls in love with a beautiful woman who helps him overcome the villain. What makes that James Bond movie better is that the hero changes.
In “KaBluey,” the hero likewise changes and in the process of change, changes the lives of others. In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis changes by realizing he truly cares for his wife and in the process of defeating the terrorists, he helps the black police officer overcome his own trauma of accidentally shooting a kid who had a toy gun.
The hero always changes and in the process of change, helps improve the lives of those around him or her. (In tragedies like “Leaving Las Vegas,” the hero loses and hurts the lives of others around him.)
In your story, how does your hero change? More importantly, how does your hero’s change help others around him change?
One minor scene in “KaBluey” highlights this idea. The hero takes a bus to work every day and sees an old man who seems to love his thermos. One day, the old man drops the thermos on the floor and some kids grab it and toss it out the window. Later, the hero buys a new thermos for the old man and leaves it as a gift on the bus seat for him.
This not only shows that the hero has changes by being able to afford a replacement thermos, but also helps brighten the day of the old man who hurt no one. Now the old man is happier because of the hero’s actions and the hero demonstrated change by buying a thermos as a gift.
Before you begin your screenplay, identify how your hero changes. Then make sure your hero’s actions always changes the lives of the characters around him. Not all characters will change, but if your hero is the only one who changes, your story will feel weak. If your hero doesn’t change at all, you don’t even have a story no matter how many action or special effects you cram into the script, which is something Hollywood still hasn’t figured out after all these years.