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Friday, November 24, 2006

I'm working on my zombie picture off and on these days. One thing that has always bothered me in horror pictures is when the characters don't immediately call the authorities. Tremors is so effective because the characters never waste time investigating the strange phenomena -- they do their best to get the hell out of town from the get-go.

So I've got my guys in a building in the woods surrounded by a passel of zombies, only they don't know it's zombies yet, they think it's only a pair of ordinary psychopaths. (There's more to the hook than that, but for the purposes of the exercise you don't need to know the details.) I want some of them to try to make a run for town, which is terminated when they realize there are more than two creeps out there.

But wouldn't they be carrying cell phones? Wouldn't they just call the police?

No, as it turns out, because part of the point of the vacation was to get away from cell phones.

But I find that unsatisfying on its own because I don't want the whole enterprise to hang on the characters having not brought along cell phones. Surely someone would have cheated.

As it turns out, one of the characters did cheat. But I only want that revealed after they make their abortive run for town. So I had the character, in one draft, forget he'd brought along a cell, and in another draft, he just didn't mention it.

Neither works, as a perspicacious fellow who read my script pointed out.

One solution would be to find out that he's got the cell phone before they make the run for town. But then it just feels like shoe leather. Something to get out of the way.

Another would be to go back to nobody having brought cell phones. Or having brought a cell phone, but no signal. Not fun.

The solution I'm going with is to eliminate the surprise -- because it feels like a cheat -- but embrace the character not telling anyone he has a cell. Establish earlier that he does have a cell. But he wants to make a run for town. Because it would be more fun than calling the police. And he thinks (for reasons having to do with the hook) that his friends can handle two garden variety lunatics.

Now it's not a cheat, because we know he's got a cell as soon as he does. Now there's suspense, because we're wondering why he didn't tell anyone, and when he's going to use it. And best of all, we've now established our guy as a reckless adrenaline junkie. He's not doing the wise thing. He's doing the foolish, character-establishing thing.

When you bump on a plothole, don't just look for a way to smooth it out. Look for a way to make it a character-establishing moment. It may be more fun. It may be more human, too.

10 Comments:

Or, you could have them actually calling 911, only to have it not help them very much... They get the run-around, or the cops are incompetent (hardly a stretch), or can't get to them for some reason. It might add suspense: You think they're going to be rescued, but when?

By Blogger Katya, at 4:53 PM  

Along Katya's lines - the cops have already been eaten up?

Or if you don't want your brain-muncher problem so epidemic, cops come but meet your zombies on the way.

Or worse, they know all about the zombies, but have their own reasons for letting your adventurers get eaten.

All of these will still work with your guy wanting to not make the call at first and having to be worn down.

By Blogger Chopped Nuts, at 6:35 PM  

My cell phone trick revolved around a lazy ass dude who never aid his bills on time. He gets two calls in, then gets the collection department from then on. And no way in hell do they believe his tale of woe. But he does keep trying to get up the collection management food chain. It was fun to write.

By Blogger cvcobb01, at 1:00 AM  

The Cops...always gotta take 'em out of the equation...and for you, that means taking out cell phones this time...

...the solution you pitch, w/out having read the script, worries me because...well, he's just dumb if he thinks they can take on the zombies or ANYONE, and stupidity as a character flaw just takes out our rooting interest (again, haven't read so don't know, maybe you sell it fine). And having him choose "run for town" over "easy phone call" makes him of quesionable judgment as well. Maybe this guy's the asshole of the group and you're going to kill him later...but w/the facts I have, I worry.

See JLO in ENOUGH as a reference...the plot hinges on her making a traceable phone call at some point when she's on the run, which she does, and Kazan solves the problem by having her say, several times in the course of the movie: "I'm not smart." Well, wise up, bigass, you get no sympathy from me. And movie falls apart on that...

ANYWAY..per my post over at OSM, fresh in my mind that any Act Two problem is really an ACT ONE problem...

...go back to act one and backfill, in the scene where everyone agrees, "No cell phones."...

...and have them catch the cheater right there. Could even have some fun by someone calling his phone right after he's sworn he's left it home...RING, he's busted...

Barring that "there's no reception", since they're in the woods seems fine and I buy it in a lot of movies -- or racing to somewhere there IS reception, only to be cut off by zombies (i LOVE zombies...) and lose the last phone in the process...

Also: physically separate them from the phone(s) -- they're out in the car -- kill one character who tries to make the run for it -- OOOH -- send one out to the car, zombies get him, eat, zombify -- THEN --

-- later -- in that classic "OMG, it's our friend we loved so much earlier, now back as a zombie! And we must face the horror of shooting him in the head...how sad for us all..." scene...

...in his bloody, half-gnawed hand, he has..

THE CELL PHONE...

...completing his mission from atavistic, prezombie memory...do they take it? Will he bite them? (of course?)...

OH CRAP. I'm sorry. I don't want to toot my own horn, but WRITE THAT. Or I WILL.

And have the phone...BEEPING as it comes back in the undead hand...or that "If you'd like to make a call"...voice...

...maybe it doesn't work in your script, in which case, dammit, it's MINE. But your first.

Don't make it a character flaw -- make it a totally cool SET-PIECE!




Other solutions: Cell-phone eating zombies

Cops are already zombified (this one serious...) OR...
...horribly misinterpret what's going on and lock our heroes in a cell -- then zombies come, eat cops, our heroes trapped...

Set movie in 1980 -- very interesting dvd commentary on bad movie THE ICE HARVEST -- the author of the book SET it in 1980 so the John Cusack character would have to run around like a maniac to solve problems we could easily solve via a cell...filmmakers had him slip on the titular ice and smash his phone on the titular ice at the end of act one.

But I still go for the cell-phone clutching returning zombie friend, so cool...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:28 AM  

If in Act I it's made clear that the cell-phone addiction รก la Paris Hilton is a huge problem in their relationship (char owns a WAP-phone and always checks his emails, surfs the net, takes pics and sends out MMS, to make matters worse) would make for nice conflict. Relationship vs. Zombie.

When he fesses up (finally, later) saying he brought it for emergencies and they make a (risky, cause it's in the car) dash for the phone, they then find out it's not Jack Bauer's - no signal. Or no juice.

Which only makes other char bitch more about cells. Until later, when they are this close to town and he finally gets a signal, all happy. Other char only sneers. The run into town with him waiting for 911 operator or so. There is comic relief in horror, no? I like this cell-phone dilemma and the comedy in it, now I'm all geared up. Where can I put that in my sp?

(All depends on the relationship, of course. And the Act I set up of it.)

By Blogger A. M., at 2:45 AM  

Have to say, cellphone-eating zombies is my favourite solution so far (what did Blondie say? "The man from Mars is through with cars and through with bars and now he only eats guitars!"), but what do I know? I loved The Ice Harvest.

By Blogger Katya, at 8:49 PM  

You mean a rogue asteroid didn't take out the nearest telecommunications tower at the start of the film? ;)
There's always the ever popular, and totally boring, "dead battery" scenario?
Give a nod to Tremors and block the road with dead phonecable repair men? LOL ;)

By Blogger Eleanor, at 10:02 AM  

perhaps the guy with the cellphone is constantly getting shit from the others about the level of control his girlfriend/fiance/wife has over him. they can't believe she let him out there without a way for her to get in touch.
therefore, he is very reluctant to reveal the phone for fear of being called 'whipped.' boys will be boys.

By Blogger Cybermoniker, at 6:20 PM  

You can always (at some point) make the signal bad, so they have to do something really stupid like climbing up on top of the house to get more "bars". Of course, that would be before the zombies eat the phone.

By Blogger Twill, at 12:17 AM  

Late I know - but just have the cops laugh their asses off every time he calls, or even pass him on to 'hey, you gotta hear this, Chuck', laughing at him on speakerphone. Until his cellphone battery fails. On the other hand, they could call him back, just when he's trying to hide from the zombies.

By Blogger blogward, at 3:35 PM  

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