Why screenwriters have it easy.
One of the principal ingredients of a great drama is a great hero; a man or a woman who the audience roots for along the hero’s Campbellian journey, and cheers for when the hero “returns with the elixir.”
In these stories, it’s essential that the audience fall in what I call, “Heroic Love” with that character.
The trouble for all writers is what to do when your hero is flawed. Seriously flawed. What happens when your hero is a murderer like Scarface or a liar like Nixon or just plain crazy like Howard Hughes?
Great writers will make you fall in love with them anyway. They’ll have you dripping pathos with stories of their abusive childhood, unrequited loves, and so on.
And if that isn’t enough, they can always cast a big, fat, juicy movie star.
Movie stars are movie stars because an audience has already followed their actor’s real-life Campbellian journey and has already cheered for their success, maybe many times over. They’ve already made us laugh, made us cry, made us fall in platonic and sometimes non-platonic Heroic Love.
And once we’ve fallen, those feelings we have for that star gets transferred to whatever movie that star does next, which is why it’s easier for a movie star to play a flawed character than an unknown actor.
For example, imagine that they are doing a movie about Charles Manson’s pursuit of parole, and Tom Hanks signs on to play Manson. Feel the sympathy already? Quite a trick, right?
Theater writers have it harder, because we have less of a star pool to pull from. The few stars we have don’t have even close to the notoriety that a movie star has. And that means, we have to rely on the old fashioned stuff… great writing.
I looked at adapting a movie into a musical recently that featured a seriously flawed character. When I realized that the movie company pulled this movie-star fast one on me, I dropped the project. It was a tricky project. We already had our work cut out for us.
And I wouldn’t have a Brad Pitt in my pocket to save the show.