the-godfather-poster

So last week I took some kryptonite-laced shots at the man of steel for being a “reluctant” protagonist, an issue I contend can destroy a screenplay. What’s a reluctant protagonist? It’s a hero who doesn’t want to take on the problem. I contend that we don’t like our heroes wimpy. We don’t like them sitting back and doing nothing. It’s the exact opposite of what the word “hero” means. However, there’s no such thing as a screenwriting rule that works across the board. There are times where the reluctant protagonist works, The Godfather being one of those examples. This gave me an idea to kill two birds with one stone. I’m not the foremost authority on The Godfather, and therefore wanted a reason to read it. And I knew that Michael Corleone, the main character, is a reluctant protagonist, which would allow me to see why the character works here when in so many other scripts, it doesn’t. I’ve also always been drawn to how slow stories work. Only the best writers know how to keep you turning the pages during a slow burn. So those are the main things I went into this script looking for. Let’s see if I found my answers, or any good tips for that matter. (you can have 500 MORE TIPS just like these by buying my e-book here)

1) Counter your hero’s reluctance with positive qualities – I think the biggest issue with reluctant heroes is when you couple them with a downbeat or depressed disposition. The combination of those two things always makes characters droll and boring. Look no further than Superman in Man of Steel for that. Instead, look for traits that CONTRAST that negative quality. One of the best traits you can use to offset this is charisma. Michael Corleone has it. William Wallace (a reluctant hero from Braveheart) had it. A double dose of negativity can quickly make your hero moody, depressed, and a downer. Steer clear of that with a positive trait (if not charisma then something else!).

2) If you have a reluctant protagonist, the earlier you can break out of being reluctant, the better – In actuality, most screenplays have reluctant protagonists at the start of the story. This is the period where they’d rather stay in the safety of their everyday lives than take on the pressures of this new adventure that’s presented itself. So we almost always see reluctant protagonists become willing and active participants at the beginning of the second act. For stories where this doesn’t happen, note that the longer you keep your hero reluctant, the more frustrated with him we’re going to get. Because we came to your movie to see your hero DO SHIT, not RESIST DOING SHIT. Michael Corleone starts being active pretty early, when he must protect his father after the assassination attempt.

3) There’s a difference between an reluctant active protagonist and an reluctant inactive protagonist – I think the problem I had with Man of Steel was that Clark was not only reluctant to do anything, he DIDN’T do anything. A reluctant character works much better if, even though he doesn’t want to get involved, HE DOES. Michael Corleone doesn’t want to be doing the things he’s doing, but he does them anyway. Another famous reluctant character, Mad Max, didn’t want to be there helping any of those people, but he did because it furthered his own agenda. Ditto with William Wallace. He didn’t want war, but he realized it needed to happen to free his country. So write a reluctant protagonist, just make sure he’s out there still being active.

4) If you have a character you need us to like who does bad things, introduce them doing good things – Vito Corleone (The Godfather) does a lot of bad shit. He’s hurt a lot of people.  He’s killed a lot of people. But the power of writing is that you can make the audience like ANYONE. Don’t believe me? Have you seen Silence Of The Lambs? Yes, writers have made cannibalistic serial killers likable.  One of the simplest ways to do this is to introduce your “bad” character doing something good. Vito Corleone is introduced helping a man whose daughter was beaten and nearly raped by two men who got away with it. He orders those men to be taken care of. How can you dislike a guy who’s taking down rapists?

5) Outline big party scenes – Big party/event/wedding scenes (anything with a lot of people) are some of the hardest to write. Writers often bounce around from character to character without a plan, which results in a messy directionless sequence. When you’re writing a big scene, like the famous wedding scene that opens The Godfather, make sure to plot out beforehand every character and what that character is doing. Preferably, you’ll have characters that need something during the sequence (a goal!), as that tends to make things more focused and interesting. Here we’d map out all the people coming to the Godfather with their requests. We’d map out Miachel showing up with his new girlfriend – what they’re going to talk about and why. We’d map out a scene to show that Carlo, who’s marrying the Don’s daughter, is sketchy. We’d map out Michael’s brother Sonny, who cheats on his wife with one of the bridesmaids. Map all of this out ahead of time and make sure each set of characters is doing something IMPORTANT. That’ll keep you from lingering on irrelevant stuff, which is where these big sequences go to die. Have a plan and you’ll do just fine at your next wedding.

6) A reluctant protagonist in a drama has a much better chance of working than a reluctant protagonist in an action film – Know what genre you’re writing when considering the reluctant protagonist. In an action movie, when your audience wants a lot of action, it’s going to be pretty silly if your main character is avoiding it all. In a slower drama, however, where plot and action aren’t as important, you have more freedom to play with a reluctant lead. I’d still be wary of it, but you do have more freedom there.

7) The best setups and payoffs establish high stakes during the setup – Remember, a payoff doesn’t really resonate unless you establish high stakes when it’s set up. That’s what makes the famous “horse head in the bed” scene so powerful. The day before, Jack Woltz, our unlucky movie producer, shows Hagen (Don’s lawyer) his horse stable and gushes about how much he loves horses, especially one in particular, a 600,000 dollar horse which he’ll put out to stud, leading to endless riches. Guess which head ends up under his covers? This scene doesn’t work the same way if Woltz casually passes a race track and barely points out a horse that he likes. We build the stakes up high by having him LOVE this horse.

8) Always look for an indirect way to handle backstory/exposition – Remember, one of the most boring ways to convey backstory or exposition is to lay it out in a very straightforward manner via dialogue. Instead, try to find an angle that conveys the information in a nontraditional way. They did this quite cleverly in The Godfather. Michael tells Kay (his girlfriend who knows nothing about his family’s lifestyle) about Luca Brazi, the muscle for his father. His story is about how Luca was sent over to take care of these men who attacked his father. The backstory for this character he gets into is very graphic and violent. But Coppola added an angle. Michael is smiling while he’s telling the story, so Kay isn’t sure if he’s telling the truth. Gone is the on-the-nose boring rundown we’re USED TO in these situations, replaced by a, “is he or isn’t he telling the truth” angle that makes the same information kind of fun. It’s a slight change, but it’s these slight changes that separate you from the next guy, who’s doing it the obvious way.

9) Conflict, suspense and mystery are your friends when writing a slow story – When you don’t have urgency (as is the case with The Godfather), you need to use other tools to keep your audience interested, or else they get impatient. You do this with these three tools: suspense, conflict, and mystery (and tension – though it can be argued that tension is conflict). Consistent use of these should keep even the slowest stories interesting. We see conflict, for example, in all of the requests of Vito Corleone, who makes his guests work for it. We see tension in his relationship with Michael, who doesn’t want to be involved in the family business. We have suspense in what’s going to happen with Johnny, the movie star who desperately needs a part from a producer who won’t give it to him, in Michael needing to save his father at the hospital when he knows the bad guys are coming, and leading up to the dinner where Michael plans to kill the police chief and Sollozzo. There aren’t a lot of mysteries in The Godfather, but that’s an option for you to use as well. If you’re writing a slow screenplay and you’re not using these three tools frequently, your script is probably boring.

10) How committed are you? – The more I read, the more I find that the deepest most emotionally affecting stories are based on books and real life. Why? Because the writer has tons of backstory and character knowledge to draw from. When a screenplay is written from nothing, the writer often doesn’t fill in the details that happened before the story. As a result, the characters never project any depth (why would they? They never existed before they were placed on the page). I’ve constantly been looking for a solution to this. How does one manage the same depth of a book adaptation without writing a book? Is it possible? Or should a screenwriter actually write a book before his screenplay? It sounds nuts but I GUARANTEE you, if you did that, your screenplay would be a hundred times deeper than if you didn’t. And aren’t we all looking for an advantage over the next guy?  Reading the opening of The Godfather (based on the book by the same name), with this huge wedding, with Vito Corleone listening to requests for help, with Sonny cheating on his wife, with Vito’s daughter desperately trying to keep a man she barely has, with Michael introducing his new girlfriend to everyone, to Luca Brazi, to movie stars pleading for a break, a spec writer just wouldn’t know or care about 75% of these characters. They’d know their hero, they’d know the second most important guy in the scene, and then maybe one other character (the lead girl). Everybody else they’d know their first name, what they’re wearing, and that’d be it. And that’s exactly why all spec scripts feel so thin. To measure up to this expected level, try to write as much backstory as you possibly can on every character in order to give them as rich and as detailed of a history as you can. Then and only then, will they project the kind of depth and presence characters in adapted scripts like The Godfather project.

  • Carson D

    I wouldn’t call Michael Corleone a reluctant hero. There was no “refusal of the call” moment when the inciting incident happened. As soon as his father was shot, he was back home asking how to help.

    • ArabyChic

      Agreed. There’s no reluctance, just a ton of story set up before the inciting incident.

  • Citizen M

    It’s so long since I’ve seen the movie that I won’t comment on it.

    But I remember the book. Someone loaned it to me one afternoon. It was one of the very few books I literally could not put down. I don’t know what the magic ingredient was, but I continued reading that book right through the night and didn’t stop until I had finished it the next morning.

    • Brainiac138

      Could the magic ingredient been all the subplots that the movie wisely did not use, most of which revolved around Sonny’s gargantuan male member?

      • Acarl

        The bridesmaid splitter….

  • leitskev

    Will add a couple of my own observations to the excellent ones here.

    1) how to establish who is the protag when he is introduced late among a cast of many:

    – Michael is referenced a few times before we actually meet him, as the family, especially Vito, is looking for him.

    – when he shows, he is the only one in a military uniform, which sets him apart.

    2) the main argument of the story is established in the wedding scene. Michael wants to set himself apart, which we see by his wearing the uniform, showing up late, and with a non-Italian girlfriend. But we also see the great pride he has in his family.

    And we also see that Vito is not just a man of great power, but of responsibility. So it will be more than just power lust that will draw Michael back into the family business, but a sense of duty.

    3) the Jack Woltz scene is kind of a strange segue as it has nothing to do with the overall story line, and it further delays the story catalyst. I believe it’s main purpose is to show the violence the Corleones are capable of when pursuing what they want. Without it, the family almost comes off as too noble, motivated by honorable intentions instead of by greed. The Woltz scene adds some balance.

    4) Michael’s marrying the Italian girl, then going back to Kay when the wife is killed, is another strange direction. I actually don’t have an explanation for it, and would welcome some enlightenment by more experienced hands. Maybe it just reflects Michael’s straddling the two worlds, one mafia and one legitimate, his desire to unite the two worlds by making the family business legal.

    • shewrites

      I think Michael’s dilemma is that he knows that the ways of his family are evil and on a rational level, he wants no part of it. But try as he may, he’s part of it and worse, he is made of the same cloth. When he comes back from Italy after his wife is killed, he embraces his family and its business whole heartedly and it can be argued that is is better at it than his father was, even more ruthless.

      Going back to Kay, IMO, is a deluded attempt to convince himself that he’s not one hundred percent like his family, that he is somewhat different. By getting Kay back, he convinces himself that he is can still his own man. Maybe.

      • ArabyChic

        I agree. And to add a little something…

        … when Michael meets Apollonia, he is literally struck dumb – that is how in love with her he is. He loves her in a way he has never been in love with anyone. It is possible to imagine Michael as surviving everything that has happened up until this point and still being the human being he was before. Who knows what might have been if he were allowed to live with the love of his life until old age?

        However, after she is taken from him, he loses the last vestige of humanity he had. He comes back home a cold calculating man – some of which was already present, but nothing like the dead man walking he becomes – a man who seems incapable of love. He’s just an automaton, bent on the survival of his family.

        His original goal of protecting the ones he loves becomes a much more aggressive stance, leading him to not only defend, but kill anyone who poses a threat to his family.

        • Buddy

          In a speech about writing, Andrew Stanton sait that Michael’s spine is that he wants to please his father.

  • D.C. Purk

    These are great points, but I still don’t understand the craze behind this movie, or why so many people aimlessly consider it a “classic.” I’m not trying to be a dick here, or the cool hipster guy with the dissenting opinion. I just sincerely have never grasped what is so great about this movie. I mean, it’s a good movie, for sure, but when I hear people say it’s the “greatest movie ever made” I just can’t believe these people have an actual opinion that they developed on their own after watching this movie with honest eyes. It sounds like a manufactured opinion. Manufactured by what, I don’t know. Film school? An overbearing pseudo-intellectual hipster crowd? Who knows.

    I mean, the movie is slow and pretentious, but for some reason it gets a pass as being special. I just don’t get it. Good, yes. Great, not really. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so maybe I just need to watch it with fresh eyes, but I really wouldn’t mind someone explaining to me in a reply why this movie is so good. Is there something wrong with me? Feel free to tell me how stupid I am for not worshiping this movie, but please do so with actual facts and examples. Don’t just put on a wool cap and a pretentious turtle neck (even though it’s summer) and then tell me that I “just don’t get it.” Because I can think of a ton of slow pretentious movies that are decent but don’t get the free pass into “classic” that this one gets. I really need to watch this again. :)

    I love how Peter Griffin described why he didn’t like The Godfather: “It insists upon itself.”

    haha, I know it’s only a damn cartoon, but I understand the truth underneath the comedy. That’s exactly how I feel. I watch the movie, and it’s desperately trying to insist that it’s the greatest movie ever made, and in the end, I just don’t see it. I’m sorry. Just had to say it.

    Anyone else?

    • shewrites

      What’s fascinating about The Godfather to me is how much we root for the Corleones to succeed even though they do the most despicable things.
      I’d actually vowed I would never watch it again for that reason but I have. It’s a wonderful study on how to make the most abject characters likeable.
      I also would argue that the whole family loyalty aspect is remarkably done. Who doesn’t want to be in a family that would do anything for one another?

      • D.C. Purk

        Completely off the wall, but your comment made me think of Fargo. We spend basically the first 30 minutes of the movie with Jerry Lundergard, who is basically a despicable man, but somehow you find yourself ROOTING for him, because he comes off as harmless and determined. I don’t know, that’s one thing I always liked about Fargo. You don’t get introduced to the actual protagonist until a half hour into the movie, because you’re too busy spending time with the true villain. May not have anything to do with The Godfather, but your “root for despicable” comment made me think of it. :)

      • jaehkim

        now that purk has mentioned fargo, can I mention no country for old men? did anyone else enjoy javier bardem’s villainous character more than they should? he did despicable things, but I couldn’t bring myself to dislike him.

        • Brian Lastname

          I thought I was in the vast minority on that, but I’m glad to hear that someone else walked away from that one feeling the same way. I really can’t put my finger on why I enjoyed Chigurh so much, but I think a large part of it derives strictly from Bardem’s performance.

          The only scene that comes to mind (it’s been a while since I’ve seen NCFOM) that could warrant us to “root” for Chigurh is the gas station coin flip scene. While not quite a Save the Cat moment, it did show that he had a method to his deranged madness. I kind of liked him from that point on. That’s my take at least.

          • Jonathan Soens

            I think part of what makes him so enjoyable is that there’s something likable about characters who are good at what they do. Even when what they do isn’t heroic or even good.

            There are exceptions to that rule. But in general, it’s fun to watch people who are really good at what they do.

    • leitskev

      Purk, you’re just going to have to watch again. If you’re expecting Dark Night, you’ll be disappointed. You have to try to appreciate some of the things this movie does incomparably well…and no, I have not been to film school.

      For one thing, this story brings us into the world of the Italian American crime family in a very vivid and accurate way. One of the best things a movie can do is bring us into another world, whether that is the universe of Star Wars, the Scotland of Braveheart, or the world of the Corleones.

      Another thing the movie does is portray a man’s descent to evil in a way that is believable and that leaves us sympathetic.

      The Godfather has been a favorite movie of millions, and is certainly not just some kind of fodder for film geeks. If you don’t care for it, that’s fine, but you misjudge others who like the film, and you might benefit from opening your mind a little.

    • ArabyChic

      If you don’t see it yourself I don’t think people explaining it to you is going to do anything. Personally, I think it is one of the best tragedies committed to any medium, standing along side those of shakespeare – from which it draws a lot of inspiration. It is a story of the mafia, yes, and it is a story of the American dream gone wrong, yes, but it is more to the point a tragedy of one man, who – with the best intentions in the world, to protect his family – becomes a monster. It doesn’t happen right away. There are many choices through out that lead him to that path, and he seems damned, because how could he NOT protect those he loves? Until, that is, we see what kind of man these choices lead him to be.

    • JakeBarnes12

      Watch Alan Resnais’ “Hiroshoma mon amour.” Follow with the same director’s “Last Year at Marienbad.” Throw in Antonioni’s “L’Avventura.” Finish with Bergman’s “Seventh Seal.”

      NOW watch “The Godfather.”

      Marvel at the movie’s breakneck cutting and fast-moving story.

      • D.C. Purk

        Thanks. I will definitely do that and get back to you.

    • jaehkim

      I’ve never seen the godfather.

    • IgorWasTaken

      I think in some ways you are right. Here’s what I mean.

      If you walk into a theater to see some movie, then discover it’s some movie named the “The Godfather”, that’s a big honkin’ surprise of a movie you’re in for – and yeh, it can be slow, and heavy (i.e., a bit of a burden). But that’d be like heading out to have dinner with friends, thinking you’re going to grab a bite at McDonald’s, and it turns out your friends take you to a 12-course banquet.

      For me, “The Godfather” is an appointment movie. In a sense, you have to buy into the premise of this MOVIE – into the notion of a big movie with lots of characters, lots of plot and subplots, etc. – even before getting to the question of buying into the story, itself.

      For me, it’s akin to deciding if I want to see a foreign movie. First, it’s foreign. Second, it may be subtitled. Third, it may be in a language I don’t know at all (even with subtitles, I enjoy foreign-language movies if I have some familiarity with the language striking my ears). Fourth, it may be an intricate, very culture-dependent story. So for example, “My Life as a Dog” is foreign; Kurosawa is really foreign.

      And so for me, “The Godfather” is, to a substantial extent, a great movie within the context of movies of that sort.

      • D.C. Purk

        I like your phrase “appointnent movie.” I think it decribes what I was feeling very well. This is a movie you have to have specific expectations about. And I think that may be my hang up, because I think universally great movies should be accessible by any state of mind, in any audience. I’ll just have to watch the damn thing again, I suppose.

    • K.B. Houston

      I understand where you’re coming from D.C. Saving Private Ryan is perhaps my version of what the Godfather is to you. I just don’t get that movie. I don’t even think it’s very good. What we have to remember that we all have our own opinions and that at times, we can get lazy and proclaim things to be special based solely on what others say.

      What I know about the Godfather is this: My best friend’s dad was a lifelong screenwriter who won an Emmy and has been writing scripts since he was a teenager. His favorite movies are all classics. But his hands down favorite is The Godfather. I asked him why and he would not shut up about the myriad of reasons, which all seemed valid. Add that to the fact that there’s a consensus about this movie’s greatness and you have a pretty solid foundation for it’s high ranking.

      I like the Godfather but it’s not one of my all-time favorites. Still, I recognize it’s greatness. It is a great movie. You can’t deny that. But in my opinion, there are many movies that are better.

    • EtoileBrilliant

      You’re not a dick. Don’t worry if you don’t get it. Someday, hopefully you’ll see why it most people put the first two Godfather films in their top 10.

      As an aside, I can’t believe how no one has commented on orange (the fruit and the color) and it’s association with death throughout the film. It’s like alcohol in “The Untouchables” in that whenever it passes the lips, that person will die.

      http://www.jgeoff.com/godfather/oranges.html

  • JakeBarnes12

    Point number 1, Carson: For “droll” you mean “dull.”

    I’m being dull for pointing this out, not droll.

  • Poe_Serling

    Someone needs to poke Carson awake… so he can release the grendl. I’m pretty sure The Godfather is one of his favorite films.

    • leitskev

      To be honest, Grendl is one of the reasons I come here. I appreciate Carson’s comments, but also many of his regulars, and Gendl is at or near the top of the list.

    • John B

      Another great Tuesday article. My big takeaway is that reluctant protagonists eventually should become willing. I like the part about how most start reluctant/inactive, but soon accept their journey. That really made sense to me.

      I am very busy writing, rewriting, reviewing scripts, searching for an agent, and reading any screenwriting article/blog I can get my hands on, so I don’t have the time to participate on here as much as I’d love to, but love reading all the great comments and insight from Grendl, Poe Sterling, Malibu Jack, Midnight Luck, Avashi, Jake Barnes, and all the regulars/semi-regulars. This site has given me so much. Someone on this site who I wont name recommended another site which I went, had a Producer read my work, and got an interview with a connected Agent (both things are still in the works).

      So I just wanted to say Thank You to Carson and everyone on here for giving me a place to learn.=)

  • jeanrobie

    “Michael tells Kay (his girlfriend who knows nothing about his family’s
    lifestyle) about Luca Brazi, the muscle for his father. His story is
    about how Luca was sent over to take care of these men who attacked his
    father.”

    No, Michael tells Kay about the time Luca held a gun to a bandleader’s head and Don Corleone told the man his brains or his signature would be on the contract.

  • D.C. Purk

    Typical dismissive response from someone who isn’t as smart as they think are, but deeply enjoys pretending to be. Thank you for proving at least a fraction of my point. And thanks for nothing as well.

  • leitskev

    None of these films is, or could be, perfectly accurate. In The Godfather we get more of Italian American culture with the wedding, and the plight of immigrants who came to America, were vulnerable, and who looked to traditional power sources for protection. Of course, the reality is that these “power sources” preyed primarily on those very vulnerable immigrants, so it’s hard to convey the complete picture in a film.

    Goodfellas probably more accurately portrays the mafia life, while The GF looks at the culture that produced it. Both great films!

  • D.C. Purk

    I just wanted to say, that I haven’t spent a whole lot of time on Scriptshadow (because I WRITE with my free time). I sent Carson a script for consult like over a year ago. I spent $750 to have him tell me that I have a ton of talent but just need to focus on more marketable and character based things, and it was exactly what I needed to hear (even if I didn’t realize it at the time).

    Anyway, I just harmlessly questioned The Godfather on this forum, and within 24 hours, I got 4 sincere and genuine responses (and 1 somewhat bitter D-bag response and lots of dislikes, which I expected), and because of that, I am officially a fan of this forum. And I just moved The Godfather up on my Netflix so I can see what I am missing in this movie. But they already shipped me Zero Dark Thirty, so I have to watch that first, THEN I will revisit The Godfather. Anyway, thanks for reading my silly comment and taking the time with your insight. Keep writing my friends! Because that’s what I’m doing (instead of insulting strangers on the internet to feel better about myself).

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    One of the ways writer’s can add depth to the characters in their screenplays is to write character bios. Who are the people who inhabit your world? Sketch ‘em out. Yes, it’s more work. Sometimes you’ll write several pages on character that doesn’t show on Final Draft. It’s writing beyond your draft. I do this all the time. Not that I have it all figured out, but this little writing trick helps. What it does more than anything is give me the secret satisfaction that yes ineed this character could exist.

  • jaehkim

    regarding #10, how much of that is an actor’s interpretation compared to what’s written on the script?

  • Poe_Serling

    Malibo-

    I love your ‘slice of life’ stories and how they relate to the topic at hand…

    Do you happen to remember The Ray Bradbury Theater that used to be on TV in the late ’80s and early ’90s?… The show would open up with Bradbury sitting in his cluttered office and reminiscing about some item collecting dust on his shelf and how it inspired him to write the show’s upcoming episode.

    I kinda picture you… sitting there on your front porch, drinking a beer or two, and being inspired creatively by the eclectic bunch of people who seem to inhabit your particular neighborhood… the mobster family, the ‘genuis’ engineer… and let’s not forget the shifty postman.

  • JakeBarnes12

    Oh, man, don’t remind me. That was brutal.

    Next clown who doesn’t know how to use a dictionary, I’m not bothering.

    • IgorWasTaken

      I hoped you’d come around. I just didn’t think it could happen so soon.

      Welcome.

      • witwoud

        ‘Welcome’ means ‘shove it’ … right? :}

        • IgorWasTaken

          Shirley, you jest. I am a most gracious Victor. And do call me Victor.

  • Geoffrey Uhl

    10 is a tough one. The worst screenwriters fill in their best cliches, the best ones figure out how to fake it. Perhaps that’s why so many movies are book adaptations? Even that’s not entirely true, there are tons books full of cliche’d characters, right up to the protagonist. The solution? I don’t know. It’s hard to write about people you aren’t, you have to forget who you are.

  • leitskev

    I do think we root for Michael. In fact, we root for the whole family, even if a part of us knows we shouldn’t. We root for the family to succeed against their enemies, in part because their enemies are more ‘evil’, conspiring to bring drugs into the country and breaking the peace; but more powerfully because we have experienced the bonds of love between the members of the Corleone family.

    There are reasons to care for the Corleones. The Godfather honors tradition and lives by a code, clearly loves his family. Michael is a war hero and wanted to live within the law. Even Sonny the hot head, who’s fatal mistake is his love for his sister.

    In fact, the movie draws its power from the conflicted impulse within the audience, which both wants the Corleones to win, but appreciates the horror of what Michael is becoming, and the tragic irony where the crimes which are done in the name of protecting the family are what will ultimately destroy it.

  • Ken

    A good reluctant hero movie: Ip Man.

  • brenkilco

    The Godfather may or may not be the greatest American film. Its too great to quibble. And it works on nearly every level. But suppose, just suppose, the script had landed on this site cold. What would the response have been? The opening wedding scene is grotesquely overlong and self indulgent. The horse’s head sequence is a lengthy grace note that adds nothing to the plot. The inciting incident, the shooting of the Don, doesnt happen for nearly an hour, we don’t know who the main character is until after that, and the main character doesn’t do anything until still later. The writer has talent and seems to know his material but a major streamlining rewrite is in order X wasn’t for me. The question is what tips can we learn from the Godfather about how to evaluate scripts in general?

    • Citizen M

      The great scripts are all different. The bad scripts are all the same. — anon

      • brenkilco

        Not sure I agree. Think its possible to be highly original and still be godawful.

    • Get Your Ass To Mars

      I wager that the screenplays to many a classic film would get pummeled on this site. Now, that is not a dig against Carson and Scriptshadow, but perhaps just the reality of movies these days.

      Nowadays both Hollywood and the modern audience expect a different kind of movie than what was being made in the early 1970s. I doubt such classics like The Godfather or The Deer Hunter (which also opened with a lengthy wedding sequence) would even get made as indies in this day and age.

      As for things like the dead horse head in the bed, I’d guess would be looked at as silly and over the top.

      Example: a mobster would never do something like that. Putting a dead horse head into a guy’s bed is just too much. That will anger the animal rights groups and kill any chances of a PG13.

      • brenkilco

        So we are getting tips on a script that we recognize as great only because it was made into an unarguably great film, but which would have been dismissed as poorly constructed if the film did not exist. And the value of these tips is what exactly? To help us write a script that per the standards of this site will be rejected out of hand? Or am I missing something?

        • Get Your Ass To Mars

          I would guess it was the same in say the 80s. Casablanca, Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon, Lawrence of Arabia, many of Hitchcock’s films, etc. were likely trotted out as the cream of the crop of classic scripts/films. Yet just as it is now, the kind of script that is actually being bought and made into a movie is not exactly the type of thing that lines up with the old school scripts.

          Then again, maybe The Godfather was initially just a cynical “bestseller” adaptation in the eyes of the studio execs?

          I don’t see it so much as a waste of time to look at the old stuff, yet it is just frustrating sometimes to sit and read a masterpiece, only to realize that I shouldn’t even attempt to write such a thing. It can be a downer to get fired up by a wonderful old film or classic screenplay only to be brought down from the clouds by the realities of the current industry climate. Perhaps it is best to write those ambitious and unconventional scripts just for fun and the overall experience of it?

  • Midnight Luck

    Good article, and somewhat pertinent to yesterdays talk.

    I do have to ask a question though, totally unrelated:

    What happened to the TV SHOW SPEC week?

    We are months and months past when it was going to happen. Is it happening anymore, or has it been scrapped?

    Anyone have any word on this?

    Since TV seems to be the new Indie market where people actually are allowed to try new things and Producers are a bit more open to taking chances, I would love to see what the SS world has created in this arena.

  • denisniel

    they’re ANTI-HEROES

  • Gregory Mandarano

    Kind of shocked that people on a screenwriting blog had never seen the godfather. Dont just watch the first one, watch all three.

  • denisniel

    About tip #10: one of the reasons the writers manage to get so deep with all the characters they introduce in the big wedding sequence, is because for each of them, they apply a set of “three rules” of character introduction, being:

    1) intrigue – WHAT is this guy doing?

    2) empathy – WHY is this guy doing it? (And the audience here should either identify with his/her reason, OR with his/her action itself)

    3) Sympathy – HOW is this guy doing it? (And the audience here should either be on his/her side, or against him/her)

    Lucca Brazzi is first seen rehearsing his lines for when he goes to talk to Vito. We as the audience as first of all intrigued by that, then, moments later, when we understand what he’s doing, we’re empathetic to it (because we understand his situation: who’s never rehearsed something to say in front of someone/ OR who’s never been in the position of being nervous minutes before meeting someone important?) and then, lastly, we agree or disagree with his action of rehearsing the lines (and depending on what we chose, we’ll either root for or against this guy – in this particular case, I don’t think anyone in the world would from the get-go root against someone who’s nervous to meet a big important man, be him whoever he is…)

    • Gregory Mandarano

      This is the most important comment in this thread and people should take note.

  • TheRealMWitty

    And I thought it was only me. In the same way that reading a couple of hundred scripts gave me the ability tell a professional from an amateur within three pages, the next couple hundred made me able to tell an adaptation from an original just as quickly. Granted, a lot of it’s because most adaptations I’ve read have come from fairly established writers, but adaptations just seem to give you a much thicker story world — and the good ones, like Godfather, do it without sacrificing story or conflict.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      Lol real, this is kind of funny but how would you like to put that skill to the test? I have two biopic scripts on the same topic. One is an adaptation and the other is not. My email is in my profile. I can send both without cover pages. If youre up for the challenge post here and email me. Wed report back to the thread if you succeeded or not.

      • TheRealMWitty

        Are they scripts that you wrote?

        • Gregory Mandarano

          Yes.

          • TheRealMWitty

            So wait, you researched and wrote a biopic, then read an authoritative biography, and then adapted that book into a screenplay?

          • Gregory Mandarano

            Its complicated, and not something I should discuss publicly at the moment. I can answer your questions via email. Suffice to say one of them is currently in the hands of some agents and is being circulated.

          • TheRealMWitty

            If one’s an original based on a real life and the other is an adaptation of a book about that same real life, my reading would not prove much. But good luck to you!

          • Gregory Mandarano

            You think that because of the nature of the biopic that it invalidates the challenge? How is it different? Are you saying you could only tell if one was an adaptation if the two scripts were on completely different topics?

          • TheRealMWitty

            I only claim I can differentiate between a story that flows from the abstract chaos of an author’s head directly into screenplay form, and a story that empties itself into another medium — typically, a medium that allows for or demands a more robust story world (usually a novel) — before taking on a new size and shape in an altogether different medium with different allowances for and demands of its story world (a screenplay). Differentiating between an original screenplay and an adaption of an existing work of literature that are both based on the same source material? Have not yet achieved that level of sophistication. Maybe that comes after reading another couple of hundred scripts.

            Again, best of luck!

          • Gregory Mandarano

            Ok so in in the vein of the challenge, if two other readers submitted scripts where ones an adaptation and one isnt, would you be willing to give them a read, make a guess, and also let us know if either of them were amazing? A writer could post they have an adaptation or original then send it to me, and ill remove the covers and send them unnamed.

            It would be fun and give an opportunity to some quick savvy posters to get a read!

          • TheRealMWitty

            Might be fun to do if Carson ran it one day here, but I really did not mean start a screenwriting contest, even one this small. I only read about two scripts a week these days, down from my usual 10 – 15 because I need time to work on my own spec and see if I’ve learned anything. And believe me, if you already have a script in the hands of some agents, my endorsement will do exactly sweet flip all for you.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            I didnt mean me, but oh well. It would have been cool. Maybe someone else would be up for something like that.

  • Spitgag

    Hijack. Sorry my people. Courtroom5d.com trial blog needs some smart people.

  • Paul Clarke

    It’s been a while since I watched the Godfather trilogy, but doesn’t Micheal also say that the family will be legit within 5 years? Or was that the second one?

    That give us a nice indication of where the movie is heading. Will he be able to make it legit.

  • fragglewriter

    #5 & #10 are great screenwriting tips.

    I noticed that most movies are too on-the-nose when it comes to #8, backstory. I wish less screenwriters would use “What happened to you/Tell me something about yourself”, and replace them with expositions. A glimpse of exposition would work nicely instead of dialogue.

  • K.B. Houston

    I think the reluctant hero is one of the best protagonists in film history. When he finally loses the battle he’s so ardently trying to fight — that moment is pure gold. We drool over that as an audience. I think the key is: Once he crosses that bridge there can’t be any going back. He has to go balls to the wall and turn into a totally different person.

    Westerns have mastered this type of protagonist. The best film to correctly use this specific character is Shane. That dude will do anything to stay away from a fight and not shoot a gun. But the moment he finally snaps is one of the best fight scenes ever. I remember watching that movie and just smiling and cheering so hard for him to beat those guys’ asses, which he did, and it was incredibly rewarding as a viewer. Tombstone is another great example with Kurt Russell playing the reluctant protagonists who essentially saves an entire town from a group of outlaws.

    The point is: You can be a pansy for part of the film, but you can’t be a pansy through the entire thing. At some point you have to totally turn the corner and morph into the Hulk — or Michael Corleone, in this case. If you don’t then you’re just not fit to be a true protagonist.

  • witwoud

    #10 — Another way of making your characters seem deeper is to base them on people you know.

  • Ambrose*

    Thanks for the article, Carson.
    “And may your first child be a masculine child.”

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