Upstream Color will have to wait another week. So today’s script will take on one of the most famous baseball players in history. The question is, is he interesting enough to have a movie written about him?

Genre: Sports Drama
Premise: (from IMDB) The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.
About: Writer (and director of this film) Brian Helgeland, is the only screenwriter to win both an Oscar (for L.A. Confidential) and a Razzie (for The Postman) in the same year. While sticking mainly to writing, he does occasionally plop down in the director’s chair, such as when he directed Heath Ledger in the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale (for which he also wrote the script – which sold for 2.5 million). Helgeland is one of Hollywood’s super-writers, brought in for million dollar rewrites when crap needs fixing (which is often). But this is a project he clearly wanted to be involved in from the beginning to the end. The film comes out this Friday and stars Harrison Ford as Jackie Robinson’s manager.
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Details: 125 pages (September 27, 2011 draft)


Man, there is a lot to talk about here. And I’m not even referring to the screenplay. First off, the sports drama is hard to pull off. Sports movies just don’t make money. So to see this splashed all over my TV and my neighborhood makes me think we’re talking AT LEAST a 70 million dollar marketing campaign. On top of the budget for the film, which was maybe 60 million, that means the movie has to clear 130 million just to meet its production and advertising budget (and since a movie has to make 3 times its budget to start making money, actually much more than that!)? Why do I have a hard time seeing 42 making that kind of money?

Then again, I have to admit, the trailers for this thing have been kick-ass. The marketing takes a 60 year old topic and makes it feel current and exciting. Despite that, I probably won’t see this until it comes out on Itunes. Which is surprising because I actually like baseball. I’d consider myself the core audience for the film. But Jackie Robinson’s story has been told so many times before. Why will this one be any different? What’s supposed to excite me about this new take besides the admittedly cool Jay-Z music in the trailer?

Then there’s the race angle. I don’t think race is an insignificant discussion by any means, but Jesus Christ has it been explored to death in cinema. I have to now endure another one of these cliché situations? There’s actually a lot of irony here because while this movie celebrates African-Americans breaking into baseball, we live in a time where African-Americans are becoming extinct in baseball. There are only a few dozen black baseball players left in the majors. They are gradually phasing out of the sport as the average African-American kid would rather play basketball or football. Baseball, for the most part, has become a Latino dominated game.

Then there’s just baseball in general. The sport is dying. It was created in a time where people actually had patience. Where they were willing to sit and watch a 3 hour game practically built to be boring. It’s been on a downward slope for awhile now. There’s really only one compelling story left in the sport in my opinion, and that’s “When are the Cubs going to win the World Series?” They better hope it never happens because as soon as it does, baseball is dead in my eyes.

So where does this leave my anticipation for 42? Not that high. I will say that these biopics are only as good as how interesting the main character is. If he’s complex, interesting, strange, has secrets, has demons, has personality, and lived an exciting life, put me in coach. But if this is just a by-the-book retelling of the most memorable moments from Jackie Robinson breaking into the major leagues, throw me out of the game.

Everyone knew 26 year old Jackie Robinson had the talent to play in the big leagues. But back in the 1940s, baseball was a white man’s game. I’m talking literally. Like there wasn’t a single black player in the league. And that’s because they weren’t allowed. There were even laws in some southern states where black men could not play baseball with white men. So if the cops were to see this, they’d arrest the black man (a scene that plays prominently in the movie).

Enter Branch Rickey, the owner of the New York Dodgers (yes, this is before they moved to Los Angeles). A little bit old, a little bit prickly, Rickey felt it was time that baseball had a black player. But he was unapologetic in saying he was just as interested in winning a world series. And he felt Jackie Robinson gave him the best chance of doing so.

While we expect this to be about Jackie’s anointment onto the Dodger team, most of the movie takes place before that monumental moment, back when he was playing for the Dodger’s Triple-A team. As he kicks ass in the minor leagues, word spreads that he’ll be coming to the Dodgers soon, and a lot of players don’t like it. In fact, a petition is put together for Branch Rickey from the entire Dodger team saying they won’t play if Jackie is brought up.

But Rickey doesn’t scare easily. He tells his players if they don’t want to play for him, no problem. He’ll trade’em. With that plan backfiring, Jackie does make his famed major league debut on April 15, 1946 and all the players but one are there to accept him. Well, “accept” might not be the correct word. As you’d expect, Jackie’s not exactly bombarded with Facebook friend requests upon his arrival. For the most part, everyone just tolerates him, and as one sportswriter puts it, Jackie has become the “loneliest man in baseball.”

But Jackie keeps fighting, doing the one thing he knows he does best – play baseball. And play it he does. His combination of strength and speed is like nothing baseball has ever seen. And with him leading the team, the Dodgers put themselves in position to do the unthinkable: Win the pennant. That’s if Jackie can weather the storm his entrance into the sport’s created.

This movie is called “42,” which stands for Jackie Robinson’s number. This movie is about Jackie Robinson. So if Jackie Robinson isn’t a compelling character, this movie is dead. And guess what? Jackie Robinson (in this draft at least) isn’t a compelling character. Now sure, the events surrounding him are compelling. Everything he goes through is compelling. But the character himself? Well, okay I’m just going to say it…he’s kinda boring.

I mean first his flaw is too simplistic. He’s a hot head. So wherever someone tests him, whenever some white Klansman-wannabe tells him to go back to the cotton field, Jackie must resist his first impulse, which is to beat the living hell out of the guy. This isn’t easy since it happens multiple times a day every day he’s in the big leagues. Hmm, I’m not sure how deeply that’s exploring our hero.

Second, he’s got zero personality. I mean ZERO. He just nods a lot, bristles a lot, keeps to himself a lot. He has no sense of humor, no compelling quirks. He’s just a super serious boring guy. This very well may have been how Jackie was and they didn’t want to mis-portray him, but that doesn’t mean he gets a passing grade. Boring is boring.

Finally, and most importantly, Jackie is not an active character. This entire movie is about how he reacts to what’s happening. He’s told he gets to be in the big leagues. He’s told how to handle it. Whenever someone tells him to do something, he does it. The character isn’t driving any apect of the story except for maybe the pennant race, which is given very little focus. Look at two other famous African-Americans in history, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. These are people who were ACTIVE. Who DID things. Jackie Robinson was thrown into a situation and we watched how he reacted. And for whatever reason, his reaction just isn’t that compelling.

In fact, I would argue that Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) is the main character here. He’s the one who made the decision, who has the most at stake, who’s driving the story with his choices. And that’s fine. It’s cool to know more about this person who played a big part in the Jackie Robinson story. But this movie isn’t called “Branch Rickey.” So why the hell does he get more attention as a character than Jackie?

Then there’s the structure. So much of the movie is leading up to this moment when Jackie joins the team, that after it happens, I’m not really sure why I’m watching anymore. I mean, it’s interesting to see the kind of resistance he runs into (even if it’s predictable), but we’ve already covered a lot of this while he was in the minor leagues. After awhile, I got impatient and asked, “Where is this going?” Eventually, this late-emerging pennant-race storyline popped up and I just sort of went with it. But since it wasn’t given a lot of emphasis, it lacked that engine that really drove our interest.

That’s not to say the script was bad. It had a strong, if a little safe, voice to it. There were a few nice moments, such as when the Phillies manager came out on the field and, in front of the world, reporters and all, told Jackie he was a monkey and to go back to the cotton fields. THE PHILLIES MANAGER. Not some player. That one stuck out. But because Jackie Robinson himself was so bland, and so reactive, I was never truly invested in the screenplay.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I’ll say this until the day I die. It doesn’t matter how interesting a person’s life is. If the person themselves isn’t interesting, don’t write a movie about them.

  • Jim

    New York Dodgers? I think you just irked a lot of Brooklynites.

  • Jonathan Soens

    It’s funny, everybody I know who likes baseball says how the commercial makes this movie look pretty good. And I agree that it works visually and it has a couple of nice lines (which I worry were cherry-picked from the best exchanges found in the movie, meaning I might have already seen the best parts of the movie).

    But I find the Jay-Z music distracting. Playing music like that over a trailer for a movie set so far in the past just distracts me for whatever reason. I thought the same thing when I saw the trailer for “Red Tails” where they were playing really modern club music over shots of World War II pilots. It just makes me feel like the people behind the movie are coming to me sheepishly and saying, “Okay, yeah, even we think period pieces are boring. So here’s some fresh music.”

    • martin_basrawy

      What were your thoughts on modern music being used during Django Unchained? (the movie itself I mean, I don’t recall the trailers)

      • Jonathan Soens

        That’s a fair point. Although I guess I’m just more willing to roll with it when the movie doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be a straight-faced drama. Didn’t really think about it with “Django” or with “A Knights Tale” since those movies weren’t taking themselves overly seriously, being so over-the-top. “42” looks like it’s taking itself seriously, on the other hand.

        To be fair, I’m not sure most western genre movies are all that strict about using time-appropriate music. Often, westerns just go with music that sounds vaguely western-ish, and they don’t really worry too much about whether the music features electric instruments despite the movie taking place before those versions of those instruments even existed (or before electricity itself was a thing, depending on the movie).

        I seem to recall reading something about the “Cold Mountain” soundtrack, how they brought in Jack White to do some music and he tried to go out of his way to use instruments that would have been used during the time period of the movie. And while I’m sure it made things more authentic, I doubt they played that stuff over the trailer, because modern audiences aren’t exactly clamoring for old appalachian folk music or whatever those songs were.

        So maybe I answered my own question. Maybe they just use the music they think will resonate with the audience, regardless of whether it fits the movie material or not.


          As I was reading your post I was thinking of typing what you ended up typing anyway in your last sentence haha, so hey..

    • Poe_Serling

      Director/writer Brian Helgeland did the same thing music wise with A Knight’s Tale… the soundtrack featured songs by Queen, David Bowie, and so forth.

      • Citizen M

        I thought the modern music worked well in A Knight’s Tale. Good movie. I enjoyed it.

        • Poe_Serling

          I agree 100%. The banquet scene using David Bowie’s song ‘Golden Years’ is a standout.

      • WrathofChakaKhan

        A Knight’s Tale was super rad.

        • Poe_Serling

          It’s a fun film. It seems like it plays on an endless loop on the various cable channels. Every time I turn on the TV – Bam! There’s Heath Ledger and his merry men (which includes the female blacksmith) ready to joust the evil Count Adhemar.

      • filmklassik

        Yeah, there’s something vaguely…pandering about a decision like that. Desperate, too. Movies about the same period made in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s never had to use contemporary music to wrangle theatergoers. And neither did Brian Helgeland.

    • Christian Zilko

      The same thing is being done with the Great Gatsby (also scored by Jay Z.) That’s actually a rare example of it working, because they portray the roaring 20’s as this intense part scene. I usually dislike remakes, but I’m looking forward to it

    • UrbaneGhoul

      Gangster Squad had a Jay-Z song in it’s trailer too. Both are Warner Bros. films. Same with The Great Gatsby.

    • JakeMLB

      Trailers are typically created by third party companies and the director typically has very little influence over them in my understanding. Could be wrong. But you make a good point.

  • martin_basrawy

    As it may be apt to do so (today of all days) the Margaret Thatcher biopic the Iron Lady had an active main character. She was an interesting historical figure (also the first woman in her field to reach UK’s highest office, similar to Jackie Robinson being the first in his field) but also a very polarizing one. This fits Carson’s criteria of a person not only having an interesting life (the times they lived in) but an interesting personality as well.

    Agreed about having an active protagonist. Sounds like 42 isn’t a movie I’d enjoy watching in theaters, but I admittedly don’t know much about Robinson’s career (other than broad strokes) so I’ll definitely catch this on video.

    • Cfrancis1

      Yes, but Iron Lady wasn’t such a hot film either. She may have been active in life but in the movie she mostly just toddled around in her bathrobe, talking to her dead husband. I really wish we could have learned more about her as a person and a politician in that film. As it stands, we only got glimpses and not great ones at that.

      Sad to hear of her death today. Whether you liked her or not, she was an extraordinary woman.

      • martin_basrawy

        agreed. but I felt her character was interesting and the choices were worth discussing. plus british politics aren’t something see you a lot of in American films (which is why I loved tinker tailor soldier spy), so it was something different to watch for me, unlike the 42 script which seems like the standard overcoming racial adversity thing.

        • klmn

          I like to absorb as much British politics as I can. I love Question Time when it airs on Cspan. The Brit politicians are a lot smarter than the American ones. And I say that as an American.

          For a good movie concerning Brit politics, I recommend Scandal.

          • Poe_Serling

            I remember Scandal… that is a good one. I always thought the female lead Joanne Whalley would become a bigger star. Perhaps her marriage to Val Kilmer at the time sidetracked her career a bit.

            And speaking of Kilmer and Whalley…

            They starred together in a really stylish film noir from ’89 entitled Kill Me Again. That pic is full of inventive twists and turns. Directed by John ‘The Last Seduction’ Dahl.

          • klmn

            I’ll have to see that one.

          • martin_basrawy

            I will have to check out Scandal. For a moment I thought you were talking about the tv show with Kerry Washington, which is also a pretty good watch. House of Cards and the now-canceled Boss being other prime examples of American politics.

  • Poe_Serling

    Like most people, I enjoy the occasional sports-related/bio film. A few of my favorites over the years have been Raging Bull, Rocky, and Hoosiers.

    One film I like to recommend from the archives is Victory (aka Escape to Victory). This ’81 film is about ‘a squad of POW soccer stars who escape from a Paris stadium during the German Occupation.’

    It was directed by legendary writer/director John Huston and starred an all-star international cast: Stallone, Caine, von Sydow, Pele, and so.

    Though it may not be a classic, it is still highly entertaining and evokes fond cinematic memories of true 5- star films such as Stalag 17 and The Great Escape.

    Interesting fact: “The film was inspired by the true story of the so-called Death Match in which FC Dynamo Kyiv defeated German soldiers while Ukraine was occupied by German troops in World War II.”
    ***And for the film 42? I’ll probably wait a few months and make it a Redbox rental.

    • WrathofChakaKhan

      Rocky wasn’t a bio! :)

      • Poe_Serling

        To clear up the confusion, I’ve changed “…the occasional sports-related/bio” to the above.^^

    • filmklassik

      Although I’m a huge fan of Caine, Huston, Von Sydow and even, on occasion, Sylvester Stallone, I have always avoided VICTORY as I’ve heard it wasn’t merely bad, but laughably bad.

      Not true…?

      • Poe_Serling

        Like I mentioned above, it’s no classic but I personally found it to be a compelling story and pleasant time killer … and I have zero interest in soccer.

        I think the filmmakers (John Huston and co) were tryng to capture some of the magic of those older WW2 films like The Great Escape. Whether or not they succeeded probably depends on the individual viewer’s tastes, expectations, etc.

  • jae kim

    the greatest baseball movie ever made?
    I can only think of one. field of dreams. because it wasn’t really about baseball. it was secondary to the characters.

    based on the trailer I didn’t want to see this movie. mostly because the trailer seems to show the whole movie and I’m not expecting any surprises.

    • wlubake

      The Natural.

    • Frankie Hollywood

      Major League, cuz I hate baseball.

      The Writer/Director (David S. Ward) also wrote, The Sting. Go figure.

  • Poe_Serling

    Quick ?, Carson…

    I know you mentioned it briefly last week, but is the Thurs./Fri. smackdown between Turning Season and Monster Mash still a go?

    • Abdul Fataki


      • carsonreeves1

        I’m still deciding. Should it be?

        • Poe_Serling

          Why live in the paranormal pad if you’re not always on the hunt for a good supernatural/horror script? ;-)

        • jae kim

          I vote YES!

        • fejumas

          I’m a little biased, but YES!!!!

        • Christian Zilko


      • fejumas


  • Kevin Lenihan

    I am going to be selfish here because I could use some help, and this article really hits the problem I’ve been having right on. Maybe someone will chip in some advice.

    I have a historical character that I am considering writing about. The man’s accomplishments were amazing, and the setting would be full of fantastically colorful characters. The problem is that the protagonist just doesn’t have enough flaw to make him interesting. Everything he had to overcome was external. He was a success his whole life at everything he attempted. I know, sickening!

    How could Jackie Robinson have been made more interesting? I agree with Carson that this kind of character is a problem in film. Unfortunately for the writer, Robinson just didn’t have any serious flaws. Even the anger management stuff is really just thrown in to manufacture a flaw.

    Any suggestions how to handle this kind of thing generally?

    • Dill

      If a character is always successful, I’d suggest giving him the flaw of being too proud, having too big an ego. Think Alexander the Great.

      • Kevin Lenihan

        He does not seem to have been this way at all, so it’s a bit of an injustice. I had flirted with the idea of giving him a temper, but as Carson pointed out with Robinson, this is kind of inadequate.

        I am considering two possibilities. Option one: make him ambitious, but also someone who was wronged in his youth by the antagonists in a way that harmed his family. As an adult he ends up with the opportunity to satisfy his ambition, but it means siding with the antagonists, so he has a choice to make.

        Option two: create a fictional character that is based on this character. That creates the potential to make him however I need. While there is some name recognition for the real man within his home state, there is none outside of it, so the name has little marketing value.

        • Dill

          I’d say that emotional truth is more important than historical truth. If it’s someone who’s not super well-known, you can get away with stretching the character a good deal, while still keeping the real name and whatnot. The people who know about the guy are likely to want to see the movie anyways, so you really don’t have to try to appeal to them. If you go with Option One, you really have to show how that childhood incident really shaped who he became. Like how in Citizen Kane, how having his childhood ripped away from him led to Kane constantly trying to fill that void with statues, wives, a palace, anything his money could buy.

    • martin_basrawy

      writing about historical figures is always tricky, as you kinda need to stay within the confines of fact, or at least somewhere in the neighborhood. wish I had some constructive advice on this front, but perhaps you can use the flaw Dill mentioned of being too proud, of being committed to their cause so much as to not have time for family (like Spielberg’s Lincoln), etc.

    • Citizen M

      Look for conflicts and disagreements. Also, why did he choose one course of action rather than another?

    • Malibo Jackk

      No one is going to like this answer.

      Irony makes for great movies.
      A Beautiful Mind — a man with delusions wins the Nobel Prize.
      Forest Gump — a simple retarded man has large scale adventures.
      Social Network — a social outcast creates the world’s largest social network.
      Tootsie — only by becoming a woman does he realize what it takes to become a man.

      But I wouldn’t make my protagonist a delusional, retarded, social outcast, cross dresser just to make the script more interesting.

      William Goldman would tell you — not every news story is a movie. Sometimes you have to move on.

      But you might want to do more research. Read some biographies of this amazing man. Get to know who he is.

      • Kevin Lenihan

        Yup, all true Jack. Great Goldman quote. And it may turn out that I will move on after more research. I am not done with his autobiography yet. But as he is not a very well known character, the possibility does remain to fictionalize too. We’ll see. Thanks!

  • ripleyy

    So…it wasn’t a “home run”?

  • MWire

    This has all the makings for a great movie…

    in 1967.

  • Somersby

    Even though it’s Jackie’s story, it’s really about the event horizon that resulted from his entering the big leagues. It caused such a historical shaking up of the status quo that changed not only baseball, but society.

    Given the context, I don’t mind that Jackie is passive. In fact, I believe there’s no other choice because it’s not Jackie who has to change. It’s everybody else. Everyone affected by Jackie Ropbinson becoming a professional ball playe.The players on his team, the other teams, and eventually, the fans and even those who don’t give a damn about baseball. That moment in American history is huge, and even though it depended on someone with Jackie’s strength of character to make it happen, it’s not really about him. It’s about the event.

    Not an easy thing to tackle in a screenplay. But I look forward to seeing it opening weekend.

  • wlubake

    I think studio execs back off making anyone as revered as Jackie Robinson too 3 dimensional. If he has a real flaw (alcoholism, womanizer, etc.) that shows a weakness of character, even if he overcomes it, its blasphemy to his adoring fans. I think Lincoln had the same problem. Some historical figures are built up so much, you can’t dare show a significant weakness in them.

    • Jonathan Soens

      Yeah, it’s tough to write about subject matter that so many people feel ownership over. You can’t make Robinson too flawed or weak-willed off the field, or people who are fans of his for social/political reasons will say you’re taking down his character just to dramatize your story. You can’t make him struggle too much on the field, or people who are fans of his for purely baseball reasons will say you’re inventing struggles that he was too good to have experienced.

      Personally, I’d have probably tried to find some angle on his on-the-field performance to nitpick. Yeah, the baseball purists wouldn’t love that, but it’d a dramatic wrinkle that a lot of people wouldn’t expect. When you’re dealing with a player universally recognized as great, you’re not used to hearing about weaknesses in their game.

      Like maybe he gets caught stealing too much, so despite leading the league in steals, people still accuse him of being selfish or stupid about how often he attempts to steal bases. I don’t think they kept stats on this category back then, though, so I don’t know what his stolen base percentage was like.

      Or maybe everyone harps on him for being a choker. Now, I know comparing today’s stats to 1947 stats isn’t really fair, but if a 1st baseman (Jackie played 1B his rookie year, I’m pretty sure) today only drove in 48 runs despite getting 700 plate appearances and almost 600 official at-bats, people would be all over that guy for not producing enough and not being “clutch” enough to drive in runners. And while it might seem like a cheat to harp on this stat, this was still a time when there were guys driving in 100, 120, even a 130+ runs, totals that dwarfed Robinson’s numbers that year. I could imagine people making a big deal out of a ballplayer being overhyped if he was getting MVP votes and winning Rookie of the Year despite having almost 100 fewer runs batted in than the league leader that year.

      So, yeah, I’d have probably built a story around some perceived weakness in his actual game. And not make the race stuff carry the entire film.

  • Christian Zilko

    I don’t know what to think of this movie. Last year, when I first heard that Harrison Ford was going to play Branch Rickey I was overjoyed. He is one of the few actors that I will see anything he’s in, and i love baseball. I like the original Jackie Robinson Story, but mainly because of the nostalgia. It was made in the 50s, and it’s good to watch on cable on Jackie Robinson day, but not much else. It’s simple, and on the same level as say, the pride of the Yankees. The story was probably ripe for a remake, but like Carson said, I don’t know how significant it is anymore.

    • martin_basrawy

      I think sports movies in general are waning off. When was the last really good one? Moneyball? Remember the Titans? We are Marshall? the one with Sandra Bullock lol? I think it may be because there’s nothing really inventive about them anymore. They all follow a set pattern of a losing team gets a quirky coach, insert team building montage, then team wins against all odds at the local championship. Now one can argue that all movies of all genres follow a similar pattern (i.e. good triumphs over evil), but there’s something very pat about sports movies. It’s literally the exact same story every time. Moneyball had a different angle with the statistics n such, but as someone who’s not a big baseball fan it lost me.

      • Christian Zilko

        What I don’t get is why all sports movies these days seem to be based on true stories. I think that by using fiction you have the opportunity to create much more interesting plots. And to be honest, I don’t want to sound mean but those kind of movies just don’t intrest me. If the logline includes “overcomes all odds,” (bad team overcomes all odds to win, someone with a disability overcomes all odds to follow their passion, small town overcomes all odds to make a difference et all) count me out. Be creative and stop making “inspirational” movies.

        • martin_basrawy

          Have you seen George Clooney’s Leatherheads? I don’t recall if it was based on a true story, but I remember loving the hell out of it (some slapstick parts aside).

          “Based on a true story” makes me roll my eyes these days. I get they’re trying to get us to sit up and take notice and perhaps it lends more gravitas to the film (as it did with Zero Dark Thirty and as it tried to do with the Impossible). But in the end all these stories are twisted to be more Hollywood-friendly anyway, so it really doesn’t matter how true to life it is.

          • Christian Zilko

            I’ll have to check out Leatherheads. Everyone knew about Bin Laden and the story was so cool that people were going to see it regardless of how bad the movie was. Telling people what the source material was actually worked in their favor. But is there such a lack of good writers in Hollywood that they have to produce these other inane true story movies? No one can come up with something that hasn’t already happened?

        • fragglewriter

          Spot-on. I’m writing a sports drama (up to page 30) hoping to submit it in time for Nicholl. Wishful thinking but anything can happen in 3 weeks.

  • Kevin Lenihan

    I appreciate your comments, G, and in a general way agree. It’s just not always possible to do it this way. For example, a movie about J Robinson kind of has to about J Robinson. If you make it about the owner, an idea Carson explored, then you can’t market it as 42.

    In my case, the character does not have that level of fame, so it is possible to create a fictional sidekick. I lean against doing this, because it adds another character and still requires taking liberties with history anyway.

    You bring up an excellent point about the audience knowing the end with famous characters. We know how Nixon, Lincoln, or the 1980 Olympic hockey team end up, so that requires a different story format to make the journey worth taking for the audience. I would argue this is most effective in tragedy, where the audience knows the outcome and is caught up in watching the events and decisions they know will lead to disaster.

    In my case, the character is not well known at all, even though he was a governor. I would have to take some dramatic license with the story, but every biopic does that: Hoffa, Nixon, Patton…to name some.

    • Jim

      Braveheart wasn’t really about Robert the Bruce, but was marketed as such (don’t know how many people realize William Wallace wasn’t Braveheart).

      • Graham

        I think you are being a little misleading here.

        Historically, Robert Bruce was referred to as ‘Braveheart’ at least once (after he was dead as I recall, when his actual physical heart was embalmed and taken on crusade). Fair enough.

        However, I’m guessing that Randall Wallace was aware of this, and nevertheless appropriated the nickname for ‘his’ William Wallace. Braveheart was not marketed as being about Robert the Bruce. It was marketed, quite clearly, as being about Gibson’s William Wallace, and the ‘braveheart’ of that movie is quite clearly Wallace.

        • Jim

          I got a chuckle out of me being a “little misleading” compared to Hollywood’s historical inaccuracies and liberties, lol. :)

          I agree the film wasn’t marketed as being about Robert the Bruce, but keeping with I’ve written elsewhere, he’s central to the story and the heart of it is about Wallace’s influence on him – will he be brave enough to lead others to freedom or not? That’s the question even William poses, saying he himself would follow.

          Robert the Bruce, though not the main character, provides the narration and acts as the character who’s struggling with inner turmoil and ultimately influenced to change, going from someone who’s caught in politics and losing heart to his father’s desires for something less than freedom, to finally being brave enough to stand up to him and England and winning Scotland’s freedom.

          And to the film’s credit, neither character is ever credited with the title. So in short, no, I’m not going to argue over the movie’s marketing or who it was about – but as you’ve noted, Robert the Bruce has historically been known as Braveheart and to imply another character in the same story with the very same name is what’s really misleading and inaccurate.

  • Kevin Lenihan

    Good call on Bad News. No one mentions it as a sports movie, I guess because it’s kids, but it really captured the little league experience in many ways. Not realistic(a wise choice), but capturing the characters and conflicts of that world with authenticity.

  • Jim

    I haven’t read the script and probably won’t see the movie, but this could be an example of where the main character ISN’T the protagonist in the story – something a lot of people still seem to have problems wrapping their heads around conceptualizing because most American films have a character who encompasses both functions.

    A protagonist presents drive for the narrative’s central story problem whereas a main character presents perspective the audience is meant to identify with within that particular story – and choosing them as separate functions usually is done for thematic reasons.

    I’ll give two examples: The Shawshank Redemption and To Kill a Mockingbird. In Shawshank, some people might say we have two main characters in Red and Andy, but in reality, Andy’s the one who drives the story, both apparent and the veiled aspects of his jailbreak, but it’s Red who provides the perspective the audience is meant to identify with. There are several key elements at play to help establish this, one being Red’s narration: it provides us with his perspective, attitudes and belief. Watching the film, one will also notice the number of POV shots from Red’s character, including the very first one after the prologue with Andy.

    Most of us don’t identify with Andy’s hopefulness because most everybody has been subjected to periods of hopelessness. It’s perhaps another reason why Andy’s character is somewhat cool and detached, something he acknowledges himself. While he provides a counterpoint to Red’s cynicism, we’re just not meant to identify with him and with Red – that’s why the scene under the tree where Red finds the box hits us like a ton of bricks.

    In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is the protagonist serving to drive the narrative toward its resolution of freeing an innocent black man accused of rape, but the story itself is told through the eyes of his 8 year old daughter, Scout. Atticus doesn’t have a bone of prejudice in him, but Scout does, and it’s through the events of the overall story with Tom Robinson that Scout comes to recognize her own prejudices toward Boo Radley. Had she not been privy to the events of the story on the grander scale, she would never have realized and overcome her own prejudices. As an 8 year old, she’s not meant to drive the story’s events around her – but she certainly provides the perspective through which the audience is suppose to identify the story’s timeless themes through.

    My only guess here is this, while being a biopic of Jackie Robinson, may be less of an attempt to show a compelling character and more of what it was like to make progress crossing a boundary, yet still deal with surpression and the internal conflicts/struggles that went with it. Hard to tell without reading it, though even those story elements themselves are often presented better visually on the screen than on the page.

    • martin_basrawy

      very well said.

    • Malibo Jackk

      We don’t know that much about Atticus, only bits and pieces.
      But we know a lot about Scout.
      It’s the story of her growing up and what she learns along the way..

      • Jim

        That’s one way of looking at it – Atticus, for all his positive attributes, still feels somewhat “detached” like Andy does in Shawshank. They’re both characters we look at, not from.

        Another thing that may help people distinguish the functions is the soundtrack. What music is playing when the grand theme is revealed? Who does that music harken back to in the story? The music for To Kill a Mockingbird is explicitly written from a child’s POV, many of the pieces involving a number of childhood motifs and instruments associated with children.

        If not for the wonderful soundtrack, the liner notes in the 1996 re-recording soundtrack are worth the purchase alone as Elmer Bernstein discusses how he translated those themes in the book to music for the motion picture. Absolutely priceless dissertation on motifs, themes, etc., via instrumentation.

  • IgorWasTaken

    What I learned (about grammar, long ago):

    Carson wrote:

    What I learned: I’ll say this until the day I die. It doesn’t matter how
    interesting a person’s life is. If the person themselves isn’t
    people themselves aren’t interesting, don’t write a movie movies about them.

    I try to overlook this kinda stuff. I make similar mistakes, sometimes. But there it was, STARING at me, from the ever-popular portion of the daily posting, “What I learned:”

    • Malibo Jackk

      I think irregardless is now officially a word.
      (used in non-standard or casual speech)

      • IgorWasTaken

        “Officially.” Sad, yet true.

        Regardless, never from these fingers. Except, perhaps, ironically. And by “ironically”, I mean not with actual irony, but rather, per the now-common usage of “ironically”.

        As in, “I called that Jew a ********* and I called that black guy a ********** and I called that woman a **********. But, ironically.”

      • klmn


  • Spitgag

    Sounds like the last movie I would watch on netflix. However….

    ““When are the Cubs going to win the World Series?” They better hope it never happens because as soon as it does, baseball is dead in my eyes.”

    That my friend is a protag away from a logline to a killer comedy.

    Who’s writing it?

    • Jonathan Soens

      That’s funny. Winning does tend to change things a bit. I remember before the Red Sox broke through, it’s like they were everybody’s “pet” team to root for. Everybody already hated the Yankees, and then there was the lovable upstart loser Red Sox for everybody to get behind.

      Fast-forward half a decade and people were similarly sick of the Red Sox hype and fanfare and doting from the media. Just like they’d been sick of the Yankees all along.

      I sometimes think about that joke Stephen King used to make. Before the Sox broke through, he joked that when he died, he’d have the Red Sox logo on his tombstone. And he’d have it say, “Not in my lifetime. Not in yours either.” There used to be something cool and lovable about the people who stuck with the Red Sox. Once they finally went and won something and established themselves as a mainstay, it’s like they lost the magic. I no longer particularly liked Red Sox fans. No longer thought being a Red Sox fan was shorthand for being loyal or being a friend of the underdog.

  • fragglewriter

    You hit the nail right on the head with this one Carson. I was talking to my father last week about this movie. If this movie would of came out like 15 – 20 yrs ago, I would of given a thought, even though I despise baseball, about seeing it.

    I think what would of worked for this movie would of been to use a fictional character in this period piece. Some people who know the history of baseball would of said that this is a depiction of Jackie Robinson, even though it’s not him. Then the writer could of made him n-dimensional.

  • J.R. Kinnard

    Sounds like a made-for-tv movie… with Han Solo!

    To me, this brings up an interesting topic: Demographics.

    As aspiring screenwriters, should we always try to appeal to the largest demographic possible, or can we have better success by targeting a specific demographic? Of course, with a beastly budget like “42”, you almost have to cast the largest net possible. Which is why this movie will lose a boatload of cash.

    Their only hope is to target that 55+ demographic as hard as they can. I mean, I might belong to the last generation of kids who were crazy about baseball and even I don’t give a crap about this movie. My dad still watches baseball, but he’d never pay to see a movie about Jackie Robinson.

    • grendl

      I think this gentlemen sums up pretty well what you should be trying to do as aspiring screenwriters.

      • sweetvita

        Thanks for the Richard Walter snippet. I got caught up and have now watched a couple more – plan on watching all of them.

        For me, writing is like water, without it I would perish. #compelled

  • Pauly W


    Idea for your next review Carson: The Place Beyond the Pines.

    Saw it yesterday , and it was actually very good. However, it has some very untraditional structure, so it ould be great to hear what you think about it.

  • Age_C

    I’ve not read this script or seen the movie so can’t comment on either. I did however attend a screenwriting lecture by Brian Helgeland in London at the BFI. He was brutally honest about the business and the process of being brought in as a ‘fixer’ on various scripts. He also told an amazing story about Clint Eastwood visiting his home after he had originally turned down adapting the book Mystic River. None of this is relevant apart from the fact that whether 42 is good or not, Brian Helgeland sure is.

  • fejumas

    I am all sorts of confused. (But that’s not surprising.)