February is the time for two celebrations – Presidents’ Day and the Academy Awards. When writing a movie script, what better inspiration is there than someone who has attained the nation’s highest office? My book, The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, provides insights on writing screenplays and tips for imbuing characters with heroic qualities.
I outline the nine ingredients which can help a movie’s audience form an emotional attachment to its hero: courage, unfair injury, skill, funny, nice, in danger, loved, hard-working and obsessed. Although most leaders exhibit these qualities, here are some examples of how they were realized on-screen for both real and fictional presidents:
- Lincoln: This multiple Academy Award-winning 2012 film laid bare Lincoln’s soul as he struggled to convince his cabinet about the moral imperative for emancipation while witnessing its bloody repercussions on the battlefields of the Civil War. An Academy nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Tony Kushner, the screenplay writer who based his script on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin and combined Lincoln’s courage, compassion, and obsession into a heroic onscreen tour de force.
- Nixon: Although his presidency ended in shame, history has looked back favorably on some of the achievements of this flawed hero. Oliver Stone directed Anthony Hopkins to a Best Actor nomination for skillfully portraying Nixon’s hard-working Quaker sensibilities against the backdrop of his obsessive paranoia. Screenplay writers Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone received Academy nods for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
- Dave: While the cad of a fictional president lies unconscious in a secret hospital room, unassuming temp agency owner, Dave, steps in as the president’s double to keep up appearances until the “real” president recovers. What our hero discovers about politics in the highest halls of government sets his blood boiling, and he figures out a way to right injustices while winning the affection of the president’s icy First Lady. Gary Ross received a nomination for best screenplay writing of a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
- The American President: Fictional President, widower, and father Andrew Shepherd is the perfect popular American hero, but a love relationship threatens to run his presidency off the tracks. In the end, love prevails and proves that nice guys really can finish first. Aaron Sorkin was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Screenplay Award for his scriptwriting work.
Get more screenwriting tips this Saturday, February 21, as I join a panel of author experts – Matt Lohr, (Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure), Rona Edwards (The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals), Vicki Peterson (Notes to Screenwriters), and Paul Chitlik (Rewrite, 2nd Edition) – on the Pre-Oscars Panel to discuss the story, writing, and directing of this year’s Oscar-nominated films. The event takes place from 4-6 p.m. at The Writers Store, 3510 W. Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank.
About The Story Solution:Eric Edson’s The Story Solution provides straightforward insights for those interested in the art of writing a screenplay. Acclaimed as one of the best books on screenwriting, Edson explains the 23 actions screenplay writers use to create three dimensional heroes. Visit the website at https://www.thestorysolution.com to download a sample chapter. “Like” the Facebook page to receive screenwriting tips. Call (818) 677-3192 for more information about writing a movie script.