Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Month: December 2014

Final Repor(t) Card: A Character Assessment of “Stephen Colbert”

Stephen Colbert:  Great performance artist… or the greatest performance artist?

I ask that as someone who saw Spinal Tap play Carnegie Hall.  (Seriously.)  After popularizing the “mockumentary” format in 1984 with This Is Spinal Tap (and I don’t think anyone since has done it better, even in light of how fashionable the aesthetic has become among contemporary network sitcoms like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation), a strange thing happened:  fictitious bandmates Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) emerged from the movie’s contained narrative to play live concerts and sit down for talk-show interviews; they became altogether separate entertainers (and entities) from the actors who portrayed them (the wigs and British accents contributed to the seamless illusion), seldom speaking out of character (even on the DVD commentary track!), and the history of the group so painstakingly “documented” in This Is Spinal Tap came to serve as the band’s accepted background as they went on to forge, over the next several decades, a genuine history here in the real world, which includes the release of actual albums (1992’s Break Like the Wind and 2009’s Back from the Dead, the latter of which lost the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album to—wait for it—A Colbert Christmas:  The Greatest Gift of All!) to supplement their apocryphal discography.

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To Survive and Thrive: Strategic Genre Switches in “The Hunger Games”

You sensed it right from the start:  The familiar plot machinations of The Hunger Games series weren’t there to comfort us (in their perversely dystopian way) in the latest theatrical entry, Mockingjay, Part 1.  The world and characters were the same, sure, yet we found ourselves, like the protagonist herself, immediately disoriented in this third go-round; nothing about this adventure, for us or for her, could be deemed business as usual.

So, what changed?

I’ve written a great deal about how indispensable I find Blake Snyder’s ten story models, but have offered little thus far in the way of illustration.  The Hunger Games series, a powerhouse big-studio franchise if ever there was one, provides an object lesson in two distinct types of Save the Cat! genres.

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Fallacies of Storytelling: More on Goals

It turns out the subject of character goals was in the air this week.

This morning, the “Cats” over at Save the Cat! (which does not include the innovator of the techniques they practice, Blake Snyder, as he regrettably passed away in 2009 quite unexpectedly and prematurely) posted a podcast in which they advocate for the requirement of a tangible, external goal on the part of a story’s protagonist, citing, among other examples, Academy Award Best Picture winner American Beauty (1999) as a case study.  If you read yesterday’s post, you know how I feel about this, but I elaborated my position in the comments section of the Save the Cat! website, which I am also making available here:

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Fallacies of Storytelling: The Protagonist’s Goal

Back to the FutureEscape from New YorkRaiders of the Lost ArkSaving Private Ryan.  Even in a cultural media vacuum, what narrative fundamental do the titles to those movies tell you about their respective plots?

They are goal-driven.

Goals can be an invaluable tool to establish suspense, propel a plot, and create an active protagonist.  But, like any storytelling appliance, they are an elective, not a mandate.  In the movie business, insecure creative execs will insist on their inclusion in every screenplay—a silver bullet for any plot that fails to effectively engross (which relates to an industry-wide problem I addressed in my first post:  the misapplication of craft).

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