Writing The Wrong Protagonist – Julian Shaw

Writing The Wrong Protagonist – Julian Shaw


Film Courage: What did you learn from the writing
process for USE ME movie? Julian Shaw, Actor/Writer/Director: Why I think the first treatment wasn’t that great
and it was because there was a fundamental problem which was we were
trying to send the wrong character on an arc right I was trying to send the
Ceara character on a certain arc and it didn’t ring true to reality so I don’t
want to give spoilers away for when people see the film but sometimes when
you’re hitting your head against a brick wall when you’re writing it’s actually
this fundamental problem of having the wrong protagonist right the person who
you’re making change and transform its feeling artificial because that’s just
it’s just not right for the story so that really changed from the first draft
of the script where it was very much about Ceara changing and it just didn’t
feel authentic then I sat down with Ceara and I said all right listen who do
you want to be in this movie do you want to be Bruce Wayne or do you want to be
the Joker she said what what are we talking about
I said well I’m trying to make this story where you have this big epiphany
and you change and stuff like that and it kind of feels phony maybe your
character doesn’t necessarily change fundamentally maybe how we perceive your
character completely changes but maybe you’re just you kind of like the Joker
right this anarchist who is kind of the same from beginning to end and she was
like okay I want to be the Joker and I was like I bet you do so once we kind of
shifted gears and actually made my character more the protagonist meaning
you know the conduit through which the audience experiences this world
everything changed and the scripts got much better the whole thing made more
sense and it all felt more authentic so yeah the first draft just had a
fundamental problem that was like the wrong protagonist and is that are those
notes to that your producer had given you or you came up with that on your own
for sure no I mean it sort of became apparent to all of us ciara Jonathan
green the producer and myself we just felt this direction isn’t working and it
was it was it was obvious you know that something wasn’t right so we were very
frank about that yeah and then we kind of went in a new direction and it felt a
lot more authentic but I wouldn’t have got there if I
hadn’t written out a conventional screenplay so even though the film ended
up going in unexpected directions it was that foundation of the screenplay that
allowed us to move and actually be nimble like for instance we did a real
Kickstarter campaign okay and someone reached out and said I’d
give you a lot of money if I could see a video of you and Julie and making out
they reached out to Ceara they were like if I could see a video of you guys
making outs and teasing me I’ll give you $7,500 Wow okay so that inspired a whole
new storyline which you’ll see when you watch the film but uh yeah you know we
were we were able to to be pretty flexible with the story also because I
was the lead in it so I had access to myself all the time
I mean I was still rewriting it in the edit suite there were video diaries in
the film that I actually shot in the edit suite so the methodology we
employed was really only possible because Ceara and I were the leads and
we had access to ourselves all the time so that’s really interesting so if you
see that you’re writing a character that you really can’t implement any kind of
arc maybe that’s not the protagonist maybe they’re not meant to change okay
very interesting because you always do want a character to go on some kind of
transformation a lock that’s why we love storytelling that’s the lessons that we
get from movies and books but maybe you’ve picked the wrong character maybe
that character isn’t meant to change and maybe that’s okay that that’s a piece of
advice I wish I could have given myself at the start of the writing process but
you knew that the character of Julianne could change well it opened up a whole
bunch of new possibilities for the journey my character could go on just by
shifting the focus a little bit yeah yeah how long was the screenwriting
process I mean you know honestly probably six to twelve months of writing
and really exploring the material yeah I mean it’s funny you know the film seems
to just kind of like naturally unfold like it’s it all just really happened
but um right from the first scene it’s actually pretty meticulous how it’s all
set up and I hope that’s invisible I hope the audience just feels like it’s
spontaneous and it’s kind of like this documentary that kind of got out of
control but no we really we plotted it pretty carefully and it’s funny I’ve
never felt so in control of a process creatively even though it feels like
total chaos while you’re watching it it was actually the most I’ve ever felt
like I really had a strong grip on it so yeah it’s it’s sort of an illusion
the chaos of the movie a very calculated illusion so do you want to be Bruce
Wayne do you want to be the joke it’s a good question it depends on the movie I
may be more the persuading in this movie Ceara Lynch is a good Joker I’ll let her
be the Joker you

15 thoughts on “Writing The Wrong Protagonist – Julian Shaw”

  1. This was VERY useful writing advice. Thanks Mr Shaw and Film Courage.
    I love this fellas energy and will be looking out for this film.

  2. Lack of proper preparation made Julian waste his time writing the screenplay incorrectly with the first draft. Know the character; flesh him/her out before spending time writing the script.

  3. As alluring as it is to be the "hero" of the journey, and to endear one's self to the audience (or Table)… It's equally fascinating to explore and flesh out the dark inward spiral of self destruction that only the most nefarious SoB on the board can accomplish.

    I'm a GM for a reason… I guess.

    OR maybe it's just because the Bad Guys get all the cool toys and great cars… (lolz)

    Don't get me wrong. When I am a Player, I like to make layered and complicated PC's with flaws, issues, and serious journeys ahead and inward, too… It can be fun to watch the worst possible choices for his or her attributes and talents struggle and flail for the first and second (at least part of it) acts… Only to finally bring stuff into focus, to prove that if they can survive the grinder… they can make an even bigger and more important impactful name for themselves than the optimally built Characters in the game… for all their cool moves, fancy weapons, and gleaming teeth.

    I don't think you can actually write up the "wrong" protagonist, so much as per protagonist of choice, there are only so many ways to so many kinds of journey. Anyone can embark on a hero's journey, but if it was easy enough for just anyone to actually make it, then there would be no point to it being "the HERO's journey"…
    OF course, then you have the choice. Change the journey, or the means of making it, OR change the choice for Hero. ;o)

  4. I changed the focus to my main character’s abandoned kitten journey to star of live action CATS with real cats…kinda sucks. May go back to the original plot.

  5. This is perfect. This is exactly what I experienced on a short film I'm writing. I was struggling with the character and the story. Then it hit me. My protagonist was all wrong for the story. I flipped the character around and BAM! The story started flowing so smoothly. I feel I will have no problem completing the writing of the script for my short. I've actually heard of this idea before. Except in the other reference, the suggestion was that in your story you may have a few characters and you've chosen the wrong one to tell the story. It's a sure sign when I'm struggling with a script that it may just be because my lead is the wrong character.

  6. I don't know, but having tried my hand at historical fiction, this seems like the most fundamental question. I mean it seems obvious, but I would not want to say I knew.

    History can lend itself to multiple protagonists if the format allows. That would be the most honest portrayal.

  7. What BS. So, first of all it's amateurish to be the script writer and at the same time an actor in any of the bigger roles. Then this guy tries to sell us that the solution that “saved the script” was to make him as an actor the leading protagonist. How convenient. Then you watch the linked trailer of this production I have never heard of – it looks like a straight-to-dvd-flic from the 90s. Then you read the comments underneath the trailer where people feel conned that they invested in that project and then you read the horrible reviews on imdb. The guy is also delusional enough to sell us the chaotic / amateurish look of the film as “masterminds at work”. It is a valid point to think about who is the protagonist. But why on earth would I listen to the advise of someone that came up with a failed film?

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