Had a bunch of character-based posts recently. A great protagonist and/or antagonist is a prerequisite for most screenplays to have any chance of being made. It’s not the ONLY way, though. I’m talking about those of you writing movies that don’t have POV characters at all–namely, ensemble movies.
Who is the antagonist in Twister? In Bad Lieutenant? Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself has worked as sources of conflict for thousands of years. You don’t need an antagonist.
Who is the protagonist in American Graffiti? In Happiness? In Airplane! or Lifeboat or Best In Show? You don’t need a protagonist. If you go the ensemble route you tell the story of multiple characters connected by an event, a theme, or a moment in time. Robert Altman was a master of the ensemble movie; over a 40+ year career he directed ensemble movies like MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001). Gosford Park, a multiple storylined drama set in 1932, showing the lives of upstairs guest and downstairs servants at a party in a country house in England, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and won for Best Screenplay.
Thus, going without a kick-ass protagonist is an absolutely viable option. All you’ll have to do is write TEN kick-ass secondary characters to carry your water all the way to the Oscars. No sweat, right?
Here are 15 Ensemble movies you might study as models:
Set over two days in Los Angeles, characters interweave and are connected by a single theme: Racism.
The story of the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy who was shot in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968 in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and 22 people in the hotel whose lives were never the same.
Established the Brat Pack (Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy). Five high school students meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
Some might say the Mark Wahlberg character is the protagonist. While he’s central, other characters have stand-alone lives outside of his experience in this look at the pornography industry in the 1970′s and 80′s.
Story of a Chicago real-estate office and four salesmen (Shelley Levene, Ricky Roma, Dave Moss, and George Aaronow), the Glengarry leads, the desperation to succeed, and a robbery committed with unforeseen consequences for all. One of the great monologues ever (by Alec Baldwin): “Coffee is for closers.”
Everyone wants to be happy. This movie follows the lives of many individuals connected by the desire for happiness, and is black, black, black. Another great movie monologue (by John Lovitz, of all people!) after his girlfriend disses him at a restaurant.
I like reading Tarantino scripts more than watching Tarantino movies (huh?). This, the tale of a simple jewelery heist that goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals suspecting that one of them is a police informant.
Bunch of people on an airplane about to crash. The recipe for comic gold, right?
Bunch of out-of-work and washed-up gunslingers defend Mexican peasants in a town terrorized by a Mexican bandit. By doing this good karmic deed, they find themselves again.
12 convicts drafted into a special mission to kill a bunch of Nazi officers at a French castle during WW2. Love the Jim Brown grenade scene at the end. “C’mon, Jefferson! Go, go…!”
How can’t you love this flick about deranged dog owners prepping and competing at the Westminster Dog Show?
- FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
A story of a group of California teenagers who enjoy malls, sex and rock n’ roll. Sean Penn wasn’t always pretentious…
High school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college. A time capsule of what my parent’s reality might have been.
A day in the lives of a group of average teenage high school students–only the high school is Colombine, and the day is the day of the massacre. Voyeuristic Steadicam brings you a straight POV into their realities.
- IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
The dying words of a thief spark a madcap cross-country rush to find some treasure. Saw this one recently and was amazed–a who’s who of comedy from the 60′s: Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers…lots of names my 19 year-olds at Columbia College won’t know. Recommended.
The original contained thriller: Several survivors of a torpedoed ship find themselves in the same boat with one of the men who sunk it. How y’gonna beat Hitchcock?
Share This Post or Comment Below.