In the film Two Days, One Night, written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the protagonist, Sandra, has recently returned back to her job after an acute bout with depression only to find out that the factory for which she works can manage with one less employee and she is to be let go. Sandra learns that the employees have been given a choice: receive a bonus if they agree she will be laid off; if not, then no one receives the bonus. Sandra’s fate will be decided on Monday morning, giving Sandra one weekend to convince her fellow coworkers to sacrifice their bonuses in order to keep her job. Sandra finds herself in a race against time – specifically two days and one night — to get her job back.
In the chapter entitled ‘Getting Your Characters’ Acts Together’ in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write:
Every story is essentially a “What if?” mystery. It begins by asking a question that will be answered in the script’s climax. Usually a problem is introduced or a situation that needs to be resolved is presented. The reader must feel a sense of urgency and expectation.
Two Days, One Night poses three central questions:
· Propelling the narrative forward with the literal two days and one night dramatic ticking clock the major question posed is: Will Sandra be able to convince her coworkers to vote to get her job back?
· The underlying ethical and moral conflict question that is put forward: Will Sandra’s coworkers forgo their bonuses in order for her to keep her job?
· The emotional stakes for Sandra: Will Sandra survive her own fragile and emotional state to achieve her goal to get her job back?
These questions set the story in motion and advance the narrative, prompting the audience to ask: What’s going to happen next? Your job as the screenwriter is to inspire the film executive to turn the page to find out what will happen next.
In the chapter entitled ‘The Characters You Love to Love’ in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write:
The protagonist is the character with whom the reader must identify and root for. Your protagonist’s commitment to achieving his or her goal is what propels your narrative forward. This goal—whether it’s surviving a disaster, falling in love, or climbing a mountain—can affect not only the protagonist, but also others, such as loved ones or strangers, brought together by a series of events. Putting your protagonist in unfamiliar or even uncomfortable situations will make his or her obstacles all the more challenging and interesting.
In this film, protagonist Sandra is a character with whom the audience roots for; her commitment to achieving her goal, which is to get her job back, presents major obstacles: if she loses her job her family will be forced to go back on welfare and lose their home. Sandra is placed in uncomfortable situations when she must go to each coworker’s home to ask them to vote to keep her job and forego their much-needed bonuses. The coworkers’ welcoming and unwelcoming responses to her pleas, drive the narrative forward, as Sandra must also overcome her own personal insecurities and emotional frailties, to achieve her goal.
Whether the protagonist in your screenplay is insecure, confident, physically weak or strong, readers must see the challenges your protagonist faces and their determination and perseverance to achieve their goals.
Main characters must make key choices that will advance your plot. Regardless of your screenplay’s genre, set in motion the engine that drives your narrative forward by posing at least one central question that will be answered by the script’s conclusion.
Film executives reading your script must be emotionally invested in your plot’s outcome in order to keep turning the page and ultimately greenlight your script to be made into a film.
Photo: Les Films du Fleuve
Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. (www.su-city-pictures.com). Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off on https://www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/