Screenplay Character


Addiction comes in many forms, most notably to alcohol and drugs. Addiction to work, shopping, sex, and even love are all the rage. You might have heard reference to an 'addictive personality', i.e., high-energy, fast-talking, impatient, obsessive, low self-confidence, perfectionistic, etc. Colorful characters might be drawn using such descriptors who aren't actually shown to be addicted to anything in the story--you simply borrow the characteristics to enhance storytelling.

Often cinema shows a character turning to addiction to escape or survive his problems. Those familiar with alcoholism and drug addiction will tell you that alcohol and drugs ARE the problem. Whatever direction you take, you need to get real about addiction yourself so you know how it drives your character, how it complicates his life, how he overcomes it. Research into an addiction, together with observation of addicts (active and in 'recovery'), helps you create a vivid portrait. You may attend related twelve-step recovery meetings, as long as the sessions are designated as 'open', or simply speak to a program member 'offline'.

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  1. Read about the medical aspects of the disease of alcoholism in Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism. Read also about a proven successful treatment in Alcoholics Anonymous - Big Book 4th Edition. Let these inform any writing you may do with alcoholic characters.
  2. View the classic Days of Wine and Roses (1962) with Jack Lemmon. Consider how the disease of alcoholism is presented along with hope for treatment. How important is maintaining this balance when presenting stories based on fatal addiction? How best to do it?
  3. Review two modern movies on recovery: Clean and Sober (1988) with Michael Keaton, Postcards from the Edge (1990) with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. To what extent do the films follow the facts of the disease and the outline of treament that's worked? What are the challenges to the screenwriter when approaching recovery issues?
  4. View The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) for which Frank Sinatra received a Best Actor nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. How does giving your characters a life-or-death circumstance to fight from increase the weightiness of your movie?
  5. Review Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with Nicholas Cage. Consider the extent to which the central character's addiction masters his life. What challenges does this mastery present the screenwriter?
  6. View the western Unforgiven (Two-Disc Special Edition) (1992) with Clint Eastwood. How is the main character's weakness introduced? How does it foreshadow future action? How does it play out through to the climax (and end titles)?
  7. View The Verdict (1982) with Paul Newman. Consider how the central character's alcoholism is set up as the debilitating weakness that drives the story. How does he overcome it? How does it function as a tragic flaw in a hero's story?