Friday, January 13, 2012

Amateur Friday - Charming

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Genre: Comedy
Premise: After beating out his twin brother for the throne, Prince Charming finally settles down with his new bride-to-be, Snow White. But when she ditches him for his brother, he will have to find a way to win her back.
Writers: Tom Albanese & Christopher Jones
Details: 108 pages

As I started reading through Charming, my first thoughts were, “Uh-oh. This feels a lot like Shrek.” We have fairy tales. We have self-aware humor. Charming goes one step further than the Ogre’d one and adds a healthy dose of swearing, but for the most part, they seemed quite similar, and that worried me. The second a producer goes, “They’ve already made this,” the dream is over.

But then the story begins to take shape and you realize it’s a completely different fairy tale adventure. Charming is, well, Prince Charming! He’s the greatest. He’s handsome. He’s successful. He’s awesome. The only thing wrong with him is that he loves himself a WEE bit much. If by “wee bit” you mean “is utterly obsessed with himself beyond all logic.” If Charming could date himself, he would. The only thing Charming DOESN’T have is the throne. But that’s about to change.

Yes, his father is announcing his retirement, which means it’s time for Charming to get that crown fit. Except….there’s just one problem. Charming has a twin brother, Delightful, who’s ALSO up for the throne. You see, the birth records for the twins were lost, so it’s unclear which of the brothers was born first (and therefore *which* is the official heir to the throne). It’s somewhat inconceivable that Delightful could become king. He’s fat, he’s unhygienic, and he’s annoying. But! He’s still a prince, which means he gets a shot.

The king decides to solve the problem with a contest. Whoever lands the most beautiful princess in the land will become king. After a lot of unsuccessful attempts (Charming’s women are all smoking hot. Most of Delightful’s look like men. One even is a man), Charming finally finds Snow White, who is it agreed upon is the most beautiful in the land. The wedding is set and Charming starts practicing his king pose. But on his wedding day, Snow White is a no-show!

It turns out that snowy wench has run off with his brother to a hot new vacation resort the Seven Dwarves just opened! More angry than hurt, Charming charges off to the resort to win his fiancĂ© back. What Charming doesn’t know, however, is that his brother has been planning this for a long time. He’s always resented Charming, specifically his favored status with their father, and has therefore decided to get rid of him once and for all. He’ll have the bride, be the king, and finally land his father’s love. Muwhawhawhaw! MUWHAHAHAHAHA!

Once at the resort, Charming befriends a pretty young handmaiden who works there named Cinderella. He unexpectedly starts to fall for the woman, but realizes it’s a pointless endeavor. Charming’s goal is to become KING! That’s the only reason he’s out here – to get Snow White back so he can win the crown! If he takes this peasant home, the King will never name him as successor. So Charming will have to make a decision. Fight for a woman he barely likes in order to become king, or follow his heart, even if it means never ruling the land.

I thought Charming (both the script and the character) were pretty darn funny. I enjoyed following a main character who was just so damned into himself. These characters are tricky to write because if they’re too into themselves, we get annoyed by them, but in Charming’s case, he was so funny that it worked.

And if you’re laughing during a comedy, that’s a good sign for the comedy. Most obvious statement of the year? Not really. I read a lot of comedy scripts where I don’t laugh at all. It’s quite common actually. But this was good. My favorite was Cinderella hanging out with forest creatures the whole movie and everyone around them acting like this was totally normal. Watching Charming eagerly devour a cooked rabbit right in front of one of Cinderella’s rabbits was awesome.

Structure-wise, we have a clear goal (win back Snow White) and clear stakes (if he gets her, he becomes king!). So far, so good. But this brings us to our first problem. THERE’S NO URGENCY! There’s no ticking time bomb! And listen, I get that there are certain stories where ticking time bombs aren’t a priority. But this isn’t one of them. In fact, this is the kind of story created for ticking time bombs! I mean, fairy tales are what gave us the “carriage turns back into a pumpkin at midnight” storyline. How much more ticking time bomb can you get?

Here’s how I propose Tom and Chris solve the problem. The wedding (that Snow White ditches out on) should not be at the beginning of the story. It should be at the end. Preferably three days from now. So three days before the wedding, Charming finds out Snow White has run off with Delightful. That means Charming has three days to go find Snow White, convince her to come back to him, all in time for the wedding so that he can become king. I think that works better.

I also thought there was an opportunity to do more with the king. Say we’re using my story suggestion above. What if Charming can’t let the king know what’s happened? If his father finds out Delightful and Snow White are together, it jeopardizes his chance of becoming king. Now, you have Charming sneaking away and not telling his father where he’s going, which provides a little more drama (characters hiding BIG THINGS from other characters is always good). I could see the king finding out his sons are at the resort and heading there to find out what’s going on. Now, in addition to trying to win Snow White back, Charming must find ways to occupy his father to keep him off the scent.

Something else that’s bothering me is Charming and Cinderella’s relationship. There’s something not quite “there” about it yet. I think my problem with it is that they never DO anything together. They just sort of hang out between much bigger and more exciting plot points. There are only so many ways to make chatting and giggling in a back room entertaining.

So how to fix it? Well, go back to a Scriptshadow favorite: the goal. If something’s stagnating in your script, it’s usually because the characters aren't doing enough. So give them something to do (a goal!). What if you set this up like a traditional romantic comedy? Charming actively enlists Cinderella’s help to win Snow White back. Now she’s part of every plan. She’s tripping up Delightful at every turn. She “befriends” Snow White and starts talking up Charming. If you used the King showing up, like I mentioned above, Cinderella could be the one enlisted to distract him. Once Charming and Cinderella are DOING things together, their relationship will feel more alive. And plus, I believe it’s a more interesting situation. Imagine Cinderella telling Snow White why Charming is so great when we know that she secretly likes him. How hard that would be. There’s a teensy bit of that going on here in this draft, but not nearly enough.

Overall, I thought this was fun! It still needs work. But I think it’s worth a read.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I’m hitting you with the “Hero’s Choice” tip again because it’s so important and because this is a great script to highlight it. The whole point of giving your character a fatal flaw (the defining “weakness” that’s held them back from true happiness in life) is to give them a choice in the end which allows them to either overcome that flaw or stay the same. It’s sort of like a “test” to determine if they’ve changed or not. Charming’s flaw is that he values prestige (being king) over true love (or connection with others). This is illuminated by the fact that he doesn’t really like Snow White. He just needs her in order to become king. Over the course of the story then, he starts to fall for Cinderella. BUT, if he marries her, he won’t become king. Hence, you have the “Hero’s Choice.” Pick a woman he doesn’t love so he can have prestige (his flaw remains) or pick a woman he does love even if it means no prestige (he’s overcome his flaw). The writers who execute fatal flaws and the Hero’s Choice effectively tend to be some of the better writers out there, as it’s a device that takes a while to master. It’s not QUITE there yet with Charming. It still needs a few drafts to iron out the creases. But the basis for a solid “Hero Choice” is there.