02 July, 2007

Script study: "Thunderheart"

"Thunderheart" (1992)
By John Fusco
Monday 2 July, BBC1, 11:35pm

Inspired by true events, Val Kilmer plays a part-Sioux FBI agent who rediscovers his lost heritage as he investigates a murder on a reservation.

John Fusco:

“I was adopted into a traditional family on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 80’s while researching Thunderheart. I learned to speak Lakota and I became very close to people out there. It has influenced me tremendously. Firstly, it helped to define a spiritual path that I have always been drawn to, and spirituality is a big part of creativity. What is creativity without faith in the unknown?”

“When you’re writing a screenplay based on history or historical accounts, research is imperative. It’s also one of my favourite parts of the process. If you’re passionate about the subject matter—and if you’re not you shouldn’t be writing about it—research is never work. It’s a “drinking in” process, drinking in everything there is to know about Frank Hopkins, or Ethan Allen, or Babe Ruth and the times in which they lived.

I read everything that was ever published on the subject and then I try to find unexplored branches. To me, the pure gold is finding an old-timer who remembers his, or remembers his ancestor’s stories. You can find real nuggets and offbeat textures in that stuff.

That said, when it comes time to sit down and write, you have to open the parameters for yourself to be creative and not boxed in. I think that the key is downloading that research into your mind, downloading the speech of the time, to the point that it comes natural in the writing process. You don’t have to think about it.”

One of the things readers look for with spec scripts and an audience looks for subconsciously with films is “a main character that transforms”. That’s not to say there aren’t any other types of story out there but thinking about your hero’s journey will get you far. But it’s not just about the outer questing journey, it’s also about the inner emotional journey. Of course, that means developing our characters beyond the basic so they have some depth.

Ray’s quest as he tries to find out what's going on is exciting but what raises this above similar films is the well thought-out emotional engine of the story and the character arc where he faces dilemmas and goes from denial to acceptance.

That’s why theme is important as it defines that inner emotional journey and the outer questing journey is just something that forces the protagonist to look at themselves.


Useful Links:

The Hero's Journey - An environment to explore the classic mythical story structure and to create your own stories.

The Emotional Toolbox

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