Erik Bork, Emmy-winning television writer and producer was on hand at the Great American Pitchfest last weekend. He taught a great class entitled Throwing Rocks at Your Main Character: How to Keep Your Story Moving Forward. The title came from a famous George M. Cohan quote: “In the first act you get your hero up a tree. The second act, you throw rocks at him. For the third act you let him down.”
Erik underscored the fact that every feature film, regardless of the genre, needs a compelling central problem that will drive the story from beginning to end. He also noted that ‘conflict’ – which any good script should be full of – doesn’t necessarily mean interpersonal conflict, i.e. fighting. It just means problems.
Erik referred the class to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and suggested we all become very familiar with Blake’s genres. When you know what genre you want to work within, it becomes easier to determine what elements your central problem should have and how it should develop.
Regardless of genre, Erik informed us that any script’s one central problem – and your script should just have one main problem, a problem which can’t be solved until the end and which shows up in some way or another in every scene of your script – your central problem needs to be a BITCH.
B – The problem needs to be Big. It needs to be the most life-changing problem that has ever happened to your main character and it needs to irrevocably change them.
I – It needs to be Important. The resolution of the problem should be vital to everyone involved. To not solve the problem is unacceptable and unthinkable to both the characters and the audience.
T – The problem must be Timely. It’s not something that can be put off. It must be dealt with now.
C – It should be Complicated. Attempts to solve the problem always fail and actually create more unexpected problems along the way. Things always have to get worse before they can get better.
H – The problem must be Hard. Your central problem should push people to their absolute limit. It must take them as far as they can go and then a little bit further. Achieving success must be so hard that when the problem is finally solved, the ending is as emotionally satisfying as possible.
The central problem is the story. Success is merely the ending. Of course success is what makes the story complete, but if success comes too early, the story will always suffer.
Erik shared a number of other extremely helpful insights which you can discover for yourself by visiting his website. Erik has a great blog and also offers highly sought after script consultation services.
Erik also does something rather amazing:
If you send him a one page outline of your script, he’ll schedule a half hour phone consultation with you to discuss your concept FOR FREE.
I decided to use this generous service, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the feedback Erik gave me — he was encouraging but also critical and provided expert feedback and direction.
You can email him directly at erik (at) flyingwrestler (dot) com. Tell him Angela Guess sent you!