Screenwriting : Heros by Dru Holley

Dru Holley


Does the hero have to away win in the END?

Preston Poulter

You did read my screenplay, right?

Bill Costantini

I'd say most of the time, the hero must win at the end. That's what an audience wants to see, right? And that's what the whole story line is supposed to be naturally leading up to as well - the win. I think Michael Hague's definition of a screenplay is something like "a protagonist must overcome a series of obstacles in order to achieve a desired goal." So yes, the hero must usually win at the end. In "Gladiator", even in death, he achieved his goal - to be reunited with his family. However, in some tragedies, the protagonist can't win. In "The Wolf of Wall Street", he loses pretty much everything, and then has to start over. In other tragedies, the hero (or anti-hero) dies, like "King of New York." There aren't too many tragedies made anymore. Many of the tragedy movies that involve illness and death - like people dying of a disease - usually try to have a positive message in the denouement, like "even though Joe died of cancer, his legacy will live on forever through his foundation," or something like that.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

The hero can die, but I would like to believe he still won. If the hero lost, what was the movie about? We would feel like shit leaving the theater if Liam Neeson told the bad guys he had a certain set of skills and he will find his daughter and kill them, but in the end, the bad guys kill Liam Neeson and go off and sell his daughter as a sex slave. That would be a depressing ass movie...

Jorge J Prieto

It's up to you, the writer, and if the death of your hero serves a purpose. Don't forget to read Preston's screenplay, it seems the answer to your ??? is in his award winning screenplay "White Lily" which I liked by the way.

CJ Walley

They have to win internally, sometimes losing is the route to closure. For example, China Town ends with the confirmation the hero needs to accept their world is unjust. Romeo and Juliet find the only place they can actually be together is in death.

Fiona Faith Ross

Oooooh, don't you just HATE it when the director or writer ruins the ending? I'm very disappointed if: the hero dies the boy doesn't get the girl the girl rejects the boy the wedding's called off In GRAVITY, spoiler alert, when George Clooney's character floats off into space on his noble death wish, I was very, very disappointed. He shoulda come back 'n fixed all those breathing tubes, and escorted the lady back to Planet Earth, shielding her from burn-up on the way. OR, SHE coulda rescued HIM. Then we coulda had the sequel "WEDDING IN ORBIT, HONEYMOON IN THE STARS". Call me old-fashioned if ya like. I'm old-fashioned.

Jorge J Prieto

Yes! Thanks , CJ. You make my point.

Lina Jones

Hi Dru! Of course he does the hero rarely dies.... and if he does the whole audience is shocked...#luvit

Lisa Clemens

In Asian cinema, the hero is often not the one who rides off into the sunset with the girl, but the one who has sacrificed himself for a cause.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

Not if it doesn't ring true. I love the ending of"Chinatown"

William Martell

No. As long as their death is the point of the story. Of course, little chance for a sequel...

Craig D Griffiths

No, Saving Private Ryan, Omega Man or I AM Legend. I think their death proves their hero status by proving they are willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Regina Lee


Owen Mowatt

A hero does what's right, and should have no interest in "winning"

Bryan Yeater

No. Goals unfulfilled build character and typically make stronger statements about the human experience.

Bryan Yeater

Lisa, yes. SPOILER ALERT: Kobayashi's film The Human Condition illustrates this. There is a cause, but it can remain unfulfilled. What is important is the journey, the goal, the desire, the motivation. Another example: Yimou's House of Flying Daggers. Yet another example: Lee's Lust, Caution. Another example: Purple Butterfly. And I'm only just getting started. Everyone, please look beyond Hollywood's cliches.

David Levy

A hero can leave a larger legend and influence in his death. Even when they lose, they win.

Erica Benedikty

Off the top of my head I would say Saving Private Ryan. The hero dies, but he dies bring Ryan back. To me there has to be a good enough reason for the hero to die. I think this is one of the reason I never liked the last movie of the Matrix series. The hero dies and the story resets. Why did I watch this is my first question? Nothing changed. The hero's death meant nothing in the Matrix. The bad guy won. The audience has to walk away with a good feeling in my opinion after all, they are the one's buying the tickets.

Bryan Yeater

I really have to emphasize more of what I was saying earlier. Steven, I think a lot of screenwriting courses are Hollywood-centric, and rely too much on formula. Granted, formulas, templates and recipes are good when learning, and I in fact spend much of my time developing formulas so I can better internalize and learn from my observations. And that leads me to want to discuss more about observations themselves. Hollywood is in an awful feedback loop, wherein aspiring writers and filmmakers gain inspiration from said films, and then reapply those methods. Granted, we're seeing some innovative stuff, but by and large, there are too many "me too" projects out there. With regard to the protagonist (not just characters with hero status), resolution is not required. There is a bigger and more fundamental arc to exploit, and it's best done with subtlety and nuance. Ultimately, the best stories seem to be the ones that make observations about the human experience. I could probably cite some 100 plus films that explore some theme related to that, with little resolution. Most all are films of critical interest. Most all are not from Hollywood. Erica, walking out of the theater with a good feeling begs the question as to what a good feeling is. I personally value films which are emotionally moving, beautiful in the way they touch on what it means to live, powerful in their insights, and intellectually stimulating. Furthermore, if all screenwriters adhered to the idea that the hero lives, or the hero perseveres, then the film becomes more predictable and trite. Do any characters achieve resolution in Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild? What about virtually any film by Mikio Naruse, including When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Flowing, Scattered Clouds, or Yearning? These are just a fraction of films wherein the protagonists often come up empty-handed. Ultimately, I believe they are stronger and more interesting in how they explore themes we all experience as human beings. Everyone, please toss out your script writing textbooks, and engage in a lifelong exploration of cinema, from places other than Hollywood.

Bryan Yeater

Steven, my best advice is to watch a lot of cinema, especially foreign cinema. I have many many recommendations, and they will really open your eyes to alternative narrative styles, both in terms of story as well as cinematography. And don't shy away from older films. As mentioned above, Mikio Naruse is worth studying, notably his postwar films.

Erica Benedikty

Bryan, while you bring up some great points the masses that go to movies may not always agree. There will always be exceptions to the rules in movies that do not follow that Hollywood formula. Just as there will be people who appreciate a movie or story such as you described. I mean look at some of the stuff coming out these days, you just sit there shaking your head as to how. I see that as a much tougher sell to most producers with money. For a new screenwriter this would be very difficult to achieve, but not impossible. This is why the indie marked is thriving. Also the cost of producing a movie has come down as everyone has access to camera's and home editing gear. For me, I love the formula Hollywood movies. That's just the style I like to write (or at least try to). Maybe one day I will come up with a story that's not Hollywood. Great discussion though,

Bryan Yeater

Erica, I understand. That's why I subscribe to the auteur theory. It's much more an undiluted artist's vision. Typically (but not always), in the case of someone with auteur status, the director writes or co-writes, produces, directs, and has a heavy hand in the cinematography and has a defining and unique film grammar. The result is decidedly not design by committee. Selling screenplays to studios is a different matter, largely money driven, and such scripts must appeal to the lowest common denominator, i.e. everyone. It increasingly moves out of the realm of art, and into the realm of a consumer based commodity, filled with gimmicks, gags, spoon fed plot points, etc. Okay, I realize that isn't always the case. Let me draw another analogy though. Bestsellers vs. literature. The former are fast paced, appeal to the masses (hence bestsellers), and while their plots can be complex, they typically aren't multi-layered. The latter are timeless, and layered, like an onion.

Bryan Yeater

And speaking of auteurs, screenwriting, unfulfilled goals, story arcs which don't resolve, and film recommendations which exemplify those concepts, BFI just posted an article minutes ago on Wong Kar-Wai. I've been recommending Wong Kar-Wai to people for years, and I just did so a few posts back before BFI's article was posted. The film I mentioned was Days of Being Wild, but I recommend others as well. The BFI article does a fairly good job of introducing the director to the newcomer:

Andrew Martin Smith

A hero should be deeply flawed - because that is what is going to make him stand out from what is a very crowded field. May be we've got to many damn heroes. A villain is much more fun to write?

Bryan Yeater

Andrew, I agree. And I believe this is a means to get the audience to feel empathy for the character. Empathy building, to me is another important element to scripts. I've been developing my own personal theories on how to go about doing this. Speaking of deeply flawed heroes and feeling empathy for them, is Kumiko in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter a hero? To me, she absolutely is. And yes, she is deeply flawed. The title of the film alludes to a quest, but really, she's a hero to all who feel disenchanted, disillusioned and disenfranchised. Building on the auteur theory I mentioned earlier, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter very much qualifies. It was directed, written and produced by the Zellner Brothers. This is a prime example of an artist's undiluted vision, and really where screenwriters and directors should be looking to learn and gain new insights. Large studio driven projects are diluted effects loaded money makers, but not necessarily good films. After all, Fifty Shades of Gray made money. I strongly urge familiarity with the Coen Brothere film Fargo before watching Kumiko the Treasure Hunter. Here's the trailer:

Michael Arscott

Even in tragedy, it's important for the protagonist to have some kind of victory. See Braveheart or Spartacus. They may be captured, betrayed, gutted, etc., but something else happens that makes their sacrifice worth while. Neo saves the human race, but dies in the end of the Matrix Trilogy. Han Solo is Frozen and taken away at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but his friends get away from Darth Vader and the Empire. Just having the protagonist win or lose isn't always the best way. If they always lose something, they learn and grown more.

Bryan Yeater

Steven, you are too kind! If I am ever in a position to take you up on your dinner offer, I will! Thank you! And as you now know, I'm a student of screenwriting too. Having auteur aspirations, I need to understand and develop my writing skills. However, I stand one hundred percent behind everything I've said, and I strongly believe I can say everything I have with an authoritative voice. Armed with passion, an appreciation for cinema, I absolutely insist that film studies is the key to developing a more powerful voice for the screenplay. Everyone, please, watch more quality cinema. More critically acclaimed cinema. More foreign cinema. More arthouse cinema. You'll see things done differently. And that's where the learning begins all over again.

Andrew Martin Smith

Unfortunately - I have concluded over they years - as Bryan has said - that the Hollywood film industry (and by association the Hollywood screenplay writing industry) - is all about ticking boxes and increasingly adhering to a formulaic format. The end result is an industry that seems to the outsider to be obsessed with playing it safe and ironically spending huge sums of money on what are deemed to be potential money makers - to the detriment of medium and low budget films, which have the potential to be great movies. Where we have interesting American films being produced by independents, they are severely hampered by being unable to obtain distribution. What I find even more disturbing is that this formulaic approach to creating stories is now spreading all over the world and increasingly being seen to be good practice. 40 years ago you could produce a commercial film, which ends with a bus, packed with swag, hanging over a cliff top - with the final piece of dialogue from Charlie Croaker being - "Hang on a minute lads I've got a great idea" - or words to that effect. Great ending - gorgeously British and you would have a hard time selling it now. Remade by Hollywood and completely buggered up. Or the French director Luc Besson's film - Leon. Edgy, dark, disturbing. Set in America but who on earth in main stream Hollywood would touch it with a barge pole. The hero - Leon, is an emotionally stunted hitman, who trains a 12 year old girl to kill. So we have a movie - where the hero stretches the notion of what is a hero to it's most extreme interpretation - while the policeman turns out to be an even bigger shit.

Bryan Yeater

Andrew, well said. And I want to thank everyone for the invigorating discussion!

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In