Dual Character Point-of-View

Dual Character Point-of-View


Spoiler Warning: This article breaks down Psycho, Gone Girl, and The Place Beyond the Pines. Consider thyself warned!

One of the unwritten rules of screenwriting is that you “dance with the one that brung you”. That is, you select a protagonist in the outlining phase then allow that character to serve as the principal point-of-view for the duration of the film. This device helps orient the audience, it clarifies elements like conflict and backstory and gives your plot a linear progression. What that singular focus doesn’t provide, however, is much latitude for innovation, for the kind of iconoclastic stories you get from the Coen brothers, from QuentinTarantino, or even last years’ wonderful Wild Tales (from Argentine hypenate Damián Szifrón). 

Multiple-POV plots can be a tough sell in the feature spec market.  However, if you are bored with three-act screenplay structure and a single POV, there are creative alternatives.  For instance, writers working in conventional scenarios have employed a modified two-act structure that includes abrupt shifts in POV. Basically, they’ve constructed a double feature within a feature. The results are a mixed bag, but let’s look at three examples:

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho (screenplay by Joseph Stefano from Robert Bloch’s novel) starts out as a heist story centering the poor, doomed embezzler Marion Crane (Janet Leigh).  The setup is exclusively Marion, and the audience images this to be Marion’s story, that is, until she checks into Bates Motel and takes the most famous shower in motion picture history.  Marion’s POV ends with her murder; the narrative takes an abrupt “skip”, and we continue with Norman Bates’ POV.  This transition works, in part, because Hitchcock has paced the story so well, and he’s introduced a highly specific, malevolent villain that the audience wants to follow.       

The 2012 film The Place Beyond the Pines (written by Ben Coccio and Derek Cianframe, who also directed) also features a criminal setup that spirals into a fresh story.  As with Psycho, two stories basically collide and then proceed consecutively. In Pines, a n’er-do-well carnival stuntman (Luke, playedby Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a bank robber, escaping by motorcycle with the aid of a mechanic accomplice.  Luke’s story ends when he attempts a solo stickup and is confronted by patrol officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).  They shoot it out, Luke dies and Avery sustains a leg wound which earns him a commendation and a boatload of goodwill, which he leverages all the way to the post of Attorney General.  

Read the full article on TheScriptLab.com

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