I just watched Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and even though I knew Sony rushed the project just so they would not lose the rights back to Marvel, and I didn’t like the first one, and the trailer for it looked really bad… I still hoped I might have a little fun with it. You guys, I was completely bored. The film isn’t even an hour and a half long and it feels like two. Precious little actually occurs, much of the composition of the film is reiteration of the same “action” from different angles.
It’s mostly disappointing because of the strides comic book films have taken in recent years and Sony has yet to get with the times, with the exception of the Men in Black series which continues to be relevent and very entertaining. The other reason I am so disappointed with the Ghost Rider films is that on the surface it’s just another hero having to use evil/dark power to save the day and the surface is never scratched enough to dig through the philosophical implications that it makes. The fantasy is so generic: The evil that exists in us all is always tugging at us and we want to believe that we can use that seductive, powerful feeling against the evil we see around us. It’s a premise so overused in this genre and it devalues the potential of the Ghost Rider character.
While I watched I was struck by the willingness of those involved to include things in the film that were not necessary. They had a “why not” attitude when it came to throwing in an idea and committing it to film. “Why not” is an essential part of the creative process, but film deals with a small window of time to tell your story. pacing and what you chose to show your audience is important.
I’ve figured out my basic premise for the story I am going to write. I have my genre worked out which is going to inform how the script plays out. The next thing I need to determine a few aspects of the character. The main character is arguably the reason we see a movie. I mean, you see Jurassic Park for the dinosaurs, but there was, what, only 17 minutes of actual dinosaur footage? The real investment we make is in the characters experiencing the events, so it’s important that the character we are asking the audience to invest in be likeable. The character also has to go through something very difficult and come out somehow different at the end. Some of the best examples of a character arc are any main character from the beginning to end of any season of Angel. Say what you will about vampire melodrama, The things these people go through and the transformation they made year in and year out is one of the most incredible feats I’ve seen in television writing.
What we have then is a series of blanks to fill. Screenwriting professor Jonathan O’Brien refers to this as Jon’s World Famous 6 C’s. They are: Character, Crisis, Cuest, Conflict, Clock and Change.
The first is obvious. We need a character the audience will empathize with and get behind but he can’t just be picking daisies for two hours. Something has to happen. He will at some point early on in the film have to embark on some kind of quest or call to action. That quest will be met with a series of challenges, “conflict” leading to a climactic confrontation at the end by which time, the character is a new changed person. The change doesn’t have to be good, or bad, or either really. It just has to be interesting and it helps if it makes sense. That’s where the crisis comes in. In every great movie (even most bad ones) the main character is already struggling with some type of problem when the film starts. The bigger the crisis, the more we have to work with. The crisis is the key to the characters through-line. It relates directly to the change and to varying degrees to the quest and the conflict. The last of the 6 C’s is clock. The clock is the indication that the story is finite with an impending resolution. The common way to implement the clock is to give the character a set amount of time to solve the problem: “The portal closes in three days and if you don’t make it through you will be stuck here forever.”
In the case of Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze’s crisis is that his demon side kills people indiscriminately and sends them to hell for their trespasses. His quest is to protect Danny, a child who is the spawn of Satan, but still human. The conflict is that he is not only ill-suited to protect people as his fury pours over anyone in his path, but the child’s destiny pits Blaze directly against the Devil, who cursed him. The change occurs when Blaze learns of the Ghost Riders origin as an angel of justice, driven mad and perverted by the Devil. The demon is exorcised once Blaze believes Danny is safe, but during the film’s climax, a recaptured Danny invokes the Ghost Rider to save the day, before he dies. By the end of the film, Blaze ignites with a blue flame, an indication that the spirit of vengeance has reverted back to the angel of justice. There was no discernible clock in the film and consequently it really dragged.
Once we have a character and have applied the other 5 C’s we are well on our way to creating an outline or rough sketch of the screenplays we’re writing. This is still the “Why not” creative stage, but as your ideas crystallize it will become necessary to start asking “Why” while the world you creat begins to take shape. If you don’t do it, somebody who reads it will and you will need to defend or change your hard work.