If you are familiar with the very popular screenplay how-to book, “Save The Cat!”, you will know about the concept of “Six Things That Need Fixing”.
For a screenwriter, these are the flaws or quirks you would write into the main character that subtly show themselves in the first act of a movie. Obviously, this makes the protagonist relatable, often provides some humor, and gives him/her somewhere to go, something to grow in during the course of the film. You don’t really need to have six, of course; three would be plenty.
Especially if the three are real knee-slappers.
A remarkable thing happened to me last week. I was hired to be a “script doctor”; to rewrite a screenplay for an independent film company. For real money. And when I say real money, I mean the kind of money that real people who work in real jobs make. For someone who has slogged away at her screenwriting career for years with limited success, being flown out to meet the director and scout the location of my new film was terribly exciting.
You know, except for my Three Things That Needed Fixing.
1. Snap-In Tooth.
A few days before I got the screenwriting job, my dentist yanked a tooth out of my mouth. I’ve written before about the hereditary gifts handed down from my father (dry sense of humor, cleft in chin, crappy teeth), but we’ve reached a new low when dentists are extracting teeth that are actually needed for chewing and smiling and not just wisdom.
I’m going to be getting an implant eventually, but in the meantime they outfitted my gaping smile-hole with something called a “Flipper”. Surprisingly, this is not a tiny version of the 1964 TV show dolphin, but rather a mini-denture; a little fake tooth that can be snapped in and out at will, depending on whether I want to look like myself or like someone who’s been hit in the face with a whiskey bottle during a bar brawl.
Sadly, wearing a Flipper isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. First, it appears to have a mind of its own, popping out when it darn well wants to and stubbornly resisting being replaced in a very un-friendly-dolphin sort of manner. Secondly, it is impossible to eat with it in, so I have to surreptitiously spit it into a napkin and chow down quickly, remembering not to smile for fear of making my fellow diners gag, and then snap it back in place without a mirror, resisting the temptation to trumpet, “And for my next trick…!”
So, this is all to say that when I entered my lunch meeting with the director and producer for the film I’m rewriting, I was dealing with Flipper and the Two Other Things That Needed Fixing:
2. Borrowed underpants.
Well, thankfully my tooth was snapped in and not in my luggage, because the airline lost my bag on my flight. I mentioned this (with a laugh that bordered on hysteria) at the producers’ party the night before my big meeting, and the 16-year old daughter of the PR guy took pity on me and stuffed a clean thong into my coat pocket on my way out.
Yes, I wore it.
3. Pee clothing.
And as if an obstinate fake tooth and the omnipresence of a stranger’s panties weren’t enough, I stopped in the ladies’ room on my way into the lunch and accidentally dropped the sash of my blouse into the toilet. Of course, I didn’t realize this at a point when I could have rinsed it out in the sink and dried it in 12 seconds with the Dyson Airblade hand dryer, but when I was walking to the table, waving at the director, and suddenly felt the thwap-thwap of something wet against my leg.
Is the protagonist relatable enough yet?
Or just pathetic?
You’ll be happy to know that in true movie fashion, I came through the lunch with flying colors. Oh, sure, the steady dripping of my urine-soaked sash was somewhat distracting, and I had some trouble paying attention to the talk about story structure because the 16-year old’s thong was riding up my 50-year old arse, but Flipper decided to have pity on me and stay put.
Although as a humor writer, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that it didn’t suddenly fly out of my mouth and hit the director in the eye. I might have lost the job, but how great would that scene have been in my life movie?