(Dramatica Users Group Minutes for March 14, 2006)
Tonight’s film for analysis was Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the 1941 original adaptation of the play, Heaven Can Wait. We had a nice sized group with a number of writers new to Dramatica or unfamiliar with Dramatica.
We started off by identifying the Overall Story throughline: “The angels have to find a body for the dead boxer, Joe Pendleton.”
Instead of identifying the other throughlines, we went straight for the Plot Dynamics.
The first plot dynamic we discussed was Story Driver: Action or Decision (Do actions force decisions or do decisions force actions). Action was chosen and seemed to be a pretty obvious choice. The inciting event is the plane crash with the early “removal” of Joe by the neophyte angel. Some of the act turns forced by action included the murder of Farnsworth and arrival of Bette (which forces Joe’s decision to take over Farnsworth’s body for a while); Farnsworth’s second murder; and the death of the boxer Murdoch during the championship fight.
The second plot dynamic we discussed was Story Limit: Timelock or Optionlock. We chose Optionlock—the story was limited by a finite number of options. Specifically, there were only a few newly dead bodies that met Joe’s needs as a professional boxer (who might also “get the girl”). We had a brief discussion on how the Story Limit, particularly Timelocks, affect some audience members differently than others. Female audiences tend to be less empathetic to timelocks than they are to optionlocks. Male audiences tend to empathize with both story limits.
The third dynamic we discussed was Story Outcome: Success or Failure. The boxer got an acceptable body. This is a Success story.
The last plot dynamic we discussed was Story Judgment: Good or Bad. After some clarification that this topic refers to the Main Character’s personal issues, we all agreed it was a Good story. A Success/Good story is a happy ending which coincided with our interpretation of the end of the film.
Chris then asked to identify the Main Character. Joe Pendleton was the obvious choice and no alternatives were proposed.
Instead of identifying the Influence Character, Chris directed us to the Main Character Dynamics questions.
The first character dynamic question we tackled was MC Approach: Do-er or Be-er. This provoked some discussion that Joe might be a Be-er since he has to step into other people’s bodies. Chris pointed out that this was described (in the film) as the same as putting on a coat (“I’ll put on the Farnsworth coat for a while…”). It soon became clear the choice for this dynamic was Do-er. When Joe discovers his death is untimely, he wants to go back into his body. When it’s found to be cremated, he goes searching the world looking for alternative candidates. When presented with Bette’s dilemma, Joe chooses to “wear” Farnsworth’s body for a while so he can fix things for her. To get himself in shape to fight as Farnsworth, Joe sets up gym equipment in the house and begins a heavy exercise regimen. When trying to convince his manager Corkle that he really is Joe, he plays his saxophone. And so on… And, of course, he’s a boxer.
There was also a case for Be-er made because Mr. Jordan constantly emphasized to Joe that Joe should just “be himself.” Chris suggested that there was another explanation for this emphasis and asked to put this aside for the moment, which we did.
The second character dynamic question we answered was MC Problem-Solving Style: Logical (Linear) or Intuitive (Holistic). Joe was readily identified as a Linear thinker. “If I do this then I’ll get that,” and so on. This was followed by a brief discussion about how this character dynamic affects male audiences (as a gross generalization) differently than female audiences. Male audiences tend to be less empathetic to holistic thinkers than they are to linear thinkers. Female audiences tend to empathize with both problem-solving styles.
From there we went to the MC Resolve: Change or Steadfast. The group chose Steadfast without any hesitation. At this point, Chris returned to the idea that had been put aside. He pointed out that Mr. Jordan’s emphasis to Joe to “be himself” was an admonition to stay the course…to remain steadfast.
The last character dynamic question we discussed was MC Growth: Stop or Start. Before we answered this question, Chris pointed out how the meaning of this question depends on the MC Resolve. For Change characters, the problem is seen to be inside them sand there for Stop looks like a chip on the shoulder while Start looks like a hole in the heart. For Steadfast characters, however, the problem is seen to be largely outside them and therefore the MC Growth looks like the MC is holding out for something to stop or something to begin. An argument was made that Joe was a Start character waiting to find the right body and this was supported by many of the group. Chris chose to differ, saying he felt that Joe was waiting for something to stop. Specifically, Joe’s personal troubles began with his premature death and he was holding out against all influences so that he could meet his destiny as a world champion boxer. We decided to leave this question unanswered (per Chris’ suggestion).
We then identified the Inlfuence Character. Mr. Jordan was identified as a candidate but was quickly discarded in favor of Bette, the love interest. Of all the characters, she was the one that most challenged Joe’s steadfastness. Her predicament got Joe to reconsider using Farnsworth’s body. With Bette as the Influence Character (IC), the Relationship Story throughline was obviously the budding romance between Joe and Bette.
We talked briefly about how lightly the Influence Character and Relationship Story throughlines were illustrated in the film. Unlike the 1970’s remake, Heaven Can Wait, which explored all four throughlines equally, Here Comes Mr. Jordan clearly emphasizes the OS and MC throughlines and underplays both the IC and RS throughlines. Chris suggested one explanation for this might be audience expectations in the early 1940’s versus more modern audience expectations. While modern audiences expect more explicit exploration of the love interest and romance throughline, Chris thought that earlier audiences might be inclined to “fill in the blanks” in those throughlines—particularly in light comedies.
Choosing the domains for the throughlines proved to be easy. The Overall Story throughline was clearly a Situation—the dead boxer needs to find a suitable body so he will fulfill his destiny as a world champ. The “world” remains out of balance until that happens.
As a Do-er, that left only one place for Joe—an Activity domain. This worked well since what he wants to do is box and he cannot do that while dead or in Farnsworth’s body. He constantly does different things trying to hold out against the troubles thrown at him.
This put Bette in the Manipulation domain. Other people’s manipulation of Bette had profound impact on Joe. At first it’s Mrs. Farnsworth and Farnsworth’s secretary manipulating her, then Joe as Farnsworth, then Mrs. Farnsworth and the secretary again. In each instance, Joe responds to her manipulation and each time must question the steadfast path he has chosen for himself.
This left the Relationship Story throughline in the Fixed Attitude domain. This fit perfectly since Bette hates Farnsworth at the beginning, which frustrates Joe (in Farnsworth’s body) because she fascinates him.
We moved on to choose the Overall Story Goal: Past, How Things are Going, Present, or Future. We chose The Future since the boxer’s Future was the shared concern of all the parties.
Since we were running low on time, Chris suggested we move down to the element level to identify the Overall Story problem. This invoked some fun discussion and several suggestions for possible OS Problems. Chris put the discussion on hold and moved attention over to the Main Character and his possible problems. Chris pointed out that the MC Problem for steadfast characters is different than for change characters. For change characters, the problem is the source of the MC’s internal conflicts. For steadfast characters, the problem is the source of the MC’s drive since he doesn’t even consider changing it.
Citing the lateness of the hour, Chris decided to tell the group what he believe Joe’s “problem” was. He chose Feeling as the source of Joe’s drive. His feelings for boxing, Bette, his friend Max Corkle, and so on drive his actions.
We discussed various story points identified by the Story Engine Settings report for the rest of the Users Group Meeting.