Thursday, August 12, 2010

Learning from movies - Personality & Internal Conflict

I've decided to do a series on posts on writing. I'm taking one movie (Pretty Woman) and using it to illustrate story structure and elements, and how they're portrayed through the medium of film, because I think its interesting, and hope some of you do to!

Now Pretty Woman has a lot of issues, but I'm not going into those. I'm just using it as an example. So forget about the body double, Vivienne being a prostitute with perfect teeth and no health problems, and Edward holding a brick to his ear throughout the movie, while we concentrate on the story elements.
~ Today I'm looking at the incredibly quick way that the screenwriter builds a detailed picture of the personality and internal conflict of Richard Gere's character, Edward.~

The very first line in the movie is: "You know what they say, it's all about money."
Given by a magician at a party, this could easily be the movie's tagline.
(Although it wasn't. The actual movie tagline was: "Who knew it was so much fun to be a hooker?")

It begins with Edward's odious lawyer at a party talking about Edward. Setting the scene for how powerful and rich Edward is. People refer to Edward as 'the guest of honour'. They ask 'Where's Edward anyway?' Then Edward arrives. He talks on the phone to his girlfriend. He's angry because she hasn't flown to meet him to act as his escort during a round of important meetings.
"I told my secretary to make the arrangements, didn't she call you?"
His girlfriend complains he never gives her any notice, just expects her to be at his beck and call. She feels used, and tells him she speaks to his secretary more than she speaks to him. When she tries to call his bluff by suggesting she should move out of his apartment, Edward calmly agrees. The sooner the better. It's all about him. Edward is uncompromising, always spoken to with respect, and emotionally unavailable.
As he leaves the party early, he bumps into an old girlfriend now married to someone else.
Now here's a hint that he's aware of his own shortcomings. He asks her "Susan, tell me something. When you and I were dating, did you speak to my secretary more than you spoke to me?"
Susan replies, "She was one of my bridesmaids."

So, in the very first scene of the movie, in less than 3 minutes of screen time, we have learned that Edward is rich, powerful and emotionally unavailable (and aware of it). He is at the party for scant minutes before leaving in his lawyer's new car, which he doesn't know how to drive. He doesn't care that he's expected to be at the party, he does what he wants. He considers it to be his right to borrow a car, and doesn't ask but demands the keys.

Edward drives off before the opening credits.


  1. Wow, there *is* something in the air today! I love 'Pretty Woman' and I love how you've broken it down like this!

  2. Thanks, Talli, great minds think alike eh? (or maybe we're both avoiding writing!)

  3. i love the scene where the ex tells him his secretary was one of her bridesmaids. This has got to be one of my all time favorites!

  4. Yeah, Lacey. It's really brief and succinct, and gets the point across!

  5. This isn't about the film, but when I lived in London there was a lovely story in the local paper. A man had gone into a shoe shop and asked for a specific pair of shoes, only to be told they didn't stock them, but the female assistant told him he could catch a bus right outside the shop and a few stops down there was an outlet that might be able to help him. He smiled, thanked the girl and walked past the bus stop to his limo - it was Richard Gere. The assistant was mortified, but said he'd been really lovely - even though she hadn't recognised him. I really liked him after reading that story.

    Great post, Sally.


  6. Oh that's a great story, Suz! Love it! Thanks so much for posting it. x

  7. I haven't watched 'Pretty Woman' in ages. I think I need to a refresher! What a great post Sally, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

  8. Hey, cool post Sally. Isn't it amazing how film can convey that so quickly? First chapter anyone??
    And cool story, Suzanne. :-)

  9. Thanks Romy, thanks Jackie. Yes I love pulling movies apart and looking at the writing, especially when I'm working on an element in a story, I find it useful to see how others have done it, and film is just so quick!