NonFiction ~~- The 10 Commandments Of ScreenWriting

Single Protagonist Point Of View: The secret weapon of the masters

Communication 5312 Characters =~5.3Min. Reading Time
Correctly employed, POV does nothing less than tell you which scenes you're allowed to write, and which scenes you're not allowed to write.
Yep, that's correct -- in good storytelling, there are scenes you're not allowed to write...
the limitation helps the movie, forcing attention directly onto the central story and the issues of the main characters.
A general rule: the more limited the point of view, the more elegant, and effective, your story.
-Terry Rossio, Screenwriter, Shrek

This "Law" of screenwriting might be best stated, "Have a rock-solid P.O.V. plan."

But in most circumstances, that plan should be to plant your camera in the head of your main character.

There are only two perfectly and reliably emotionally-gripping cameras:
  • 1) The eyes of your protagonist, and
  • 2) The camera looking AT your protagonist, preferably at his eyes.

  • When you cut away from something one of those two cameras can see, you almost always weaken the direct emotional power of your script.

    Single-protagonist Point of view is one of the most powerful storytelling techniques you can possibly find.
    So powerful that it verges on sorcery.

    When your protagonist witnesses everything in the script unfolding in an unbroken chain of cause-and-effect, then your viewer emotionally becomes your protagonist, in a mysterious out-of-body experience that the occultists call "remote-viewing."

    Go back through your script and try to put every single event in your protagonist's Point-Of-View.
    Sometimes this will mean slightly editing the scene.
    Sometimes it will mean cutting whole scenes.
    But Protagonist POV will make your piece stronger.

    Every once in a while, you just have to cut to the POV of the Antagonist or the "Love Interest," (or even, in extreme cases, ensemble members) but do so sparingly and if possible, not at all.
    And NEVER cut to the POV of an ancillary and unnecessary character, like they do in cheesy Broadway-oriented children's musicals like Beauty and the Beast, where you have whole scenes acted/sung by a clock and a candelabra.

    If you cut away from the Protagonist's Point-Of-View, only do so for a great and unavoidable reason - a reason that will offset the costly loss of the Protagonist's POV.

    Take a look at BACK TO THE FUTURE, told from Marty McFly's point of view.
    Marty is involved in every scene of the film. Which means there aren't any scenes, say, between just his mother and father, or his father and Doc Brown, or Doc Brown and Biff --
    Nary a one.
    They're not allowed...
    a strict adherence to [the single protagonist's] point of view is part of what makes that film a classic...
    Bob [Zemeckis] won't even allow an establishing shot in one of his movies. He'll ask the question -- who's seeing it from that spot? Who's point of view are we showing?
    - Terry Rossio

    Leaving your camera in your Protagonist's head ALWAYS strengthens the emotional power of your story.

    In Toy Story, every scene is in the Toy's (usually Woody's] POV. - Terry Rossio

    You may wish to make a knowing exception for a serious reason, such as the 4 conflicting POV's of identical events in Rashomon (or similar advanced POV adventures in Election, Courage Under Fire, An Instance Of The Fingerpost, or The Usual Suspects.)
    But those are advanced choices, not rookie POV lapses.

    Point of View mish-mashes are common in Hollywood movies (Small Soldiers, for instance).
    Such vacillating points of view are usually the result of committee-writing.
    And the messy POV shifts always screw up the movie.

    For TITANIC, Cameron wrote and shot scenes from the other ship nearby, the Californian, the one that ignored the flares of the sinking ship, and came too late to rescue the people in the water.
    But Cameron cut those scenes when he realized he didn't want to leave the point of view of the people on the Titanic.
    He wanted to bring the audience along as if they were passengers on a sinking ship... and cutting away destroyed the illusion. It was a point of view problem, with only one solution -- don't leave the ship.
    - Terry Rossio

    I wish I'd never shown [the other side of Dennis Weaver's phone call, that is, his] wife. It's the one thing in the movie I'd change. It was a mistake to cut away.Steven Spielberg, referring to a scene from DUEL

    Sometimes (hopefully never) you have to do a flashback. If so, at least play the flashback through the eyes (or the mind's eye) of your point of view character, as in The Green Mile.

    Directors are passionate about point of view.
    Especially great directors...
    A wandering, drunken parrot's flight point of view is the hallmark of hack filmmaking...
    some of the nastiest story problems to solve are point of view problems.
    And some of the best story solutions are point of view solutions.
    Boldly limit the point of view of a story and you immediately give it form, and focus.
    at least now you can impress development executives in your next meeting.
    No matter the script or story, just say --
    "Well, the first thing to do is to fix the point of view problems -- both in the overall story structure, and in individual scenes."
    They won't admit they don't understand what you mean, but they'll be impressed...
    -Terry Rossio