"The How -To Magazine For Screenwriters."


Date: 1/13/04

Character Development

Blow Out 



BradDaily Screenwriting Tips 

In the film, "Blow Out," motion picture sound effects technician Jack Terri (John Travolta) inadvertently records the sound of a sniper shooting out the tire of a car being driven by Governor George McRyan (John Hoffmeister), a presidential candidate.

With the tire blown out by a bullet, the car swerves out of control, crashing through a barrier on a bridge and plummeting into a lake.

Jack Terri jumps into the lake and pulls a young woman named Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen) from the submerged vehicle, but he's unable to save Governor McRyan, who has already been killed.

Jack later investigates the death of McRyan by working with Sally to find evidence proving that McRyan was murdered in a conspiracy.

As a result of this investigation, we learn about the unseen social and professional experiences from Jack's life and Sally's life.

These unseen experiences are known as the back story, an element of screenwriting that aids in character development.

In "Blow Out," Jack Terri's back story--his social and professional life--is linked to his tragic experience on the police force.

He quit his job as a police wiretap technician and became a film sound technician after accidentally getting a fellow police officer killed by a mobster.

Jack's faulty wiretapping equipment led to the mobster discovering that the officer was wired for sound.

Similarly, Sally's social and professional life, her back story, led to the death of Governor McRyan.

In a back story we are told about but don't see on screen, con artist Manny Karp (Dennis Franz) hires her in order to get film footage of her with the governor.

This footage would give the appearance of a sex scandal and "eliminate" the governor from the presidential race.

In a scene we see on screen, a hit man named Burke (John Lithgow), shoots out Governor McRyan's car tire, killing McRyan and nearly drowning Sally, who is miraculously saved by Jack Terri.

Just as con artist Manny Karp worked with Sally to frame the governor, so too does Jack work with Sally to help expose the fact that the governor's death resulted from an assassination, not just a car accident.

Jack has Sally wired for sound recording so she can safely give film and sound recordings of the governor's assassination to an alleged news reporter for broadcast on TV.

Jack's decision to wire Sally and allow her to meet with the reporter can be thought of as a tragic failure to learn from the past experiences comprising his back story.

His past decision to use wiretapping equipment on a police officer got that officer killed by a mobster who found the equipment.

So, his failure to learn from that experience results in tragedy for him and Sally.

When Sally meets with a man pretending to be a reporter, that man turns out to be Burke, the assassin who killed Governor McRyan.

Even though she's wired for sound by Jack as a safety precaution, Jack is unable to prevent Burke from killing her.

And, in a moment of horror, Jack records her last screams for help on audiotape just before she's strangled to death.

Ironically, he ends up using the recording of her screams to make it seem as if an actress in a horror film is screaming.

Jack's tragic use of Sally for wiretapping has helped bring an element of realism to the horror film. His social life has become part of his professional life, creating a back story that defines him as an opportunistic character.

To create a back story for the protagonist in your own screenplay:


A. Find news articles in which someone's social life and professional life cause tragedy for him and for someone he cares about.


The focus of your story will be the tragic act that is committed by the protagonist and is part of the protagonist's social life and professional life.


The physical object that is used in this act will be the subject of your story.


A. Define the main characteristics that make your protagonist motivated enough to face danger when investigating the true nature of a crime:


1. Who does he view as his companion for an investigation into criminal actions? A woman who has similar social and professional goals? A man who works in his profession?


What does he do to expose an incident as being a crime? Does he seek out photographic evidence of an incident alleged to be a crime? Does he interview a witness to the incident?


When does he realize that he must put the life of this witness at risk in order to expose the incident as being a crime? After he realizes that she is the only person who can help him reveal the truth to the public? After she convinces him that she's just as dedicated as him in seeking out the truth?


Where does he experience the tragedy of seeing her die as a result of his investigation? Is he in a location that is somehow related to the original crime he was investigating?


Why does he choose to make the memory of her a permanent part of his professional life? Does he want to punish himself? Is he opportunistic?


A. Describe the process in which the protagonist tries to expose a publicly reported incident as being a crime.


Define this process by:


Showing the protagonist contacting a witness to the crime.


Showing the protagonist using the witness to find evidence from the crime.


Showing the protagonist accidentally causing the death of that witness when trying to publicly expose the crime.

Note: This list of questions is a partial screenwriting exercise whose purpose is to help you create a story idea.

To obtain a list of questions that will help you write an entire screenplay, purchase's
"Character Development Exercise."

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Character Development," will show you how to create characters that seem to have a life of their own.

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