Friday, August 21, 2009

Creating Heroes and Villains

What makes a villain and a hero unforgettable for viewers? Jeffrey Hirschberg explores this question in his absorbing Reflections of the Shadow: Creating Memorable Heroes and Villains for Film and TV, a book not just for screenwriters but also for everyone with a passion for movies and/or TV.

Hirschberg writes, “As much as I would like to think this topic garners interest ‘from kids from one to ninety-two,’ the truth is that Reflections of the Shadow is for those of you who bought advance IMAX tickets for The Dark Knight, gathered friends together to watch the season finale of Lost, and still get a chill every time Dorothy transforms from black and white into glorious color.” (I plead guilty to two out of three charges here.)

However, Hirschberg’s book is primarily a helpful tool for anyone writing screenplays or interested in becoming a screenwriter. Instead of concentrating on plot structure as most screenwriting books do, Reflections deals with the importance of developing heroes and villains who will be remembered long after the credits roll.

In this fascinating book, Hirschberg includes many of my favorite heroes and villains, such as Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Rick Blaine (Casablanca), Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs), the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz), Alex Forest (Fatal Attraction), Hans Gruber (Die Hard) and The Joker (The Dark Knight).

Pointing out that the villain is a shadowy reflection of the hero, Hirschberg quotes Belloq, the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark, telling Indiana Jones, “It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” Which probably explains why Hirschberg advises writers not to make their heroes flawless and not to present their villains (who tend to be “outsiders” wanting to be “insiders”) as raving maniacs. One of my favorite parts of this book lists revealing “Do’s and Don’t’s” for creating memorable heroes and villains.

I had a wonderful time reading Reflections of the Shadow! I can’t help thinking of Jeffrey Hirschberg as a kindred spirit now. Anyone who would name his dogs after Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder must be a movie addict just like me.

(Reflections of the Shadow: Creating Memorable Heroes and Villains for Film and TV, published by Michael Wiese Productions, is available now at

Listen to Jeffrey Hirschberg’s interview by clicking here.

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