A musician helps a young singer find fame as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
There have been numerous incarnations of A Star is Born but for this particular analysis, I will be referring to the 2018 film starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The screenplay was written by Eric Roth & Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters, based on previous versions of the story. I found it powerful, to say the least.
Here are three lessons I learned from reading the A Star is Born screenplay:
- How to establish a character’s fatal flaw.
- How to add history and depth through side characters.
- Have your characters speak truth to one another.
#1. On the first page of the A Star is Born screenplay, the protagonist is shown spitting and popping pills while surrounded by cheering fans:
HOW TO ESTABLISH A CHARACTER’S FATAL FLAW —
The classic “show, don’t tell” approach is effectively utilized here, as we see that Jackson uses drugs and alcohol to cope with fame. Every major character needs a fatal flaw that is either the catalyst for their demise, as is the case in tragedy, or is an obstacle to overcome over the course of the story. Establishing these character flaws early and clearly allow the audience to root for our heroes. We want them to grow, change, and succeed because this mentally paves the way for our own growth and success.
Beyond this subconscious link between audience and character, it gives them an arc. In order for stories to maintain attention and achieve memorable status as a “classic,” the characters must have room to grow or change in some way. They don’t always change, but the audience must see that they could. An alternative story that comes to mind is Goodfellas, in which the hero had every chance to change but chose to remain stuck, leading to a tragic demise. Tragic character arcs can be an example of what not to do, and show viewers what might happen if they refuse to face their own flaws and change.
#2. On the following page of the A Star is Born screenplay, Jack talks with his old friend Noodles after waking up in his bushes:
HOW TO ADD HISTORY AND DEPTH THROUGH SIDE CHARACTERS —
One of the most important elements of this scene is the way it reveals Jack’s history through the use of a side character. Noodles is not a major player in the story, but his presence provides an opportunity to explore Jack’s past and add depth to his character. By mentioning that Jack looks like his old self again, Noodles hints at the changes that Jack has gone through over the years, and the struggles he has faced.
Another important aspect of this scene is the use of voice. Noodles speaks in a colloquial manner that is appropriate for his character, and his statement, “It made me happy, man,” has a personal and emotional tone that reflects the depth of his relationship with Jack. By contrast, Jack’s response is more guarded, revealing his own insecurities and fears about the future.
Overall, this scene shows how side characters can be used effectively to add history and depth to a story, as well as provide opportunities for character development. It also demonstrates the importance of using voice to create realistic and engaging characters, and to convey the emotional depth of a scene.
#3. On the following page of the A Star is Born screenplay, a light-hearted conversation plunges to the deep:
HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS SPEAK TRUTH TO ONE ANOTHER —
The scene involves Jack and Ally, the two tragic lovers of the story, discussing a recent billboard of hers. At first, their conversation is light-hearted, with Jack joking about the billboard featuring only Ally’s nose. However, the conversation takes a serious turn when Jack begins to speak to Ally about her role as an artist and the importance of speaking her truth.
Through Jack’s monologue, the scene provides an example of how characters can speak truth to one another in a way that is both powerful and poignant. Jack’s advice to Ally is not only heartfelt but also insightful, as it reveals his own struggles with fame and the importance of staying true to oneself. By urging Ally to say what she wants to say with no apologies, Jack emphasizes the importance of artistic authenticity and encourages her to use her voice to create something meaningful.
This scene also showcases the depth of the relationship between Jack and Ally, as well as their shared love for music and art. Jack’s words are not just generic advice but come from a place of deep understanding and empathy, as he recognizes the challenges that Ally faces as an artist, and will continue to face. His words resonate with her, and the scene highlights the emotional connection between them.
Characters can speak truth to one another in a way that is both powerful and emotionally resonant. This scene emphasizes the importance of authenticity in art and the need to stay true to oneself, even in the face of fame and success.