There is some speculation about what President-elect Obama’s howdy factor will be. They don’t call it that, but that’s what it’s known as in some screenwriting circles. (I’m not sure who I learned this from, but when I remember I’ll give them credit.)
The howdy factor (or howdy trait) is the thing that every President has to have to seem more down to earth. (Maybe for Obama we should call it The Aloha Factor.)
John F. Kennedy; Pick-up football games on the White House lawn
Richard Nixon; Bowling
Gerald Ford; Skiing and golfing
Jimmy Carter; Softball
Ronald Reagan; Cowboy
George Bush Sr; Fishing
Bill Clinton; Jogging
George W. Bush; Mountain biking & kid’s baseball games on the White House lawn
Now Obama is already a pretty cool cat, but he still needs a howdy factor. And while he does play golf, I think he’s going to be the first President with a penchant for basketball. That’s part of his regular workout these days so as long as his knees and legs hold out I think that’s what he’ll be about.
“Hey, M.J. can you can swing by around 2:00 for some hoops? And see if Magic and Bird are available so we can roll two on two.”
George Clooney said that he liked the character he played on E.R. when he read the first script. Though his character was flawed, at one point he saves a dog and knew that he was a complex character that people would embrace.
Blake Snyder would call that a “Save the Cat” moment. A little trick of the trade that sometimes up pops in films where a character does something — like saving a cat (or a dog in Clooney’s case) — that makes him or her more likable. Once you become aware of these howdy traits you see them everywhere. (Blake and his readers have been known to yell out “Save the Cat” when they see it occur at the theaters.)
Of course, it doesn’t have to literally be a save the cat scene, but it can be. In I Am Legend, Will Smith’s character is on a hunt for food when he comes upon a lion that looks like quite a few meals. He raises his gun to shoot, but doesn’t pull the trigger when he sees a baby lion come around the corner. He decides to let the animals go (save the large cats) and it’s meant to convey he’s a good guy.
In the Fugitive Harrison Ford’s character is falsely convicted of killing his wife and is sent to prison. On a bus ride to the prison with other prisoners the bus is hit by a train and the prisoners flee the wrecked bus and escape in the night. But before Ford escapes he takes his time to save an injured prisoner. A save the cat moment to prove that he is a good man setting up that he really is innocent of killing his wife.
It’s best to show a howdy trait as early as possible. They are usually found in the first act if not in the first 10 pages in many screenplays because they are a shorthand way of establishing character.
Do you have any howdy factors in the script you are working on now? Now that I think about it there is also a “kill the dog” scene in I Am Legend, but even that is a compassionate act.
Oh, and by the time Obama finished his tour of the White House today, I bet he knew exactly where he was going to put the b-ball court.
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Photo and text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith