In his story writing blog, The Artful Writer, Craig Mazin writes:
A few years ago, I was asked to adapt Mary Chase’s play Harvey for Miramax Films. I read the text about a hundred times (and watched the Jimmy Stewart film twice…it’s incredibly faithful to the play), and I struggled. It wasn’t the updating aspect of the task that was difficult; the themes of the play and the essential character relationships are universal. What started to drive me nuts was the character of Elwood P. Dowd. Something was preventing me from arranging this updated story around him.
After about 10 days of misery, it finally occurred to me that I had been hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Elwood P. Dowd, the alcoholic with the troubled past, the man who sees an invisible rabbit, the man who is in every scene of import, the man who delivers the big monologues, the man who you absolutely needed to cast with the biggest star you could find…
…was not the hero of the story!
Five days later, my treatment was complete. I had unlocked the secret of Harvey. Elwood Dowd still dominates the content of the screenplay, but the hero of the story is the doctor who is treating him.
Sometimes certain characters are so spectacular and fascinating that we come to believe that they are the heroes. And yet, “hero” isn’t a function of page count or casting, but rather what I call “thematic character structure”.
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