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The Power of the Dark Side: Writing Great Villains with Pamela Jaye Smith
Today on the show we have author Pamela Jaye Smith. She is is a mythologist, international consultant-speaker, and award-winning writer-producer-director with 30+ years in features, TV, music videos, commercials, documentaries, web series, corporate and military films. She has worked at major studios and with wildly independent companies in Hollywood and around the world, always enjoying the process of bringing creative ideas to worldwide screens.
Credits include Fox, Disney, Paramount, Microsoft, Universal, RAI-TV Rome, UCLA, USC Film School, American Film Institute, Women in Film, Natl. Film Institute of Denmark, LA and Marseille and Roma WebFests, Romance Writers of America, Children’s Book Writers LA, and many media festivals and
Pamela founded MYTHWORKS a consulting and information resource offering Applied Mythology for individuals, organizations, and the media arts. She teaches and consults on fiction and non-fiction, writes for others, coaches writers and actors, and helps individuals discover and use their personal archetypes.
Smith authored “SHOW ME THE LOVE: All Kinds of Love for All Kinds of Stories”, “INNER DRIVES: How to Write and Create Characters Using the [chakras] 8 Classic Centers of Motivation”, “SYMBOLS.IMAGES.CODES: The Secret Language of Meaning in Media”, and “BEYOND THE HERO’S JOURNEY: Other Powerful Mythic Themes”.
She was the mythologist interviewed on Fox’s ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT Special Features and has appeared on national TV and radio programs as a mythology expert, including the “Forbidden Secrets” TV series. She was on-camera spokesperson for Microsoft’s “Age of Mythology” on-line computer game and designed their “Which God Are You?” quiz.
Her book The Power of the Dark Side: Creating Great Villains, Dangerous Situations, & Dramatic Conflict is why I wanted her on the show. I wanted to go deep into what makes a good multidimensional villain. Conflict is the very heart and soul of drama, and Pamela’s latest work explores character conflict and the various ways to portray it both in scripts and on the stage.
Enjoy my conversation with Pamela Jaye Smith.
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Alex Ferrari 2:05
Now guys today on the show, we have author, Pamela J. Smith, and she is the writer of the book, power of the dark side, creating great villains, dangerous situations, and dramatic conflict. And we dive into the dark side of characters, specifically, villains, anti heroes, and how you can better craft a good bad guy for your story. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Pamela J. Smith. I'd like to welcome the show Pamela J. Smith. How you doing Pamela?
Pamela Jaye Smith 2:46
Oh, very well, thank you. I'm pleased to be invited and I'm very much looking forward to our conversation.
Alex Ferrari 2:51
Yes, me as well. I am a fan of the work you do. And I reached out to you because I wanted to talk about your your remarkable book power of the dark side creating villains and, and drama and I forgot the rest of the title. But power of the dark side caught my eye as everyone knows that I have a giant Yoda sitting behind me in my office. It is not a movie. This by the way, everyone listening, it's not going to be a Star Wars only show, I promise you. But the concept of the dark side which George Lucas, so eloquently put back in 1977 is is something that is in the Zeitgeist without question. So I wanted to kind of delve into great villains and the dark side of story and things like that. But before we get started, how did you get into the business?
Pamela Jaye Smith 3:38
Well, as a tall girl in Texas, I started out as a model, because that's what you do if you're tall in Texas. And I've been doing modeling and some TV commercials and tried a little bit of acting. But it soon became painfully obvious. I was not even not talented. I was minus talented when it came back. And a friend advised me get behind the camera as fast as you can. And why don't you go to film school. And at the time at UT Austin, I was studying English and Latin. And then I got into the film program, started studying film and just loved it and had a great time and learned so much.
Alex Ferrari 4:20
So then how did you get into the whole, you know, story side of the business?
Pamela Jaye Smith 4:27
Well, I'd always been a writer, actually, my first writing commission was in the fourth grade. And this girl a few years older than me asked me to write a little love story for a big rollerskating party we were all going to. And it wasn't so much that she said I'll pay you as much as I won't beat you up if you write the story.
Alex Ferrari 4:50
Payment payment has been
Pamela Jaye Smith 4:51
Yeah, I'll write it anyway. But I've always been interested in stories my parents read to us and we were reading at a bear young age. And I started writing and just always enjoyed it and made my way through school in music and English for the purpose on both of those. So it was just a natural progression.
Alex Ferrari 5:14
So in your book power to Darkside, you you really dive into what is a great villain what what makes a great villain?
Pamela Jaye Smith 5:24
To me, it's a person that we can both have curiosity about and anathema towards. And so it's one thing to be seduced by somebody who's a little rakish and doing a little, you know, God, it's kind of halfway criminal maybe what do you think that's not necessarily villainous? To me, the villain is the person who poses actual real danger of some time, and can be mortal danger, like the planet killing Darth Vader and the Death Star. Or it can be that kind of danger that seduces you into doing things that you may know are not right. But you just kind of can't help yourself because you're being drawn into it. And then it turns you, but I don't think we need to have a total identification with a villain. In fact, I think less is probably more in that instance, because otherwise, you're only speaking to the serial killers.
Alex Ferrari 6:35
Right? Right. So like with there's, I mean, I'm always fascinated by villains. I mean, Hannibal Lecter is an amazing villain that you, you forget that he's a cannibal, that he's a murderous cannibal. And yet, he is so charming. And so disarming, that you will have a kiante and some fava beans with him. And you won't even you'd be like, Oh, are you eating my hand? Oh, it's fine animal. You know, it's it's it's really remarkable. He was so not only well written, but so well performed by Anthony Hopkins. That's a villain that pops into your head that's like that. It's the ducted villain that truly makes you forget. And he's not hiding who he is. It's not like, Oh, you discover he's a cannibalistic murder? No,it's right up front. The first time you hear his name, it's associated with murder and cannibalism, and yet, you you're rooting for him in that movie in the first movie.
Pamela Jaye Smith 7:40
That's brilliant writing. And it's I think it's something to strive for that, that push pull of the lure of the dark side. And still to hold that that reticence or tablet, the registers come back in and you know, you've gone too many steps down that wrong path. But it's a very interesting scale. I would say also, you know, my kit might just about anything and story or just about anything in life, there's a spectrum. And so you've got the light, dark side, the light side of the dark, where you've got the comedic villains, right? And then you've got those more the the Hannibal and the Darth Vader. All those people too out of history that you think, captured so many imaginations and got so many people to follow them. What was it? What was that look? So I just I've always found that really fascinating. And that's part of what stirred my impetus to write the book was to say, how these how these things happen, and why and what do we do about it?
Alex Ferrari 8:54
Yeah, like so how does like a villain, you know, who, again, a villain is all perspective. And in history, let's talk about history. Not cinema for a second, but in history, it's about perspective. So Napoleon, depending on what side of the fence you're on, he's either a hero or a villain. Unfortunately, someone like Hitler, depending on what side of the fence you are on. That's it's all about perspective. How does someone seduce a nation is like seducing one or two characters seducing a group, but to seduce a nation even these cults that you saw like I mean, I forgot the names of budget and Jim Jones is the one that brings true as right now off the top of my head. He seduced I don't know hundreds of people to fly down to South America and then essentially drink Kool Aid spoiler alert, drink poisoned Kool Aid and, and commit suicide. So that's that kind of villain, but then to have the kind of villain that can literally change the minds of The majority of a nation to do just just crazy, insane, destructive, disgusting things. What is it about? You know that if we could study someone like Napoleon or Hitler or Mussolini, or you know, all the, you know, all these these insane villains in history? What could we take from those stories and maybe apply them to a story that we're writing with a really bad guy?
Pamela Jaye Smith 10:32
Okay, I think we have to back up a few steps to talk about. So in evolutionary psychology, what we see is that, and we find this in Maslow's pyramid of needs, you find it in the chakra system, the very lowest point for any living creature is survival. That's your prime directive is to survive. So if someone gets you into a fearsome situation, and then offers you salvation from it, then you are more likely to follow them via a religion that makes you afraid of this particular sin or that particular horrible the Manichaean the dark the light side. I came across an interesting thing in a in a book about philosophy and humor, and they said, you can tell a lot about a religion by what is the worst thing you can do in it. And for Catholics, it's missing mass. For Baptists, it's dancing. And for Episcopalians, it's using your salad fork on the desert. Yeah, yeah, tapping into the fear of a nation tapping into people's concerns for their own livelihood is off, and particularly if they've been defeated, or they're marginalized. And then they are fearful and you come along and you say, it's not your fault. It's their fault.
Alex Ferrari 12:19
And there you go. And we're off and running, and we're off and running, as they say. And you can kind of see that and you can kind of see that as a pattern. Throughout history, all of those dictators that we kind of talked about did that to rise to power, once they got to power is a different conversation. They all did different things to maintain power, or lose power or so on. But to rise to that power. I mean, Hitler specifically did exactly that. Yeah, he villainized a group of people and said, Do you guys, I feel everybody's pain, you guys. It's not your fault. It's their fault. And I'm gonna bring us back to our glory. And, and that was it.
Pamela Jaye Smith 13:01
Yeah, and you see that also in some, a couple of recent historical events in the Khmer Rouge with pol pot. And then in the Cultural Revolution in China with now, you also had not only this fear, people were, in many cases starving, they were poverty stricken. But also there was a comparison of these people are better off than you why. And so then you start finding that disparity between the value systems and the work of in a system. The thinkers, the creatives, and those who aren't. And often those who aren't, they really are, they just haven't been given the opportunity to do so. So that's when you start finding. First we go in and we kill all the thinkers, we kill all the artists, we burn all the books. And you can get a lot of people who don't have access to those things to go after the elites. It's a very, very old system of social manipulation.
Alex Ferrari 14:10
So the old I mean, one of the oldest, I don't think he's the oldest but one of the oldest, original Bad Boys, if you will, is the devil. You know, he is the original villain and one of the original villains I think, I think the Epic of Gilgamesh might have had another villain. There might have been a couple other ones prior to the devil, but he is the devil's got a great PR firm. I mean, he's been, he is Wow, we all know about the devil. What makes and especially in cinema, and in story in general, but in cinema, the devil is so seductive and attractive, what makes that kind of villain, so attractive to people?
Pamela Jaye Smith 14:55
Okay, I think a couple of things. One is the power that they hold. If you are aligned with the devil, then you share it that power. And you will get those goodies and a lot of humans are more focused on it well is that line from Postcards from the Edge with Carrie Fisher says Instagram gratification takes too long. So, you know, most of us want what we want. We want it now. And it's okay if there's a big balloon payment at the end. Because who knows? There may not be this could go on forever.
Alex Ferrari 15:34
Oh, yes. The stock markets are are infamous for that. infamous for that, isn't it that you heard you heard that story about GameStop that just came out today? If everyone listening a bunch of Reddit investors are basically hijacking the Wall Street, the stock market. It is fascinating to watch. And it actually does show what the realities of the stock market is. It's essentially a game in many, many, many ways all about perspective and, and talk about villains. I mean, I mean, I mean, Wall Street's just, I just watched a documentary on Ivan Boesky. And I was just like, Oh, my God, Michael Milken from the 80s. And what they these guys did. I mean, it's, it's fascinating. So I do love. I love the, the idea of the power aspect of villains because villains generally, generally not always have a power. And it could be a grand power. Or it could be Buffalo Bill, in Silence of the Lambs, which is just power over. Its Vic his victim. I mean, there is a sense of power. There's never me, correct me if I'm wrong. Are there villains who they can't be weaker, they have to be more powerful than whoever they're going against, or at least a perceived power. Is that is that fair?
Pamela Jaye Smith 17:01
I think that's absolutely fair. What it seems to me is indeed, fulfilling can appear weak. turned back, it's a trap. Oh, you know, it's like, you're limping along and come help me and, and, okay, now that you're here,
Alex Ferrari 17:21
right, exactly. So there's always so the villain, so everyone listening, the villain always has to be at least a bit more powerful than whoever they're going up against. And if there isn't, then if you're if your hero is obviously stronger than the villain, then it's a weak story. Because then what's the point? I mean, if I could just beat you up, it's like, if I'm the good guy, and the bad guys, a seven year old girl with a spoon, who's really bad and done bad stuff. Obviously, I'm gonna be able to that's why like, like films like Chucky always used to bother me, I'm like, it's a doll. It's a blanket over it, justjust kick it. It's like three feet tall, and it's a doll has no magical powers. Just kick it, you know? But, but then, you know, and that's why it's like, so difficult to write for characters. Who are Gods like Superman? Like, you know, Zeus and and even going back to, to the gods, it was difficult to, to write stories around something that's like Superman is a perfect example. It's almost impossible to write really good Superman stories, because he's Superman. So you need to have someone bigger than Superman, which is hard, or at least equal to, and it's difficult to do. That's why it's just so hard sometimes to write for those kinds of, of heroes. Do you agree?
Pamela Jaye Smith 18:54
Absolutely. That's why you need kryptonite.
Alex Ferrari 18:57
You need something to weaken them,
Pamela Jaye Smith 18:59
you need something to weaken them if they are a strong person. And whether it is their emotional attachment to something, whether it's physically being physically debilitated by the kryptonite, whatever that is. Absolutely. And that, that balance, not equity, that balance that keeps shifting between the villain and the hero, the protagonist and the antagonist. You don't want even that you want it real close, so that you can get the ups and the downs that make a story interesting.
Alex Ferrari 19:34
The one Um, there's two villains that I have in my head that I found to be really complex because they have a point of view. And I've always found that villains with points of views make the best villains. So someone like Thanos from the Marvel, the Marvel Universe, who was so strong, so powerful, it literally took every superhero to defeat the little like all of them to defeat this guy. That's how powerful he was his point of view, was it wrong, he in the sense of the universe is overcrowded, we there's not enough resources to go around. Something has to change. Now that right there is a conversation starter, where the conversation ends, is I'm going to now destroy half the population in the universe with a flick of my finger, or snap of my finger. That's where that's where he turned that. So it was just his perspective that his perspective was, you can agree with him, like, Yeah, dude, there's a problem. But I don't agree with the way you're doing it. And that makes that villain so good. And Black Panther was another villain killmonger his he was like, my life was stolen from me. You got it. And you completely identify and are empathetic to him. Now how he's trying to take power and doing it what is wrong, but yet you feel for him as opposed to the early days of Cinema of silent cinema where you had the guy twisting the mustache on the railroad. And that was this is one dimension as far as a villain is concerned,
Pamela Jaye Smith 21:22
yes, yes. Much more fascinating when there is a this may not be the right combination of words, but misguided altruism. Yeah. Yeah, the world would be better if and then what you pointed out, but your methodology, dude, you gotta work on that.
Alex Ferrari 21:45
Yeah, I get you. There's maybe we could put some programs in place, but the snapping of the finger and killing, killing everybody, half of everybody. It's a bit. It's a bit extreme, sir. I get it. I get it. Yeah, it's. But I always, I always found that so fascinating, because that that character, arguably was in one of the biggest movies of all time. And they built that villain up over a course of a decade, just building up slowly and slowly and slowly, and a crescendo in the end in the end game, which is why people watch that end sequence in that movie. And just, I heard I mean, I was in the theater, back when you could go to theaters. You You heard just the emotional release of what they had been doing. And, and also, on the opposite side of that, did you ever watch The Walking Dead?
Pamela Jaye Smith 22:38
Um, maybe one episode
Alex Ferrari 22:41
in the show. So in the in the show, the main antagonist of the show, and it's generally had, there were some antagonists that show up like bad guys, official villains. But for a little while, the main villain was zombies were kind of just like the threat. And survival was essentially the, what they were fighting, they were just fighting the threat and there was no main bad guy, then a few season then they got, you know, the governor who's, who's really great, great, complex, bad guy. And but then they brought in this character named neguin. And neguin was so overpowering. That it ruined the show for me, because I stopped watching after watching six years, because the villain did not give the heroes a win, ever. Even if you're fighting a villain that's so powerful, you got to be able to get a punch in for like 10 episodes. They were just beating and beaten and beaten and never gave them a moment's breath. And it was so disheartening for you to watch your heroes get beaten like that. There was no I think the writing suffered so bad and and the show, the show started to completely go down. It wasn't just me, everyone got tired of it. And it just now it's gone. I think it's gone. Or it's about to go away completely. Because it just they just ruined it with that as they jumped the shark, as they say, but it was, but it was the villain that causes that villain was so overpowering. And they just, they never gave them a win to like towards the end of the season. But by that time you were so exhausted. You're just like, it's I'm over. I'm done.
Pamela Jaye Smith 24:26
Yeah, you're pointing out a good example of once again, that balance that needs to be there. And when the imbalance is too overwhelming. You get what you just were talking about. If people haven't seen it, there's a charmingly funny, or cartoon video. It's like Godzilla vs. Bambi just clicked. Last like 10 seconds. Maybe it's just the point.
Alex Ferrari 24:55
I think I saw it in the theater. I saw that in the theater when it came. I think it was Like in the 70s, or 80s, when that came out, but for everyone, for everyone listening, this is basically the this is basically the short. It's Bambi versus Godzilla. And you see Bambi just sitting there eating, eating, just like La la la. And then all of a sudden Godzilla his foot comes and stops at the end. That's it. Brilliant. Brilliant. Well, your point, your point in that story?
Pamela Jaye Smith 25:28
Well, yeah, once again, if it's too imbalanced, it doesn't work. Just like a Super Bowl game. You're not gonna put the Chiefs against the bell heart, Texas varsity football team, right? No, you have to have somewhat evenly matched or, you know, put the heavyweight against the flyweight. And I think even now, let's talk about waging bets. If there's not some kind of odds to be had, it's boring. It's boring. And it's boring. And on both on both sides. So if you have
Alex Ferrari 26:03
a hero that constantly is beating on the villain, like why am I watching this, this is just abusive. And if the villains constantly beating on the hero, and there's no opportunity for a comeback, like for something to happen, then it's then it doesn't work. So that's why rocky works so well as not only a movie but as a series, with a couple of exceptions in that series, is were just a couple. But it was it was it was essentially what you were saying the Chiefs versus the varsity football team from your high school was rocky Glen against Apollo, he was the heavyweight champion of well, this guy was a, you know, a nice knee breaker, you know, a bump. And, but those odds were that's why that is that will resonate forever. Because it's just the ultimate comeback story. And we if we go back to Star Wars, the rebels against the Death Star. Yes. I mean, it's one little dude in it in a hole in the hall, flying through a thread through a cavern and shoots one little missile into one little hole and explodes though, like it's so overwhelming Oh, by the way, horrible design of the Deathstar. Whoever designed that, that star to have that kind of vulnerability. Let's not even talk about that. Oops. Oops, I mean, come on, guys. You could have just put a flap on it. It's not that difficult. I mean, seriously, I mean, come on. But um, but again that kind of over that that that odd so you can have a villain that is seemingly overpower but you've got to give the hero a shot. You know, me walking in with Mike Tyson. Even at my age in his age, I'm not gonna win that fight. There's just, it's, it's not gonna happen. There's no way I'll ever be able to, I might get I don't even think I'd even I don't even think I touch him. I think he'd be hit me 30 times before he even blinked even at this age where he is now. So there has to be like you said that balance with villains. And I think and I think you've probably I don't know, I can't think of any bad examples of it. But in, in cinema, when you watch a bad movie, with a bad villain, it's because of its imbalancing of it, or that the villain is just so there's no depth to it, or it's so one dimensional. It becomes the the the the the moustache twirling kind of villain and there's just nothing there. And that's, you know, but when you have a great like Hans Gruber and diehard you know, oh, I mean, wonderful village, wonderful village just so wonderfully written, wonderful played, and then against the hero, which is, you know, which is Bruce Willis. JOHN McClane. The power struggle is really interesting in that movie, because john McClane is pretty much on the ropes the entire movie. Oh,
Pamela Jaye Smith 28:57
yeah. And barefoot for a lot of it too, which was such a brilliant
Alex Ferrari 29:00
choice, by the way. Such a brilliant choice to make him barefoot. So he's running over class, and he's so brilliant. They didn't give him boots. I mean, that was like they gave it maybe barefooted. That's like another level. It was so brilliantly done. But But john has pretty much on on the ropes the entire movie, and Hans is not particularly a imposing physical villain, but he's a villain who's intellectual and his resources are are very substantial, which is to essentially correct
Pamela Jaye Smith 29:35
yes, absolutely. And of course, Alan Rickman has that ability to just give the stare that withers. So can you just raise his eyebrow and just go, oh, okay, fine.
Alex Ferrari 29:50
Now what? So you talk about the three levels of the dark side, what are the three levels? We'll be right back after a word from Our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Pamela Jaye Smith 30:07
This was so interesting when it was pointed out to me, I was taking a series of courses at the philosophical Research Society here in Los Angeles, and studying comparative mysticism, that my specialty is mythology, and the physics of metaphysics and esoteric anatomy and all kinds of stuff, calling from different spiritual systems from ancient Hindu, ancient Egyptian, etc. And the teacher pointed out that there were three levels of the dark side. And the first level is personal. That's your own internal shadow, as Jung would say. So it's your phobias. It's your fears, it's your inabilities or your disabilities. It's one of my favorite examples of that and how the story arcs around this personal dark side is with Indiana Jones. And in the first part of the first film, we find out he's terrified of snakes, I hate snakes. And then, towards the combination of that film, he has had to rise above that personal phobia, and jump down into the Well of Souls. Snakes, why'd it have to be snakes are you give somebody you know, a fear of heights, and then they have to climb the oil drill tower to save the day. The personal side is called in those old mystery traditions, the dweller on the threshold, because it's what stands between you and your next step between you and where you want to be, who you want to become what's holding you back. And we can all probably come up with a you know, there's procrastination, or rebelliousness or laziness, or I'd really just rather party than work. Exactly. Now. And so the dweller on the threshold is what your character needs to be dealing with, in addition to the exterior things. So that's your first level is the dweller on the threshold, the personal foibles, the second level is impersonal. And that's the dark forces. That's nature, red in tooth and claw. That's hurricanes. That's floods. That's earthquakes. That's I just watched Armageddon. Florida. Fun action,
Alex Ferrari 33:03
though. So such so much fun. It's, I mean, it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. It's an app. It's an absolutely ridiculous premise. And I have to take a side note, I was listening to the audio commentary years ago, where Ben Affleck asked Michael Bay in the commentaries like he goes, Michael, let me ask you a question. Wouldn't it be easier to teach astronauts how to be drillers as opposed to be drillers to be astronauts? And he said, Shut the f up bed and just keep acting? Oh, that's good. But for everyone listening who was a criterion collections fan, Armageddon is in the Criterion Collection. So there's something to be said about that. Yeah,
Pamela Jaye Smith 33:49
yeah. And that, that is an example of your characters going up against level to the dark forces. You can't reason with an asteroid. can't bring it over to your side. What are you going to do with an earthquake?
Alex Ferrari 34:09
Or or the bear or the bear in reverence? Revenant? Like there's no talking to the bear? No,
Pamela Jaye Smith 34:15
there's no, no. So it's that old saying that. In nature, there's neither right nor wrong. There are just consequences. Now, and we're seeing a lot of with our climate catastrophes around the globe these days, we are seeing some of the Dark Forces, but we're also seeing the contribution of our actions, the consequences of the contribution of our actions to that so yeah, so dealing with the dark forces. And if you have a story like Armageddon, let's say where the main thing is the dark force, it's the asteroid, destroying the city's going to destroy the whole planet and then Within that you have the personal story, the father daughter story, the love story, the friendship and collaboration and NASA verses that goes with cetera. But it's against that being dark force second level. And even with a story that's all about something personal, if you put something bigger behind it, it can have more impact. So even if somebody is dealing with like, I think, yes, it was well received, but was a silver something playbooks.
Alex Ferrari 35:37
So the Silver Linings Playbook,
Pamela Jaye Smith 35:40
Silver Linings Playbook, yeah. I would like to have seen there be just a bit more going on in the background of you know, some ruling that was coming down or something that was gonna take away the funding from the kind of treatment people were getting something a little bigger. So we have once again, a bit of balance. The third level of the dark side is what used to be called the Dark Brotherhood. Now, you know, we're trying to be gender neutral, so we're calling it the Dark Brotherhood. And that's your Darth Vader's. It's your governance. It's your marauding armies. Oh, and in certainly in the dark forces, you put pandemics and disease?
Unknown Speaker 36:21
Yeah, of course.
Pamela Jaye Smith 36:23
You can't reason with the bug. But the dark other hood can also be a very powerful villain like a Lucifer like a Santos. But something that's a little bit bigger than an ordinary person.
Alex Ferrari 36:43
Right. So it's the I understand what you're saying. So it's not like Hannibal Lecter as a human being still, but but in the, in the grand scope of a fantasy is, I mean, it's also a different kind of story. I mean, Daniels wouldn't work in Silence of the Lambs, though. That would be an interesting film.
Pamela Jaye Smith 37:01
That mashup Oh my goodness.
Alex Ferrari 37:04
That would be an interesting, but you're right. these are these are larger story, different kinds of stories, especially in science fiction, you get a lot of that. And especially like in Star Wars, or in, in sci fi, and things like that. These are these films that are so much more than just a villain.
Pamela Jaye Smith 37:22
Yeah. And Spartacus. Is that kind of story, too. Yep. So those kinds of combinations, then you want to have at least where you always, I think, want to have an individual protagonist. So then you've got their dwellers on the threshold, their foibles and then are you putting them up against a dark other hood character or group and or against a dark force? And then that you got a story. But I think we always have that dweller part to
Alex Ferrari 37:57
know. Have you have you had the pleasure of watching that the biggest show on Netflix right now, Cobra Kai?
Pamela Jaye Smith 38:03
I love it.
Alex Ferrari 38:06
It's amazing. It's amazing. Now what I was watching it when it was still on YouTube, and because I was a fan of The Karate Kid, I was like, oh, let's let's take a watch and, and, you know, everything on paper, it doesn't seem like it's gonna be that great of a idea. Like, okay, we're gonna see Johnny Lawrence and he's life is over. And the karate kid has a car dealership, Mr. Miyagi is not even there. It doesn't seem like it's a, it's gonna work. But what the writers and the creators of the show did so absolutely, brilliantly, and they're continuing to do it, even through the third season, is that they keep shifting the goalposts, which is something I really, I rarely see, you know, like, there's anti heroes, and we'll talk about what an antihero is in a minute. But, but literally, like at the beginning, you're like, well, Joey Lawrence is the bad guy. And Ralph macchio, The Karate Kid is Danny luosto is the good guy, because that's the way it was in the movie. But then, as the season goes on, Dan Russo turns to the piece, kind of the bad guy, and the dark side, right? And he's going to the dark side, and then also with their students, is the same thing. They start off and they flip as well. And they keep doing this and then throughout the series, it's up and down. So one moment Joey, Joey Lawrence is the bad guy, then he's the good guy, then he's the bad guy. Then he's like, he's both and like, and then same thing happens with Louis. So now, like at the end of season three, we just know that I'm not gonna spoil it for anyone listening but you don't you they're just like, they are what they are. It's like it's not a clear line. It's so blurred. It takes I mean, please correct me wrong. It takes an insane amount of skill as a storyteller and as a writer, to do well. They've done in karate in Cobra Kai, because it is arguably one of the cheaper shows to shoot. It's not Stranger Things. It's not, you know, games of throne. But yet it's got numbers that are insanely bigger than those shows on Netflix. And it's all because of the story. But specifically that back and forth that is so rare to see. Do you agree?
Pamela Jaye Smith 40:26
Absolutely. And I think you put it very well. It's that shifting of the balance, when each of those main characters begins to transform against and because of the influence of the other. And so there's this continual awakening, and then oh, my gosh, I didn't think I was like that anymore. But I fell into it. And then you've got that also, I like that generational split, where you've got the young kids. And you see how talk about that the dark leadership again, you see how the kids, particularly those who were bullied, who were fearful, and then you give them a tool to strike out at that strike back against those who had been oppressing them. You know, it's classical, socio politics, psychology.
Alex Ferrari 41:22
It wasn't wasn't that wasn't there. Um, I think he was in Berkeley that that that very famous experiment, the Prison Experiment, where they were they put just two groups of people, one of them got guards, outfits, and one of them were prisoners. And it was just an experiment and it went, it went haywire. Like they had to stop it, because the guards starting to beat this because they felt the power. It was so is that right? Do you know more about that that experiment?
Pamela Jaye Smith 41:51
Yes, actually, I attended a lecture by Dr. Zimbardo at one point. And you can find a lot about his work on web Zimbardo experiment. And there were a few others that followed that, but he's got a couple of books out. And one of the most recent well in the last 15 years was he came out with one after the torture scandal from it, and had a really good book and was giving talks about that how easily we are seduced into the dark side by power. Yes. And think about this too, though. You wouldn't be seduced by power if you already had it. So when you have a system with a stratified populace, you've got a built in revolution waiting to happen.
Alex Ferrari 42:52
There's always people who don't have that power don't have the resources to fight back. And, and, you know, in many ways, you know, especially here in the United States, I'm sure around the world as well that they're we're getting beaten down by so many different powers, whether it's government whether it's medical bills, whether it's you know, food that's not healthy for you, whether it's you know, you know if the credit card companies the banks can you charge like it's there's a constant beating up of, of the of the little guy. And yet that's why this story with GameStop is so kind of fascinating that the little guys like oh, yeah, oh, yeah, well, now we've got some power, and now they're abusing. But now but watch, if you watch that experiment now. Now they're like, We're going after they're gonna do it, the Bed Bath and Beyond Next, the stock, they're gonna do it to AMC, because those are two stocks that are dying. And they're even talking about doing it a blockbuster.
Pamela Jaye Smith 43:51
Buster was still even alive. It's the company.
Alex Ferrari 43:54
Exactly. That was like, you know what we're just and it's, that's, it's so fascinating, to see what happens. And even a revolution when the when, when the when the masses overtake a government or takeover, then it just starts the cycle starts again. Then they put someone new empower. That person gets addicted to power. And then it's like, I really want to help but rarely is there some Jesus Christ Buddha, like Gandhi, like figure that takes the power and actually, you know, tries to help him for a long, long period of time. It does happen but it's rare. It's usually whoever gets that power gets, gets addicted to it and they turn into villains, which is so that's what's the brilliance of Cobra Kai. That is the brute and the power is karate is karate like the like Hawk perfect example that character Hawk who has a cleft lip and he was a beaten up and he was just the complete like he was as nerdy and as weakling as you can. Then he turns into it. Sorry, if you haven't seen season one. I can't help you. There's gonna be a slight spoiler here, he turns into this, he turns into one of the baddest, most evil kind of bad guys in the show. It's so fascinating to see that kind of like shift. And you were saying something really interesting about Danny and, and, and Daniel Russo and enjoy Lawrence is that they change because of each other's interaction with each other. If you left Daniel Russo alone, he would have just stayed being a car dealer dude. And if you'd let Joey Lawrence, he'd still be wallowing and drinking his beer and, you know, watching these heavy metal music videos from the 80s. And he'd be fine. But what, but when you put them together, they react to each other almost as a chemical reaction. And it is a yin and a yang. But the yin and the yang are constantly shifting. And it's so fascinating to watch.
Pamela Jaye Smith 45:54
That's a, that's a very good point. And
Alex Ferrari 45:59
you're writing notes, thank you
Pamela Jaye Smith 46:01
about that. There's a thing, it's certainly I didn't think it up. But I think it's really great. And that is what we need is not revolution, or devolution, we need evolution. Because what you just pointed out there revolution, think about the term resolve, it's like, you're a pig on a spit, one sides done. If you make a revolution, you're just cooking the other side and the other sides of that, that one's all about. And it just keeps revolving, hence, the counter reformation, the counter revolutions that you find in so many systems. And you I think you see that in Cobra Kai. But what they're starting to do is to evolve up,
Alex Ferrari 46:45
they are you absolutely right, because they can't keep that, Eliot's that that gimmick you can't keep up and then they had to create an even better guy, which I won't say for anyone listening. They even created even a bigger, badder guy. We're now the, the yin and the yang have to figure some stuff out. It's so so so, so brilliant. One of my good friends works on the show. He's one of their editors. And he he can't tell me anything, cuz he's, you know, he's signed away his life. But like the moment season three popped out, I was just like, dude, he's like, I know, man. I know. It's just like, it's like, it's fascinating to watch that. Now, we hinted about it earlier. But I want to talk about the antihero. Because the antihero has villain esque tendencies, but yet is driven by a moral code of some sort. And it might not be your moral code or my moral code, but it is a moral code. So I always like using Wolverine. The you know, that very famous x men character?
Pamela Jaye Smith 47:53
Alex Ferrari 47:54
who is the personification of an antihero, and he is, in the scope of the movies and stuff. He's definitely shifted towards more being of the good guy then of the antihero. There's like glimmers of antihero in him. But in the comic books and the original source material, he always danced the line between like, I'm not a hero. But if you see something bad happening, he's gonna take care of it. But I'm not a hero. And the way I do it, you might not like that. That's I love that about anti heroes. So can you talk a little bit about anti heroes? Okay,
Pamela Jaye Smith 48:29
I think first we need to step into linguistics for a moment. And if you haven't anti anything, it implies there is a system, there is something that it is going against, if you will. So the antihero will typically be somebody who is rebellious, they don't accept the system that they're in. That's what makes them anti hero. Because the hero of the system is the civilized person who follows all the laws and, and does everything right and checks all the boxes and the anti hero, just as rebellious goes in and says I don't care about the rules. We're going for this and kick this out of the way and yeah, so in some instances, often, what they are upholding is a purity that has gotten lost. When a system starts taking over something. You used to see this a lot in the westerns where, you know, you're out there on the frontier. And you're well ultimately, of course, doing bad things with like, you know, killing a whole bunch of people that were there first. But then you've got the civilizing forces that come in, you get the sheriffs coming in and you get the lawyers and you get the newspaper, then you get the school moms and then you get the wives and the kids and all this. You get a system, but you still have those cowboys who are out on the edge who are holding on to Something that used to be in their point of view, noble sand pack and pause the Wild Bunch example of that. And these guys are the end of an era
Alex Ferrari 50:13
was that Samurai Samurai is similar. Yeah, Samurai movies?
Pamela Jaye Smith 50:17
Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's that leftover, often in its own interpretation, a noble time a noble way. And I'm still fighting that way. So the antihero, I think has this sense of nobility within, and also an anger and a disappointment at how the system has corrupted or dulled down. Everything taken away things of value. So in a way an antihero can be a savior, if you will, to get us back to something that was better in their eyes. Right? We were lucky, they can help us evolve into something that's above even the old way, the current way. Well, let's try a new way. Well, I
Alex Ferrari 51:16
think the perfect example of that is Superman and Batman. You know, it's I mean, Batman is, you know, depending on which version of Batman you read or watch, is an antihero exactly plays by his own rules. He's a, he's a vigilante, you know, he's like, Superman is not a vigilante, he is considered a superhero, even though some people might define him as a vigilante because he doesn't work within the laws. But he's also a god. So he's, he's running around. But Batman is a complete kind of almost mirror image of what Superman values where Batman is, like, we both agree that there's a problem, but we don't agree on how to deal with it. And I'm gonna deal with it the way I deal with it. And I'm not gonna wait around for other people to give me permission to do so. That's why I think he's so one of the reasons why he's one of the more popular, you know, superheroes of all time is because of that. And also, he has weakness. He's a man.
Pamela Jaye Smith 52:21
Oh, yeah. He's one of the best ones there, I think is the Dark Knight.
Alex Ferrari 52:29
It's like a masterpiece masterpiece.
Pamela Jaye Smith 52:32
And you've got that that mythic theme of twins, you know, the, the two sides of a persona, if you will? And then oh, yeah, the shifting between them the balance of power, but your Oh, it's brilliant, and chaos and order. And, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 52:48
I mean, it was I mean, let's talk about a villain Joker. So and that's something we haven't said about we haven't spoken about in this episode, which is a villain a good villain should be the mirror of the the hero, in my opinion, do you agree because I think the Joker is literally the opposite. And then we were just talking about Cobra Kai. They both are at once poor once rich, once defeated once not, you know, and then, you know, one has a family when that so there's there's that that whole kind of complete mirror image of where it was. And by the way, it was the opposite when they were kids in karate kid. Yeah. Daniel was the weak and poor. And Joe, Johnny was the rich and the you know, and had a higher status in society. So it's so crowded, the more we deep into the psychology of Cobra Kai, I mean, we could do a whole episode on Cobra Kai. But going back to Joker and Batman, they are mirror images, and they have such different beliefs. Does that really make Do you agree that that makes a villain? A really good villain is to having that opposite mirror image.
Pamela Jaye Smith 53:57
Absolutely. And you're going back now into when you brought up Lucifer some time ago. Any any system that has any kind of duality, one of the terms is Manichaean, if not the light, you've got to have the dark now Buddhism isn't like that. It's it doesn't go into dualities as much as many other spiritual systems philosophical systems do. But absolutely, you've got that the mirror image. And so once again, if we get into human psychology, we all fight with our Angel on one shoulder devil on the shoulders. Yeah. So that polarity creates energy just like a bar magnet. You can have two light poles so there's nothing going to happen to get work to get energy, you'd have to have opposites. And so those opposites then and the shifted train them is what creates the current, you know, just go to the physics of story.
Alex Ferrari 55:05
And that means you're so right, because it makes so much sense. Because I mean, if you what drives dark night, is those complete polar opposites? If they were even remotely, if Batman was just a bit more chaotic, just a bit, it wouldn't work, or have the Joker was a bit more civilized, it just wouldn't work. It needed to be those extremes. And you, I never thought about it that way. It actually creates energy in the story. So so you're perfect. That will go back to Santos. Santos is has such a point of view. And the vengers have a completely different point of view. And they're up they're complete opposites. And they in the way they want to deal with things. Is that is that fair? Oh,
Pamela Jaye Smith 55:55
yes, that's how I see it as well. Yeah. Yeah. And it's, um, you know, that's another basic myth. mythic theme that you find is myths and in stories, is that war in heaven? The fight between? How is this world going to be we, we agree there's a problem in the world? How are we going to solve it? What is the solution going to look like? And if Santos wins, it's going to be one way. And if the Avengers when it's going to be a different way, there's a war about the future of everything. That's a big, mythic name.
Alex Ferrari 56:37
I mean, throughout throughout history, I mean, the Greeks and and I mean, in the mean, Shakespeare is constant, it's constant. It's a constant thing throughout throughout mythology and literature. Now, I want to really quickly talk about the the evil person versus the evil group, because there are films in cinema that have bad groups of people, and that they're like, that's the, there's not one specific person, you can point out there's groups of them. How does that differ from? I'm trying to think, I guess, like the, I mean, not the wild, like Wild Bunch. Let's do Wild Bunch. There's a group of good guys, quote, unquote, anti heroes, though, if you will. Yeah. But what if I remember, I haven't seen the movie in years? Was there like a specific there wasn't a specific was there a specific bad guy? I remember that there was an army that they had to fight. And they, they what was the deal with that?
Pamela Jaye Smith 57:35
Well, there was an army. There were also the civilizing forces of the railroad. telegraph. And I think the telephone was coming in. So it was civilization, the civilization that was uprooting them from their former life. And so they went south of the border. And sure enough, there was a revolution going on in Mexico. And they got caught up in that. So they were a small revolution, that moved into a larger revolution, and help the revolutionaries. And it's always well worth seeing again, I went to see it at the dome last time. It was marvelous.
Alex Ferrari 58:20
That's amazing. That's amazing. Yeah, I mean, I haven't seen it in the prior decades. So I don't remember right off the bat, but it's just it's a masterpiece. Of course, anything peckinpah did almost was a masterpiece. So I wanted to ask you, what is something that all screenwriters should know about when writing a bill or writing a villain or writing their script? And I know, that's a very big question. And there's 1000 things you want to say. But what's, what's that? One thing that, you know, if you don't get this, it's never going to work?
Pamela Jaye Smith 58:55
Okay. Two things these are pretty standard four story is, you've absolutely got to have two things. In a story, which be good story, you have to have familiarity. And you have to have surprise. So you need to give us enough that we can identify with somehow or become familiar with and start rooting for you know, whether it's the protagonist or the group of them like in the Wild Bunch prizes with how you bring it about going back again to the Dark Knight. Okay, we know that Joker is always against Batman. We've seen this forever. So that's familiar to us. Oh my god is what did you do with the joker? That is so surprising. Why what. So taking that 30 degree shift in one direction, or just cranking it down a couple of F stops deeper. into the dark side. Daddy, are you going to take the familiarity of a storyline of the show now? and surprises? But it can't be too crazy? Because then nobody Oh, wow, what's that?
Alex Ferrari 1:00:15
And I think that that's basically Cobra Kai. You talk. It's the definition of that, which is familiarity. But then they're like, wait a minute, Daniels the bad guy. Wait, Johnny's the good guy, like way back. Like it's a constant. And that's a constant moving and flux. Kind of surprise, because every episode is just like, Who's, who are we rooting for? I don't even know. Let's just keep going on this crazy ride. It's, it's it's a remarkable thing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:00:49
Oh, let's see. Well, I think Apocalypse Now. I think Princess Bride? Coleman. Yeah. Yeah. It's just so fabulous. And because we were talking about him, I suggest that people read and not necessarily, that's one of the best I've ever written. But there's a part in there that draws you in as the reader logon. Oh, so good. So on about page two or three, the screenwriter breaks the fourth wall for the reader and says, Okay, now wait a minute, I'm going to tell you what's going to happen here. Now, this guy is burned out. It's not going to work. what he's doing nothing he he has been trying to do is going to work anymore. He's worn out and he uses up some extra words in it. But it's just it's like turning to you and say, okay, Alex, let me tell you before you read any further, you got to you got to give up some of your ideas about this because this is what's going to happen. And then he goes back to the regular screenplay, which is good.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:02
But also that works because we are everyone reading that script is so familiar with that character. Yeah, it there's such an expectation you're like okay, before we keep going here this is this is what's going to happen so you need to break this all out if this is not gonna work. Okay, and we're back in No, I I argue that Logan is in the top top five best superhero genre films in history Dark Knight being up there and Logan being up there. x men to probably being up there as well. Deadpool the original, I think it's it's so brilliantly done as a it's just so brilliant. But But Logan when I saw Logan, I'm like, Oh my god, this is this it transcends the genre, like Dark Knight. Dark Knight was so good that people were so pissed that didn't get an Oscar nomination that they next year, they added five more spots. So they would give a shot to things like that. And like there was because it just transcends the genre. And when you transcend the genre, as a writer and as a, as a filmmaker, you have, you've done something pretty special. doesn't happen very often.
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:03:12
Yeah, absolutely. And we love you for it. When that happens, absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:19
Now what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:03:23
Hmm, okay. Well, some of the basics of course is write write, write. Never give up. Never Surrender called Galaxy Quest. Would you also script
Alex Ferrari 1:03:37
the movie and they're making the sequel? They're making this. I think they just said I think they just signed on it. I think they just signed on it. They're writing the script right now. So it's the cast is back. But yes, I just saw it recently, by the way. And again, I'm sorry guys listening. We have to go on a Galaxy Quest. Side note here. How that movie has so as aged so well. Yeah, it should have been a throwaway movie. It should have been just like, oh, that's kind of nice. But the emotions in that movie hold so brilliantly. It's not it's kind of like elf. Like you watch elf. And you're just like, this. This is just a silly comedy, but that is like no, it's so much more than a silly comedy like it. It resonates on a deeper level with with the audience. Okay, continue. I'm
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:04:28
sorry. And I would say if you have not seen it, do see it. probably seen it 100 times. We used to watch it once a week. Almost every day one of us is quoting. No time for pleasantries, Kyle. Never saw it. I knew it was so good. So good. So good.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:50
So okay, so go Right, right, right.
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:04:52
Okay, right, right. Right. Also, I would say read actual books. Start with some of the content Classic Stop it. I know, I know, it may seem a heretical idea. And not just the Western Civ books, but you know, read novels read the first Chinese novel written by a woman 1000 1500 years ago, okay? And get yourself at least one book of mythology. Because that's where they keep all the good stories is in the myths, you know this? Yeah, it'll, it'll help you so much in your storytelling. And all of us are seeing media all the time. That's great. But as far as writing, read books, read screenplays, read mythology. And I would say, persist, persist, persist. And I have a personal story to tell about that. And 1977 we wrote a screenplay. And we polished it and got it out there for a while. And there was some interest at one point from MGM, but then they had a regime change. We all know what happens after that, usually nothing. So it kind of sat on a shelf for a while. And then a couple of years ago, we brought it back out. And because of some things that have happened in the world, and started entering it in contests, and it was a winner at the Bahamas International Film Festival, okay. And we got to go spend a week in the Bahamas. Yes, at a writer's retreat that we had written in 1977, practically fresh out of film school,
Alex Ferrari 1:06:43
worth it worth the price of admission, just to get us to get a trip over to the Bahamas, right? I mean, why not?
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:06:51
answers, it's so it's so wonderful. Now, writers are so fortunate that you can get your stories out to so many different production companies. And when we first started, there were the major studios. And that was it. And fortunately, we were able to get some things around. But enter some of these scripts contest, write up your pitch materials and submit through the pitch portals. There are a lot of places out there where you can pay X amount of dollars, and list your scripts or your logline, or send out query letters. And we've just recently, in the last couple of weeks, had some requests from some good companies, for some of our stuff, just going through the pitch portals. So it's really a great time to be a writer, people are looking for content. They want what you've got. And just remember, they're looking for what you're doing. So do it well, and get it out there.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:54
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:08:00
Oh, that's a really good question. Because you make it so broad. Listen to your own intuition. Or it's the one that says don't go on that rafting trip instead of a rap party should have gone to the rap party, almost on a rafting trip. And it says sometimes, you know, you can just kind of get a sense that this is not going to be a good shoot. We were asked once I won't mention the country, but we were asked by a country to come over and do some documentary work for it. And then we thought about it for about 10 minutes and then said, you know, thank you for but now, learn to recognize danger. Listen to other stories, watch the news a bit, don't get totally grossed out on it. But observe and pay attention to your own inner monitor your own inner voice.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:06
And where can people find you and the work that you do?
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:09:11
Oh, thank you. They can go to Pamela j Smith comm or miss works dotnet they'll take it to the same place. And there are all of our newsletters for years gone by interviews, articles, stuff, we've done stuff, we're doing my consultation services, at cetera, et cetera.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:36
It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you Pamela, thank you so much for taking us down the path of the dark side. And and showing us about teaching us about villains and I I just love the conversation. I had a ball talking about characters and villains and, and Cobra Kai
Pamela Jaye Smith 1:09:57
wonderful questions. Thank you. It was thought provoking for me and brought up some new thoughts as well. So great, thank you so much.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
I want to thank Pamela for coming on the show and dropping her dark side bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Pamela. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to get access to her book, power of the dark side, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 108. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com and leave a good review for the show. It really, really helps us out a lot. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing, no matter what. Stay safe out there. And I'll talk to you soon.
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