Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: Obstacle vs. Conflict in Frozen

Jennifer Lee is credited as the sole writer of Frozen, but that’s only because the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) contract doesn’t cover animated movies. Lee didn’t get involved in the writing process until the project had already been in development for years, so according to WGA rules, there would at least have been a separate “Story by” credit, and she probably would have had to share screenplay credit as well. She’s certainly been forthcoming about what a collaborative process it was.

Lee first became involved when she was co-writing Wreck-It Ralph and she was invited to screenings of the animatics for Frozen as it developed, just to give notes along with many others, and they liked her notes enough to hand the whole project over to her. One reason they needed a rewrite is that they had just decided on a big change. Let’s return to that Scriptnotes podcast interview:
  • Jennifer Lee: What was so weird for us with the — not weird, but it was a nice surprise was that with the — everyone we worked with, none of us can remember who said it. We were all in the room together. We all remember being together, and we keep saying you said, no you said it, said the “what if they were sisters?” And I remember that moment so distinctively because that was like when the film mattered all of a sudden to me. I could not see this movie before it at all. I actually was very —
  • Aline Brosh-McKenna: They were not sisters at all?
  • Jennifer: No, they weren’t sisters until about maybe one screening before I came on is when they tried the sisters. But the first screening I saw they weren’t related in any way. And part of why —
  • Aline: What were they?
  • Jennifer: Part of why Idina was not cast yet is it was more of — Elsa was more of like a Bette Midler kind of character. She was that more iconic older Snow Queen. And they were not related or connected in any way. And it was making them sisters was the first breakthrough I think.
  • Aline: Wow.
  • Jennifer: But what I loved was everyone suddenly could feel it. They could feel the film. Even if you don’t have a sibling, but just understanding that kind of — what you go through with your family is something you don’t go through with anyone, or rarely go through for anyone else.
What they had discovered was the difference between obstacle and conflict. An obstacle is anything that’s hard to do, but a conflict is anything that’s hard to want to do. Defeating a snow queen is hard to do, defeating your sister is hard to want to do. That makes all the difference in getting your story to come alive.

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