Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) is a self-educated financial genius.
His partner, Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) is a street-smart nightclub owner who finances Bernard's efforts.
The pair employ a young white man named Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) as a front man to counter the institutional racism that runs rampant through the banking industry at the time.
The screenplay, written by Niceole R. Levy, George Nolfi, David Lewis Smith, and Stan Younger, was based on a true story about how Bernard Garrett used his financial acumen to build an African-American middle class in rural Texas during the early days of the civil rights movement.
In this post, we'll look at how the writers developed the fictionalized versions of these real-life moguls-turned-activists by applying the VOTE Method.
The object of this review is not to criticize the film itself, but to demonstrate to aspiring writers how they can build strong characters in their own stories by showing how the VOTE Method applied to contemporary films.
In this case, we'll look at how the writers developed the characters of Bernard, Joe, and Matt.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Victory: Bernard wants to use his intellect to "make money like white people do".
Obstacles: The biggest Obstacle Bernard faces is the rampant institutional racism in the real estate and banking industries at the time. Bernard also lacks the capital to launch his career, and the racist institutions won't allow him to get the loans he needs.
Tactics: Bernard partners with Patrick Barker (Colm Meaney), an Irishman who has the public face and financial resources Bernard needs. Later, Bernard buys the bank in his Texas hometown and backs loans to African-American families and businesses.
Emotional Need: Bernard needs to know that his father is proud of him.
Victory: Joe wants to strike it rich, while staying out of trouble.
Obstacles: Joe faces the same racism that Bernard does, and points it out to Bernard on numerous occasions. Joe also doesn't trust anyone, especially the white people with money. Joe also doesn't want to get involved in Bernard's schemes in Texas.
Tactics: Joe backs Bernard's efforts in California. In one scene, Joe dresses as a limo driver to eavesdrop on a conference among the bankers.
Emotional Need: Joe needs to prove that he can make money on his own, without drawing unwanted attention.
Victory: Matt wants to provide financial security for himself and his wife, Susie.
Obstacles: Matt has little education and no marketable skills. He struggles at math, which is a vital component of understanding financial deals.
Tactics: Matt joins Bernard's and Joe's scheme. He learns golf and memorizes the math he needs to impress the power players.
Emotional Need: Matt needs to prove that he is as skilled at the banking business as Bernard.
Some of the best stories happen when the writer has multiple characters working together toward the same Victories - in this case, seeking justice in an unjust system and getting rich in the process.
However, since they're different characters, they'll encounter different Obstacles, apply different Tactics, and have different Emotional Needs that they need to fulfill.
These differences will create the conflict that you need to enhance your characters, power your stories, and pull readers into your scripts.
If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay.
We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations.
For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, fill in the form on this page, or send a message to our Facebook page.