JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH: A lesson on setups and payoffs in screenwriting.
Everything in a screenplay should be intentional and affect the characters in a way that pushes the story forward either through emotion or plot - emotion eventually affects the plot anyway. It is our emotional state that causes us to act or react.
JUDAS begins with O'Neal, our protagonist - an anti-hero's story being told - pretending to be an FBI agent to steal a car - set up. It pays off in many ways:
- It foreshadows O'Neal going undercover for the FBI. (Plot)
- The FBI has to give O'Neal a car in order to get close to Fred. (Plot)
- O'Neal is almost outed by a Crown who remembered him from robbery. This puts everything at stake: His life because the Panthers may kill him if they find out he's a rat. His livelihood is because he may go to jail if he blows his cover. There is much tension here only because of the setup - he stole one of their cars. (Emotion)
- O'Neal has to prove himself to the Panthers by showing that he knows how to steal cars. The setup helps us know that he can pass this test and possibly reach his goal. He's a car thief. Of course, he can hotwire a car. Now, he can confidently continue going after his goal.
(Emotion)- O'Neal comes across a man at a bar claiming to be the Feds and demanding him to do something to "help" Fred. O'Neal requests to see his badge but when he gets it, it's his fake badge from the first robbery. (Emotion + Plot)
One setup. Plenty of payoffs.
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