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"...and the weird thing is, your aura? Beige."
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August 15 2007

Screenwriter Alex Epstein explains 'The Rule of Joss'. "I'm working on my metaphysical pay cable series, and as a massive sf&f geek, I find myself tending to look at episodes from a point of view of "what is the cool sf&f antagonist in this ep?"

And I have to remind myself of (what I'll call) the Rule of Joss: don't start with the sf&f antagonist. Start with where is the hero emotionally? What is Buffy's real-world emotional problem this week? Now, what is the sf&f antagonist that best catalyzes that emotion or problem?"

[ edited by C. A. Bridges on 2007-08-15 03:31 ]

He makes a good point about the "Nightmare on Elm St" series as being more about the villain than the hero, but in contrast - the first film is all about Nancy, which is why it works better than the other films. And why "New Nightmare" is still one of the best films ever about filmmaking and storytelling.
I'm not sure I'm fully on board with Mr. Epstein regarding his Bladerunner example. By the end of the movie, intentional or not, I think Rutger Hauer's character eclipses Harrison Ford's character in audience resonance.

"I've seen thing you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams...glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those...moments will be lost..in time, like tears...in rain. Time...to die."

Dove.

Beautiful. Moving. Perfect.

Except the protagonist has been out shined and audiences aren't quite prepared for that, usually.
Oh, thank you C. A. Bridges. What a treat to see Joss mentioned as an example of great screen writing. There are many ways to express it but it seems to me that it always comes down to character driven being superior to story driven, for depth and complexity.
And although I would also take issue with the Blade Runner directors cut comment, I think it still makes the same point. It doesn't matter which character's inner self is featured in a given scene, what matters in a great screenplay is that the characters inner lives are front and center.

And yes, RhaegarTargaryen, that little gem from Rutger Hauer is one of the most evocative pieces of dialog in the history of SciFi films. But I don't think it changes the overall tone of the film, how at that particular moment, his character eclipsed Harrison Ford's. Any way you look at it, it was a stunning moment in a stunning film, which from start to finish, followed "the rule of Joss".
And even a nifty horror movie like DESCENT, which starts the heroine in a truly horrific place emotionally before she even goes spelunking, is really about the cave and what's in it.

Ah, but i'd take it a step further and say "But what actually is the cave ?". Not sure about the US ending but the UK one gives a lot of room for seeing it as the metaphorical subconscious of the hero.

I'm not sure I'm fully on board with Mr. Epstein regarding his Bladerunner example.

That is a beautiful moment and at that point, Hauer is most definitely (and deservedly) centre stage. But not as beautiful IMO as the moment just before when Deckard, battered, beaten, literally hanging by his finger-tips over the abyss, spits at Hauer. That for me, is one of, if not, the key moments in the film. What's braver or more human, than looking death straight in the eye and working up some spit to plant there ?

Which is why Deckard as a replicant just doesn't work as well for me. And despite Ridley Scott's definitive (in the sense of unambiguous) statement, I don't accept it.

(and my perfect 'Bladerunner' cut would basically be the director's cut with it's much better ending but without the unicorn dream sequence - leave it ambiguous, let us make up our own minds)

Good blog that, I check it most days. He's almost always got something interesting to say about something.
Nifty indeed. Mr. Epstein is the reason I began watching Buffy in the first place (in the original "Crafty Screenwriting" site, he fawned over Joss and Buffy as an example of great dialogue writing) and I'm glad to see that he's still pulling lesson from Joss's works.
As I recall from a documentary, Hauer wrote that scene - he came to Scott and suggest they add something more.

And as for "let us make up our own mind" - No - If i want to dream up stuff I sit outside and gaze up at the stars - I don't others to make my mind dream up stuff - but when I listen to someone tell me a story, then TELL ME a story. Don't just leave it halfassed.
In the theatrical cut, you could view Deckard as a replicant (though it'd be a stretch IMO) or as a human. It's open to interpretation. In the director's cut, Deckard has the unicorn dream indicative of being a replicant and in interview Scott has said he was definitely a replicant.

Harrison Ford on the other hand says he played him as human and obviously in the novel the film's based on he's human. I would love to know what the scriptwriters thought because basically Ridley Scott has taken his own opinion and made it very difficult to disagree with him by inserting the unicorn sequence.

I don't think it's leaving it "half-assed" to let a film be somewhat open to interpretation, for there to be room for the viewer to read into it. I guess some prefer every detail to be explicitly spelled out for them but personally I find that kinda dull, YMMV Pumps ;).

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