by Michael Chasin
Conflict – the key to drama – may be more than powerful opponents.
Conflict may also be living out of place in changing times – which has been the theme of many great westerns.
‘It’s over, don’t you get that? Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.’
That prophetic refrain is delivered to provincial outlaws Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
Unable to change with the west – that of sophisticated banks and a corporate posse – they instead flee to Bolivia and their kinder banks – where an army waits for them.
In Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Native American Willie Boy has tried to live in the still prejudiced white man’s world of 1908. Reverting to Native American tradition, he takes his ‘bride by capture,’ killing her father in self-defense.
They are chased into the California desert by Sheriff Cooper – who is haunted by the legend of his Indian-killing father.
The yellow journalism of the day quickly labels this as ‘the west’s last famous manhunt,’ forcing both Willie Boy and the Sheriff to tragically live out a west that has already vanished.
In Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, outlaw turned lawman Pat Garrett must remove from the territory – or kill – his best friend and still outlaw – Billy the Kid.
With a sigh, Pat tells Billy, ‘It feels like… times have changed,’ to which Billy replies, ‘Times maybe, not me,’ creating the conflict between one friend who changed – and the other who will not.
All of these films were really about their hero’s ability to change – or not – with the times.
Characters in conflict is drama – and those characters in conflict with their times – is great drama.
Michael Chasin is Screenwriting Mentor at IAFT-Miami.