Example of How To Introduce Your Protagonist (Erin Brockovich)

One of my favorite scripts is “Erin Brockovich,” because I love the writing. It is abundantly clear, sparsely written, and dense with meaning. This script captures worlds of information with just a few simple, extremely well chosen words. To my mind, that is excellence in screenwriting.

Please read this excerpt of the opening of the script to see how much we learn about this protagonist and her world in just the first 2-3 pages.

“Erin Brockovich,” by SUSANNAH GRANT; Revisions by RICHARD LAGRAVENESE

NOTE: This excerpt is intended for educational purposes only.

INT. DR. JAFFE’S OFFICE – DAY

A successful-looking doctor sits behind a desk in a well-
appointed office. He’s looking at someone off-camera.

DR. JAFFE
Uh, but you have no actual medical
training?

ERIN
(off)
No. I have kids. Learned a lot right
there. I’ve seen nurses give my son a
throat culture. I mean what is it – you
stick a giant Q-tip down their throat and
wait. Or a urine analysis, with that
dipstick that tells you whether or not
the white count is high…

DR. JAFFE
Yes, I understand.

ERIN
(off)
And, I mean, I’m great with people. Of
course, you’d have to observe me to know
for sure, but trust me on that one. I’m
extremely fast learner. I mean, you show
me what to do in a lab once, and I’ve got
it down.

He nods. Now we see who he is talking to: ERIN BROCKOVICH.
How to describe her? A beauty queen would come to mind –
which, in fact, she was. Tall in a mini skirt, legs crossed,
tight top, beautiful – but clearly from a social class and
geographic orientation whose standards for displaying beauty
are not based on subtlety.

ERIN (CONT’D)
…for instance, at one point I wanted to
be an engineer, so I was working at
Fleuer Engineers and Constructors in
Irvine. I fell madly in love with
geology.

DR. JAFFE
Geology?

ERIN
I learned how to read maps. I love maps.
Did you know our present system for map-
making dates back to the ancient Greeks
in like the third century B.C.?

DR. JAFFE
No.

ERIN
Anyway, I was at the company and – this
is interesting, actually – I helped
Ramish Ginatra design, as an assistant,
part of the Alaskan pipeline…

DR. JAFFE
Uh-huh.

ERIN
..But I lost that job because my son came
down with the Chicken Pox and 104
temperature and my ex-husband was
useless, so..ya know…But what I want to
tell you is I, uh .. I had always wanted
to go to medical school. That was my
first interest really…but then I, you
know, got married..had a kid too young
and..that kind of blew it for me..

Jaffe stares at her.

DR. JAFFE
Uh-huh.

ERIN
(beat, looks
around)
This is a really nice office.

Jaffe looks down at her resume, trying to figure a polite
route.

DR. JAFFE
Thanks.
(looks up at
her)
Look….

Beat. By Erin’s expression, she knows what’s coming.

EXT. DR. JAFFE’S OFFICE/ SO. CALIFORNIA SUBURB – MAIN DRAG – DAY

A side street. No pedestrians, just parked cars.

Erin is finishing a cigarette. Her face has fallen — the
enthusiasm and spirit she showed in the interview are now
replaced by a desperate type of concern. She takes a final
puff, puts the cigarette out and walks to her car.

A PARKING TICKET flaps under the wiper of an old Hyundai.

ERIN
Fuck.

Even when she talks dirty, there’s a heartland goodness to
her voice. Like Kansas corn fields swaying in the breeze.

As she grabs the ticket from the windshield, her sunglasses
accidentally CLATTER to the ground.

ERIN (CONT’D)
Shit.

When she picks them up, a fingernail snags on the pavement.

ERIN (CONT’D)
God damn it.

She tends to the nail as she opens her car door and gets in.

WIDER ON THE STREET

The Hyundai starts it up, signals. Then, just as it pulls
slowly out into the street, a JAGUAR barrels around the
corner, accelerating out of the turn, and SLAMS into the side
of Erin’s car, sending it CAREENING into the median. It
SMASHES into a foot-thick lightpost. And stops.

For more on Character, read Introduce Your Character to the Reader

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