Welcome to our archive of the "Ask a Filmmaker," a column that was devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process. Our guest columnists were screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), director Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News).

April 11, 2008

Ask a Writer
by John August

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, why is Charlie so passive in the movie?

As the main character I would think he would do something during the big adventure in the factory but he does nothing. He faces no challenges. He is not tested in any way. He doesn't even have the opportunity to make a single mistake.

He is simply the blandest and most uninteresting character in the entire group. He doesn't even merit a song. I just don't get it.


Congratulations, Gilbert. You are now a studio executive.

The one consistent note Tim and I got from Warner Bros. about the script was, "Shouldn't Charlie be trying harder?" To which we answered, "No." And because Tim Burton is Tim Burton, they eventually stopped asking.

The world is full of movies where scrappy young heroes succeed by trying really hard, by being clever and saying witty things. But that's not Roald Dahl's Charlie Bucket at all. We didn't want a classic Disney protagonist, so we left Charlie the way he was: a good kid.

Charlie "wins" because he's genuinely good, in a quiet, unassuming way. He doesn't get a song because the Oompa-Loompas only sing about rotten children.

I'm sorry that doesn't float your boat, Gilbert, but I think the real issue may be how much you're preconditioned by all the movies you've seen with plucky kids who outthink the adults. If you hurry, you can probably catch one at the multiplex.

John August's screenwriting credits include Go, Big Fish, Titan A.E. and both Charlie's Angels movies. His current projects include writing and directing The Nines, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tarzan, and Corpse Bride. He also maintains a screenwriting-oriented website at johnaugust.com.

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, John earned a degree in journalism from Drake University in Iowa, and an MFA in film production from the Peter Stark program at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.

Got a question about screenwriting? Send it to Ask a Writer.