Characters don’t necessarily need to elicit a sympathetic response in order for a story to work. Sometimes they can just drive it along with the brute force of their actions.
For the BBC Sport Winter Olympics, the original script concerned the exploits of an Inuit warrior and his quest to retrieve five stones stolen by an evil bear spirit - the intention being that to find each stone he utilises different skills associated with various winter sports.
A tight squeeze in 40 seconds, so we decided instead that the hero would utilize all five sports to navigate through the various dangers on his journey to retrieving just the one stolen stone.
Simplifying the story in this fashion gave us the time to focus on what was most important for the client. A particular challenge was that the most popular winter sport had to form the climax of the quest, and the most popular by far turned out to be curling. Not perhaps the first choice for devising an action-packed, dramatic end sequence.
It was from this requirement that we took the thieving bear and placed him deep within a glacier, simply to allow our hero to smash it to pieces with his curling stone.
The first 4 shots of the advert set the terms of the narrative.
1&2) Man on a hill. Objective in the distance - inside the glacier.
3&4) Man reflects on objective. Bear steals object - sets backstory and context.
Just like Ed Hooks said at animex with regard to Jimme Cricket, by having him at the start of the story we are not shocked or surprised by the revelation mid-way through. It means at the start the audience accepts the terms of they are willing to believe. Referring back to my script i think this is Ed's point in the feedback he's been giving. Because we only find out at the end in my script, he feels the audience will feel cheated, hence why the revision tried to accomodate the terms of narrative progressively for the audience.
I raised the question with my peers as to whether Marc Craste means empathy rather than sympathy. After thought i don't think he does and i think his terminology is correct. I agree with him that the narrative can work without it, and be driven through action, because his advert for BBC winter sports works. I will refer to 'Action in pursuit of an objective whilst overcoming an obstacle'. The advert has each of these elements and each of these elements are defined in the beginning - Objective = retrieve stolen artefact. Obstacle = environment (distance), bear and glacier. Action = his actions en route to his objective. Now because we have these elements, we can empathise. We can feel into his actions because we know the terms of the relationship. We do not feel sympathy - we do not see the adverse affects caused by the bears actions like we might in a feature length. This brings me back to the my own revised script - the character must remain true to his objective, his environment and his terms. That is why he is in pursuit of his wife and not just to get home (as before). If it was to just get home then we have been lied to from the start as the environment was not truthful in the terms of the relationship. No matter where he is, his wife is as she is when we meet her in the narrative. I feel the audience are allowed to be given hints all is not what it seems early on; it allows the director to build curiosity with the audience, whilst allowing the audience to understand the terms of the environment. If the character gets this information too early his actions change because the focus is not his objective, its the strange happenings. That is why the transition starts when he is aware of strange things and thats why his objective is completed with the introduction of the wife.