Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Writing Short Films by Phil Parker
Introduction The Protagonist: 1 The Protagonist: 2 Point of View & Theme Style & Tone Further Reading
The Protagonist: 1
Zinky Boys Go Underground (1999)

Zinky Boys Go Underground (1999)

One of the first questions asked is 'Who is the protagonist - the person who is central to the story at the heart of the film?'. Finding the central character of the narrative is critical to any story-driven narrative. This character can dominate the narrative, as in Springing Lenin (d. Andrie Nekrasov, 1992), where an elderly spinster decides to bring a statue of Lenin from Berlin back to her remote Scottish Highland home. However, they may not be the person who tells the story in the film, as is demonstrated by the use of the younger sister in Zinky Boys Go Underground (d. Paul Tickell, writer: Adsid Tantimedh, 1999). In this tale of small-time criminals in modern Moscow, the story is about Serge, a veteran of the war in Afganistan, but his tragic situation, and those of his girlfriend and gang, are narrated by his sister.

The second question is likely to be 'What is the active question, which is the basis of the action in film?' Sometimes this is phrased as 'What does the protagonist want?', but this limits the options when starting out with an idea. It is more useful to think about what is the action of the film, and what is the audience being asked to follow or be interested in? The answer to this question can take many forms. In The Curious (d. Stephen Brown, Writer: Robert Smith, 1994), the audience is asked to share in the protagonist's curiosity about the strange young woman at the window, while in Deep Down (d./writer Christin Cockerton) the audience is asked to share a woman's obsession with her mother's dress.

The key to answer this question in the short form, though, is to decide on an incident which will form the basis of the film's climax, and/or its narrative action. In many short films, for example, Yellow (d./writers: Billy Elltringham and Simon Beaufoy: 1998), it is focussed on a single defining moment in the central character's life, while in The Cutter (d. Carl Prechezer, Writer: Peter Salmi, 1992), it is the moments leading up to a key defining moment of their life. However, for Springing Lenin and Zinky Boys Go Underground, the nature of the story requires more narrative time, but the narrative still focuses on a key moment. In Springing Lenin, it is the encounters around bringing the statue to Scotland and the piano teacher asserting her right to be who she wants to be, while in Zinky Boys... it is the series of events that ultimately destroy the young sister's world.