Sunday, 1 November 2009


Sometimes a blog is just useful to put down on paper, as it were, random thoughts going round in ones own head. And unfortunately for those kind enough to read it, it come sometimes be misinterpreted for some profound, revolutionary insights.

With that in mind, as I've been working on Dough these last few weeks, (first draft delivered last Friday - hurrah,) I’ve been naturally thinking about character a lot. And after emailing with a friend about the script they are working on, I’ve come to the conclusion (not a very inventive one) that there is no such thing as an ordinary film character.

Movies that look like they are about ordinary people, like American Beauty, for example, are in fact not. When you look closer, you see they have unique quirks, they are unusual, and they change in ways and in a space of time that doesn't happen in real life.

The only time you might get a character that is truly ordinary is in an action movie or thriller - because then the fun will be about plunging this otherwise ordinary person into an extraordinary world (Enemy of the State.) But even then you will probably discover that they in fact have special skills or strength they didn't know they had in order to help them survive this new world.

Sometimes I read scripts where the characters are too real. This can often happen when the story or characters are based on real life stories and people. And so the characters might behave like people do in real life, but that doesn’t necessarily make them effective movie characters. For one thing, we as an audience don’t really want to watch real life people on screen. (Even reality TV is heightened and cut to get the maximum amount of entertainment.)

So the trick, I think, is too look for ways to initially make characters look ordinary - but in actual fact, when we get to know them, all sorts of quirks and desires are revealed. It can be anything really. Build it slowly but deliberately, and in the process you are guaranteeing audience engagement.

But keep in mind what a character consciously wants is not usually the same thing as what they need. The story should be about them trying and trying to achieve whatever it is they think they want - failing - and then during that process realising that the thing they want is not what they really need. And they realise (and maybe find, or maybe not – that will probably define the tone) what it is that they really do need.

Simple eh?

But it needs to be there in every sequence, every scene, every line of dialogue. And I need to keep reminding myself of that. All the time.

Thanks for helping.


Anonymous said...

It's the last bit (every sequence, every scene, etc) that is the kicker. Nice blog. I'm new, but I'll be back.

Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose

Jez Freedman said...

thanks for stopping by. and you're right. that is the kicker