Monday, 20 January 2014

THE 4 ELEMENTS OF GIVING CHARACTERS CHARACTER

READ THIS : Before we get started, Let me just say, once again, that this is my approach to writing and developing film projects. I'm not saying it the best way, just one way of doing it. In the end, you should really find your own way of doing anything, shit that works for some people doesn't work for everyone. It's all just a matter of what works for you as a filmmaker/writer/artist/juggler, whatever. However you should be able to apply any approach back to your own work to try and better the final product and with that said lets go.

I jumped over creating Characters briefly in my first writing blog HERE

Concept Sketch of Jody from Creepsville.
Jody was based on an old college friend.
In my first blog I briefly talked about how I sometimes begin by designing a character and then work from there. Which is fine when you're creating killer clowns, Giant brutish psychopaths and Demons from other dimensions. Here I draw from comic books, films, real life horror stories and many other sources and then can retrospectively create backstories for them based on the story needs or what suits that character, But when crafting real, rounded characters I have to draw from a different source all together. 

Over my 30+ years on this earth, I have lived a very strange and interesting life and as a result I have met all kinds of different people, talked with them, seen the good in them, the bad in them and shared moments of joy, sadness and boredom with them. This is the pool into which I dive when I need real people, when I need characters. 

When I started writing what would become my 1st feature Creepsville in 2008 I was a fresh graduate from University with a degree in Screenwriting that had taught me how to craft a story, but had been somewhat lacking in helping me find my own voice. Being a little nervous about it, I asked a more experienced writer friend of mine, to help me break the script. We agreed that I would write the first draft and he would tighten it up before shooting began in mid 2009.

As we broke the story I began to develop the lead character in the first draft, he suggested that I base the character on someone I knew well. I, of course, chose myself. Taking it back to him, he felt that the character was lacking something, he wasn't rounded enough. This was simply because, when it comes to ourselves, we simply can't be objective enough, We project our ideal decisons into characters rather than real ones and although it worked ok, I was lacking an objective approach to myself. 

Fisrt quick sketch of Red. Complete with outlines for her backstory.
Blurred to avoid Spoilers. 
He suggested that I chose someone else to base that character on, So I looked at the story and looked at the people I knew who would realistically fit into that scenario. I chose,  a guy who I had gone to university with, a decent guy, but a guy who was somewhat flawed at the same time. Then an amazing thing happened, The flaws of that character actually started to give the story greater grounding. My lead went from a character who finds himself in a bad situation, into a lead character who, through his own selfish actions, puts himself and the woman he loves in a bad situation. The stakes were raised and the film now had a much better character arc.

From here I realised I had a whole world of inspiration to draw from when it came to developing the people who inhabited my fictional world. It helped me find a voice specific to me, as I was drawing from my own experiences of others.


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We've all heard the idea of 'Write what you know", well my approach since then has been much more about writing "Who you know".

For every Character I add to a script I look at four elements.

1.THE GOAL
What is it that this particular character wants? What do they hope to achieve both short term (in terms of the story) and Long term (in the bigger real world). How far are they willing to go to achieve these goals? Does their want and desire define them or is it an unlying part of their personality?

2.THE SECRET
For me humans are more complex than just one setting or emotion. Real people are not just what you see on the surface for the most part and so they usually have a deeper agenda. Thats important to how and why a character does what they do. So I always ask myself what deeper agenda does each character have.

3.THE WEAKNESS
Everyone and everything has a weakness, that's what makes people 'people'. It is our vulnerability that makes us seem the most human. Good characters have a weaknesses whether they are good or bad, there has to be a chink in their armour somewhere. Weakness is usually the key to me fully understanding any character that I create. 

4.THE FLIPSIDE
No one is the same all the time, we all have aspects of our personality that sit on the outside most of the time, but even the kindest, calmest person can be angry and cruel at times in the right situation. Most rounded characters are capable of all emotions and its interesting to watch those characters whilst putting them in different situations. People change dependent on what they experience and characters in a story are the same. Looking at your characters from every perspective is important to get a full picture of them. 

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These elements are important in getting an understanidng of each character you put down on paper, even if you're not putting this information into your story, it's important that you know it, as it will help you get a feeling for each and every character you add to your script. 

As a low budget filmmaker, I constantly try and reduce the amount of characters in my script to as few as possible, this way not only do I get more time to focus in on their 'character' and backstory, but It saves time and money in production. 

There are only 5 main characters in Slasher House, but every single one of them has a large fleshed out backstory, much of which we don't see in the final film. Yet there is enough history for each character that they could each carry their own movie. In fact one of them already has in Legacy Of Thorn, you can check it out HERE

MJ

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