Episode Ninety-Nine: Signing Off

June 21, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Photo by Ashley Ruskiewicz

Join Cindy Freeman and Jenna Edwards for the last Film Method episode. It’s been an incredible run these past few years as they’ve covered everything from raising money for your film to hiring crew members, running an efficient set, marketing your movie, and much much more. After 99+ episodes it’s time to sign off.


Cindy Freeman – Host/Producer

Cindy Freeman moved to Los Angeles from San Diego in 2009 to pursue a career in the film industry. Upon her arrival in LA she immediately began working with producer Jenna Edwards to create behind-the-scenes content for Jenna’s feature film April Showers. Cindy also directed the behind-the-scenes content creation for Jenna’s film In the Darkness. It was while Cindy was working with Jenna that she was inspired to create the Film Method podcast.

Cindy has worked on a number of independent films as a production assistant and 2nd A.D while in Los Angeles and in July of 2010 she began working at Dreamworks Animation as a production coordinator.

Prior to moving to LA she produced a travel documentary, See Girl Go and a short film, Drips through her production company Soonami Productions.

To contact Cindy you can write to her at info@film-method.com.

Jenna Edwards- Co-Host/Producing Advisor

Jenna Edwards began her film career in Minnesota where she was signed on as talent with Easter Hailey. Quickly after being signed Edwards was hired by the agency as a full time employee giving her a head-start on her Hollywood education. After two years of rising through the Minnesota film community Edwards made the move to Los Angeles.

Soon after Edwards moved to Los Angeles she was hired by Agent Jamie Ferrar. It was while Edwards was working for Ferrar that she developed an interest in the casting process, before long she had moved from talent agencies to working in casting with such industry leaders as Sally Steiner (Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Boy Meets World), Barbie Block (JonasPepper Dennis) and Allison Jones (Super Bad, The Office). During this time Edwards was also able to gain valuable production experience working on shows such as Buffy the Vampire SlayerMalcolm in the Middle, and working with studios like Disney, MTV, FOX and CBS.

After several years of successfully navigating her career through the Hollywood studio system Edwards made the leap to independent film with her first feature April Showers. After her success with April Showers, Edwards formed Mattoid Entertainment with partners Jeremy McGovern and Andrew Robinson where they made, In the Darkness, the first narrative feature to ever premiere on Hulu.com.  Most recently Edwards made her way back to Nebraska, where she shot April Showers, to team up with some new filmmakers on a comedy film called Trunk’d.

To contact Jenna you can write to her at info@film-method.com.

Let’s (not) Talk About Sex, Baby or: 4 Types of Sex Scenes We Don’t Really Need to See Again

March 13, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

If the kids are around, you might wanna send them out of the room for a minute.  I’ll wait.

Hmmhmm, dooduhdooo….did I turn off the—

Hey! You’re back!

Okay, so sex and sexuality are part of the human experience. We all got to Earth thanks to some very special hugs and chances are that at some point in our lives, we’ll do some hugging ourselves. Thus, it makes sense that sex and sexuality will turn up in screenplays. But there’s a way to do it so that it makes sense and there’s a way to do it that is creepy, alienating and ineffective.

Here are 4 types of sex scenes that tend to miss the mark and what you can do to fix them.

The scene where the lame/mean/jerky guy says something inappropriate or embarrassing to a woman but she decides that there’s “just something about him” and so she pounces on him anyway.

What people intend to show with a scene like this: That despite his shortcomings, the hero is not a bad guy and this unnaturally attractive woman sees that.

What people really show with a scene like this: That their female character is desperate and/or has no self-esteem and isn’t someone the audience is going empathize with or respect.

But, Aydrea! This totally happens in real life! Girls hook up with crap dudes all the time! Yes, you are correct. But films aren’t real life. And while we may hold each other to flexible standards, audiences generally do not give such lenience to characters in film. If someone is attracted to someone in a movie, we want there to be a real reason why. Something beyond “I dunno, he’s cute. There’s just something about him.”

The person who gets pounced needs to give the pouncer something that they truly want or need. The guy can act like a bit of jerk, but if he displays a genuine soft spot for his cat or grandmother or war orphans—then he might be pounceable. But when a woman in a movie offers herself as some sort of taming device without getting anything in return, it makes both characters look weak.

The scene where the super powerful businessman/politician has incredibly rough/graphic…playtime with his assistant/secretary/wife’s friend then walks away and goes into a meeting or event like it’s totally no big deal, leaving the impossibly attractive nude lady to gather her things and get out.

What people intend to show in a scene like this: That the businessman/politician is so impressive that he can have whatever he wants and that he’s so detached from it all that he can’t even enjoy it and we should ultimately feel bad for him.

What people actually show in a scene like this: That they couldn’t think of something creative or new to show this character trait.

But Aydrea! This totally happens in real life! Powerful people sometimes have crazy affairs and don’t show remorse! Yes, you are correct. But jerky powerful people also do lots of other things that show that they’re unempathetic. Ebeneezer Scrooge was the quintessential mean ol’ rich guy and there’s nothing sexy about his story.

Also, sex isn’t the only way to show that a character doesn’t care about something of value. Spending bazillions of dollars on a car, just to wreck it seconds later and not care about the little Honda Fit he destroyed in the process because he’ll just pay everyone off would get the same point across. Flushing diamonds down the toilet or having a house full of amazing gadgets that never get used, children who never get hugged and pets who never get walked could also communicate the same idea.

But Aydrea! I’ve watched movies where people use women like playthings and we still kinda want to be like them! Yes, you are correct. But in movies like that that work, those characters usually balance out their misogyny with many other likeable traits. Also, yes, there are some filmmakers who tend to be pretty exploitative when it comes to this sort of thing, and if you are Michael Bay, then what on earth are you doing reading this blog? If you’re not Michael Bay and can’t write your own ticket, then you should be trying to impress readers, studio execs and producers with substance over style.

The scene where the guy really wants to have sex, but the girl doesn’t, so the guy kinda just goes ahead and starts doing sex to her anyway and she eventually comes around and has an amazing time about it.

What people intend to show in a scene like this: That the girl really is actually into this guy but that she’s just shy or something.
What people actually show in a scene like this: That the characters are kind of okay with sexual assault.

But Aydrea! This totally happens in real life! Sometimes girls just play coy and are totally okay with getting busy if you convince them! Yes, you are correct. However, films are not real life and on screen, a guy who coerces sex out of a woman comes across as a creep. And the woman who can’t stick to her point of view long enough to get to sleep comes across as weak.

(Also, let’s be honest, if someone is really not intent on any hanky panky, someone prodding them annoyingly while they’re trying to rest up for their big presentation the next day is more upsetting than seductive.)

A scene like this can work if it’s clear that the characters really do care about each other and if there’s a clear reason for the woman’s reluctance. A scene where an exhausted Dad reminds an exhausted Mom that they’re going to make more of an effort to make a go of it could be informative and sweet. A post-therapy scene where a concerned boyfriend reminds his girlfriend that she doesn’t need to be afraid of closeness anymore can be compelling and transformative.  But to show a guy just being greedy and inconsiderate and a woman finding that hot is insulting to everyone.

The scene where the woman uses nothing but her tight dress and low cut shirt to distract/disarm the powerful dude.

What people intend to show with a scene like this: That everyone has an Achilles’ heel.

What people actually show with a scene like this: That they think men are simple automatons who have no ability to control themselves if they see lady skin.

But Aydrea! Some guys really don’t know how to control themselves when they see lady skin! Yes, you are correct. But in a film, this type of scene diminishes the stakes and gets boring. If all the woman needed to do was flash some flesh to get whatever McGuffin she’s after, then why are we watching an entire movie? Why doesn’t she just prance through life in a bikini taking money from stunned bystanders’ wallets, walking out of stores with unpaid merch, and slowly but surely rising to the rank of Supreme Ruler of all the World! By letting sex or sexuality be the secret weapon, characters don’t have to think, plan or grow. And that’s boring.

In summation:

A sex scene is just like every other scene in a movie. It should show us new information about the characters and it should directly affect the plot of the film. It should motivate character to new action and they should be changed, if even slightly, by having experienced that scene.

If a sex scene is inserted just to seem edgy or cool, it will feel flat, unnecessary and exploitative.

Just like actual sex, when it comes to writing about sex, the tension is often more interesting than the release. While it’s titillating (pun intended) to see nudity on screen, if you’re trying to evoke the kind of emotional reaction that will make a movie really resonate with audiences, not giving it all up is really the way to go. Enter a scene (pun intended) just before or just after the act and you’ve got a lot more to work with in terms of exploring character, defining relationships and maintaining momentum.

All right, you can bring the kids back in the room…

No, Wait!

Okay, what’s up?

But Aydrea! You really like Wedding Crashers and there’s unnecessary boobs in that movie! What gives?? Yes, you are correct. First, I think the boobs in that movie are totally unnecessary, but here’s why they’re not a total turn off. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are good guys in that movie. They have a silly game of crashing weddings, but they don’t do it to be malicious and they help everyone have a fun time when they’re there. In fact, in the opening sequence of that movie, the guys help a fighting couple reconcile. Yes, they help them ultimately so that they can get off of work for the day, but their help is sincere. Because they are well-intentioned guys, their playtime with the girls feels fun and playful, not manipulative, gross or creepy.

But Aydrea! You liked Blue Valentine and that movie is totally graphic! Yes, you are correct. That sequence, however, falls into the “we know this couple is really trying to work on their relationship” category. The whole film is pretty much about them trying to work on their relationship. That sequence is full of personality and fun (Future Room? Awesome) and we learn things about the characters based on their interactions.

But Aydrea! I don’t agree with anything you’ve said. I think these kinds of scenes are awesome and I want to write them anyway. I think you’re just being sensitive. Maybe because you’re a girl! Yes, you are correct. But you know who else is a girl? Many of the people you’re hoping will read, pass along and green light your scripts.

Whatever! There are movies with nudie scenes and I wanna put one in mine! There’s a myth about town that says that nudity gets you an automatic distribution deal. I can’t confirm what I’m about to say, but this cannot possibly be true.

But even if it is, nudity will likely also get you an R-rating. R-rated movies are a harder to monetize because fewer people can go see them and so fewer people pay for tickets to them. So being a bit more modest can actually help your box office.

Want Some Cheese with that Whine? (Or: 3 Ways to Make a Sad Story Sad)

February 21, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Want Some Cheese with that Whine?

(Or: 3 Ways to Make a Sad Story Sad)

Death. Disease. Destruction. These things are real bummers, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to have the impact you want them to in your script. It is necessary for less-than-ideal things to happen to your characters, but not all downer events are created equal.

In order to feel bad for characters, three things need to happen

  1. We must know the character and care about them. This is not to say that we’re going to laugh when an unknown character gets a bad diagnosis, but without the proper set up and character development, bad news for a character can feel at best, unimpactful and at worst, manipulative. The bad news should feel specific—like something that we definitely don’t want to happen to THIS person.

A degenerative illness will feel like a bigger kick in the gut to a competitive athlete than it will be to a homebody. A sudden death of an up and coming star, scholar or leader will hurt more than the passing of a person who hasn’t done much nor aspires to. An agoraphobe forced to relocate because a tornado destroyed his house will invoke more of a reaction than the same situation happening to an executive who’s never at home anyway.

  1. The bad news should feel organic to the story. While out-of-the blue events happen in real life all the time, these deus ex machinas often fall flat on film if they’re not supported.

If we haven’t met a character’s extended family in the first 75 minutes of your story, it won’t make us all that upset if we find out that their favorite aunt died in minute 76. If a character has put nothing on hold preparing for a promotion, we won’t bat an eye when we learn that the gig went to their coworker. If we’ve never spent time at a character’s summer home, it’ll barely register when that summer home is wiped out by a late season storm.

  1. The bad news should affect a character on a physical level and an emotional level. Losing a job sucks, but it is completely possible to live off unemployment for a while and get a new job, so it’s not the end of the world. However, if the loss of a job means that a character has to move back home with their millionaire, superstar sibling and their controlling parents who never supported them in the first place, that character’s in a much more painful situation.

Chronic diseases are terrible. But it is possible to get medication, join a support group and have a perfectly normal life. However, if the illness is brought on by the unregulated drug the new patient invented and rushed to market…that really hits home for that person.

Getting trapped in a storm would put a damper on any road trip. But if a character gets trapped in a storm that’s just like the one that orphaned her when her parents had to drive through it to pick her up from camp because she wouldn’t stop crying…that takes the emotion up several levels.

Your audience wants to feel bad for your characters; they’re looking forward to empathizing with them. Make sure that you give them what they need so that they can.

Episode Ninety-Eight: Film Music

January 25, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Background Image: Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We return to the topic of music in film once again with London based composer Ram Khatabakhsh. Ram discusses his passion for composing music for film and working as a composer for independent film. We also spend a fair amount of time talking about his beloved Casio keyboard.

Ram Khatabakhsh- Composer

Ram started playing the keyboard at the age of six – just to figure out the melody of his favourite songs and themes. His parents bought him a small Casio keyboard at the time. He continued to play on his keyboard as a hobby after school hours and learned to play his favourite songs by ear. By age of 11, he was attending private piano and music lessons and exploring multiple musical genres. At the age of 15, Ram began to compose his own music and was instantly captivated by this. His passion for film music was apparent from the early days. He attended Kingston University in London where he obtained his degree in music composition. In November 2008 Ram was commissioned to write orchestral music and had his music performed by Kingston Chamber Orchestra in public concert.  In June 2008 Ram had his music played and work shopped at Royal Academy of Music in London where he worked along side the conductor Christopher Austin and composer Philip Cashian. In November 2007 Ram’s music was performed in the South Bank Centre as part of the PLG Group season. Ram’s music is highly motivated by film music, as this is the greatest goal in his career. He has been working as a freelance composer for several feature film projects and has written music for number of online advertisements and commercials and short films.

Ram currently directs a music production company (Motion Sound Production) based at Pinewood Studios (UK) where he collaborates with directors and producers and works with a number of talented musicians and engineers.

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Q: What type of insurance would I need…?

January 23, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Q: Producing 10 minute short with filmmakers I met through a friend and wanted to know what type of insurance I would need for shooting in a friends home and/or a nursing home or commercial building. One day shoot with a cast and crew of about 10 people.  I want to make sure my production company, crew and the property are covered.

Huewilly via Film Method Mailbag

That’s a great question and there are plenty of options for this type of project.  Meaning, you can find another company to co-produce with you who has insurance, purchase short-term coverage or, if you plan to make many of these films within a year, you may consider purchasing an annual policy.

I am not an insurance agent so your best bet is to contact an insurance provider for a quote.  Don’t be intimidated, you do not have to purchase right then and there.  It’s like buying car insurance, you want to shop around and get the best coverage at the best rate for your project.  I will say this; most standard insurance companies do not handle film insurance.  It is a specific kind of insurance and if you are renting equipment from a rental house, you will typically need to cover a minimum of a million dollars just to be safe.  If you are not in Los Angeles, or another major filming hub like New York, chances are you are not going to be able to find coverage locally.  You’ll want to look in LA.  To cover everything you want to cover you’ll probably need liability and work comp.  If you are using union actors, you will go through a payroll company and you’ll want to look into their insurance policies as well.  That will all be explained by SAG.

When you call, you’ll need to know your budget (including how much you have to spend on insurance), how many people you need covered, what length of time and there will be a few other questions.  Don’t worry if you don’t know, just so that and research and get back to the person.

It can be complicated at first glance, but once you talk to the right insurance agent, he/she will be able to explain it better than I can.

Congrats on your shoot and I hope it all goes well.

Thanks for listening,

Jenna

Episode Ninety-Seven: Tom Vaughan On Writing

January 18, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Screenwriter and Development Executive Tom Vaughan joins us to talk about working as a writer in Los Angeles and teaching screenwriting in LA and Houston. Tom also shares what it’s like to develop scripts at a small production company and gives some advice to new screenwriters as well.

Tom Vaughan- Writer/Development Executive

Tom Vaughan studied at the University of Houston with Broadway legend Jose Quintero and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee. It was his work as a writer and director in Houston theatre that got him recognized by Hollywood.

He was soon writing screenplays for, among others, Phoenix Pictures, Spelling Films, Rysher Entertainment, TNT, MTV Films, Castle Rock Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and Disney/Touchstone.

His productions include BLACKOUT with Jane Seymour for CBS, and CRITICAL ASSEMBLY with Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy, Knocked up) for NBC. He served as writer as well as Co-Producer on ATOMIC TWISTER with Sharon Lawrence and DEAD IN A HEARTBEAT with Penelope Anne Miller and Judge Reinhold, both for TBS. His feature film debut was UNSTOPPABLE, starring Wesley Snipes.  He just completed his directorial debut, PLAYING HOUSE, based on a script written with Kristy Dobkin. They are now full-time writing partners. Most recently they wrote HALLELUJAH together for acclaimed Japanese director Kazuika Kiriya (Casshern, Goemon).

He has been teaching screenwriting for nine years between Los Angeles and Houston and finds it as gratifying as actually practicing it. He is currently the Director of Development for the Los Angeles production company Dirty Robber.

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Episode Ninety-Six: Producing Animation

January 11, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Abstract Block Background Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Producing animated content is a much different process than producing live action. The concept of creating a whole world is the same, but in CG animation, every aspect of the production is created in a computer. The process is vast and very fascinating. Join us as we speak to animation producer, Ellen Coss about her experience in the world of CG art and animation.

Ellen Coss- Producer

Ellen Coss is a 25 year veteran in computer generated imagery, starting her career at the seminal Digital Productions.

In the 1980s feature films were not using computer imagery, but theme park attractions were.  Ellen spent 2 years at Universal Studios as the production manager of the film for Florida’s Universal Park Attraction “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera”. The film, a motion based race through three of Hanna Barbera’s cartoon worlds employed computer backgrounds and 2D characters, optically composited.  This was one of the first projects to combine 2D and 3D animation.

Ellen then joined Rhythm & Hues as a producer for theme park attraction films such as Seafari, which won first place at Imagina that year.  She later became the Executive Producer of the theme park division and was responsible for bringing in multi-million dollar projects to the studio.

As many of the projects she worked on became creative milestones in the industry, Disney Feature Animation brought her in to produce their theme park attraction films.  Magic Lamp, employed exaggerated squash and stretch techniques common in 2D but not common in cg, and Mickey’s Philharmagic, a stereoscopic film which took nine of Disney’s beloved 2D characters and created them in 3D.  It is currently playing at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando and is the number one audience rated attraction.

Ellen then joined Dreamworks, as a Production Executive, where she worked for a year on various studio initiatives.  Subsequently she was the Associate Producer on the feature film Over the Hedge, released in 2006.  Hedge was heralded by Jeffrey Katzenberg as the smoothest running production ever at Dreamworks Animation.  During a second stint at Dreamworks, Ellen produced the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special, which aired on NBC and Secrets of the Masters, which was the companion DVD to Kung Fu Panda 2.

Seeing that overseas production was the wave of the future Ellen headed to Prana Studios, a 325 person animation studio with offices in Mumbai India and Los Angeles. As Head of Production Ellen contributed with her years of production pipeline experience as well as her new role as a voice in the process of the company developing their own I.P.  Prana is currently producing, as a 1/3 ownership partner, three direct to DVD features entitled Unstable Fables being distributed in 2008 by TWC.  Under Ellen’s direction all pre-production including script writing, storyboarding and visual development occurred in Los Angeles, with physical production currently taking place in India.

Ellen then got a call to produce The Tortoise and the Hippo at Walden Media with John Dykstra directing.  She developed the project for 7 months until it was put on hold because of the writer’s strike.

Ellen then provided producing consulting services for the animated feature Arthur Christmas an Aardman Animation film to be distributed by Sony.

Ellen’s reputation in the industry is one of an excellent executer, and a nurturing manager, as well as a supporter and contributor to the creative vision of all projects.  Her goal on every project is to produce an excellent creative product, on time and on budget and to have the people associated with the project feel that it was one of the best working experiences in their career.

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Shut Up Already!

January 10, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

January 10, 2012
You know that as a screenwriter, you will need to put words on the page to tell your story. You may not, however, need to use quite so many of them.

Writer types (myself included) often love basking in the glow from their sparkling, perfectly obscure, amazingly profound WORDS. Their characters say such amazing, impeccably-timed THINGS. They talk, Talk TALK their way through three acts, telling you not just the plot points you need to know, but also how untouchably brilliant the writer behind that masterpiece is.

Not that we don’t love the Sorkins and Codys of the world. But sometimes, it’s nice to give the words a break.

Hmmm, is it obvious that I watched the new silent film The Artist this week?

The Artist uses maybe 20 lines of spoken or written dialogue in its entire 100 minutes. And yet, despite the fact that we don’t hear crackling wit snapping back and forth between the characters, we always know exactly what’s going on, we’re on board with how characters are feeling and we get to delight in the visual medium that film is.

Without so many words, you get to delight in and focus on all the other ways to tell a story: what characters are wearing, their expressions or what artifacts are in their environments. Characters in fact, can often come to life much more when they are not resting on the crutch of words. Actions, in turn, get to be much more definite, clear and decisive when you don’t have someone in the shot narrating what we’re seeing anyway.

My two favorite sequences in one of my favorite movies, Children of Men, also have no dialogue. In fact, most of the third act of that movie is, apart from score and sound effects, silent. If you haven’t seen it, it’s amazingly powerful and nothing any character could say would do those moments justice.

There are so many moments in our own lives that are made powerful not by the clever turn of phrase someone threw together at just the right second, but by what they didn’t say, by what email didn’t come, by who wasn’t at the party, or who was, or the way they just turned away when you showed up and made eye contact. A point, a smile, a frown, a tear, a step away from you, or a subtle scoot toward you, a kiss, a stumble, a something left behind when they thought they had cleaned up all the evidence…these types of things often speak loudly and clearly without using words at all.

Just for fun, try rewriting a scene or two of your latest screenplay without just half the dialogue, or if you’re feeling up to it, no dialogue at all and see how it changes the scene, or the piece entirely.

Thank you for your time this week. In honor of the topic, I’m gonna shut up now.

Networking in L.A.

December 12, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: I’m new to LA and everyone is always talking about going to networking parties but I feel uncomfortable.

Billie M, Los Angeles

With the holidays upon us, it’s an opportune time to network as there are parties galore. But, if you are living in Los Angeles (and I’m sure this rings true in other places, just on a smaller scale) there are networking opportunities daily all year around. It’s really important that you get out there and meet people in your industry. It’s an industry built on who you know after all. A few tips to keep in mind:

1. Always have business cards. There is no excuse not to have a business card and if you don’t have them, people may not take you as seriously. If you don’t put what you do on the card, make sure you are able to write on the card so that you or the person you’re talking to can write it down.
2. Don’t be afraid of networking. When I first came to LA, I thought networking was so slimy and impersonal until I realized that it’s really all about getting to meet people. Don’t go into it thinking “what can that person do for me”, go into it thinking “what can I do for them” or “cool, I get meet a new person”. If your intentions are good, you will usually have a good time.
3. If you are bad at meeting and talking to people, practice! It is part of your job to interact with people. You are in a collaborative field after all.
4. Invite a friend along who is good at networking and pay attention.
5. Have Fun! It’s contagious and who doesn’t want to be around someone who is having fun?

I hope you are successful at meeting new people, welcome to LA and Happy Holidays!

Getting to Know You: 5 Ways to Introduce Characters

December 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

December 8, 2011

Time is precious in a screenplay, so you want to get as much contextual information (not expositional information) out as quickly as possible. In order to understand your story, the audience will need to know a decent amount about each character’s personality almost immediately.

The wrong way to do this is to have another character provide spoken exposition like the following. Imagine this scene is the first scene in a movie.

INT. AMANDA’S OFFICE – DAY

AMANDA (30s) sits at her desk. Co-worker DARCI enters.

DARCI
Hey Amanda, since you are too busy and shy to meet anyone since your recent and painful breakup from Mark who works downstairs, I thought I’d invite you to a party tonight. You’ll probably freak out at all the people there since you have social anxiety, but I want to help you since I know that deep down, you really do want to connect with someone.

You will not want to watch the rest of this movie.

The dialogue above is boring, on the nose and takes all the fun out of discovering who a character is.

Following are are five effective ways to introduce your characters to the audience without spelling it out for them. Imagine each example describes the first time we see a character in a movie and notice how much information you can learn without having someone directly say who the character is, what they care about or what they want.

We’ll look at each method with the following characters:
Johnna is a focused and dedicated athlete.
Terri is a fiery and successful politician.
Amanda is sweet, shy and kind of a loner.

Show the character in a situation or environment where they are comfortable.
A character’s positive or relaxed reaction to their environment will tell the audience that this is where they belong, that these are the things that make them happy and, per screenplay logic, the world that will be yanked out from under them later in the movie. You could get a lot of mileage by showing:

Johnna:
• Happily crossing the finish line of a race many seconds ahead of the other competitors.
• Tossing yet another medal onto a pile of trophies
• Doing an ordinary task in an incredibly athletic way.

Terri:
• Shaking hands at an election event
• Posing for pictures in front of festive bunting
• Hotly debating her barista Lincoln-Douglas style over the benefits of soy vs. nonfat milk in their coffee and earning thunderous applause for her position.

Amanda:
• Happily making a reservation for one at a restaurant
• Engrossed in a book in the company break room while everyone around her chats with each other.
• Doing yoga, bird watching or a crossword on her secluded back porch

Show the character in a situation where they are uncomfortable
By showing us what makes a character uncomfortable, we get a different, but equally as informative view on who they are. You would learn a lot about our characters by seeing:

Johnna:
• Frustratedly coaching beginning athletes who are unable to keep up with her regimen
• Slowly walking a 10K for charity with her aging grandfather.
• Arguing with a teacher who doesn’t believe in ranking students by giving them grades, scores or competitions

Terri:
• Working with a deaf coworker who can’t hear her ranting
• Getting restless at a stoic, quiet event like a funeral or classical music performance
• Yelling at the TV while members of the opposing political party are talking about perfectly reasonable points.

Amanda:
• Breaking into a cold sweat while trying to give a speech
• Getting startled when strangers politely speak to her on the street
• Trying to hide on a cramped bus full of her rowdy family on their way to a reunion.

Show Us the Character’s Environment
It’s not always necessary to use other characters or dialogue to help define your character. An audience could get a pretty good idea of who they’re about to meet if they see:

Johnna:
• A state of the art gym
• An extensive trophy collection
• A race track just after a race with foot prints and an awards podium still on the field.

Terri:
• A campaign office filled with posters
• A line of cars in a motorcade
• The UN building

Amanda
• A simple and sparsely furnished home
• A hidden garden, beach or park
• The exterior of an office building with only one office light on

Show Us an Object Meaningful to the Character
Almost everyone has an item or two in their possession that defines or illustrates who they are. Giving these kinds of objects to characters helps define and illustrate them for audiences. Imagine what people might learn if they see these characters holding, looking at, putting away or taking out:

Johnna:
• A gold medal
• Well-worn boxing gloves, baseball mitts or knee pads
• A leg brace that she puts on reluctantly

Terri:
• An historic coin
• A picture of her with the President
• A newspaper with a scandalous headline

Amanda:
• A nearly full journal
• A pair of state of the art noise-cancelling headphones that she keeps at work
• A thank you note written on and sealed in beautiful stationery.

Make the Character’s First Line of Dialogue in the Script Emblematic
The first thing a character says should tell us something about them. Instead of just taking up space in the scene, that first line of dialogue should pull the audience into the character’s point of view immediately. Here are some examples of lines that might do that.
Johnna
• “What do you mean I didn’t win?”
• “I’m only on mile 67, I’ll have to call you back.”
• “I don’t walk cramps off, I scare them off.”
Terri
• “I think I’d prefer them to call me ‘Mr.’ President.”
• “While I appreciated the arguments presented, you may still not attend the sleepover as our family vacation will take precedence.”
• “If he says yes to the bill send a flower basket or beer of the month membership or something. If he says no send him to hell.”
Amanda
• “No…but thank you! I appreciate it, but I shouldn’t…can’t…. I have a … thing…”
• “Can I get three tickets for this flight in a row together…No, just one passenger.”
• Opens her mouth to talk, but can’t get words out—only quiet squeaks. Her coworkers walk away uncomfortably.

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