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.

Episode Eighty-Six: Wrapping Up Production

September 28, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

For our last episode of our season about production we bring back the lovely and talented producer and author Eve Light Honthaner. Eve has worked in numerous production offices in the span of multiple years that she’s worked in this industry. We discuss the end of principal photography and transitioning into post-production.

Eve Light Honthaner- Producer/Author/Teacher

Eve’s career in the entertainment industry spans many years, primarily in the field of production management.  She’s worked in every capacity from PA to line producer and as a staff production executive, most recently for DreamWorks.  She’s worked on shows budgeted anywhere from $1 – $250 million and on projects that have been shot throughout the U.S. and internationally, including Titanic, Just Married and Tropic Thunder.

Eve is the author of The Complete Film Production Handbook and HOLLYWOOD DRIVE: What it Takes to Break in, Hang in & Make it in the Entertainment Industry.  And since 1998, she’s combined her many years of practical experience with a love of teaching to help others succeed in this fiercely competitive business.

In addition to the six-week course she teaches at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts each summer, schedule permitting, she does one- and two-day workshops throughout the country.

Eve’s Website- http://evehonthaner.com

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Episode Eighty-Four: The Union Show

September 14, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

To go union or not to go union. That is the question. Line producer Mark Moran and production coordinator Molly Moran bring their expertise from working on numerous film projects in their 10+ years of being in the film industry to discuss all of the film unions including SAG, IATSE, Teamsters, DGA and the WGA. Their knowledge of working with unions is vast and impressive.

Mark Moran- Line Producer

Mark Moran has helped create a wide range of studio and independent movies, including 96 Minutes (Brittany Snow), Beautiful Boy (Maria Bello), 13 (Jason Statham), Spread (Ashton Kutcher), Pretty Bird (Paul Giamatti), Walk the Talk (Cary Elwes), Bee Season (Richard Gere), Basic (John Travolta), Secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Sweet Home Alabama (Reese Witherspoon), and Novocaine (Steve Martin). He has produced features shooting all over the U.S. as well as in Canada and Eastern Europe.

Mark is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. He has produced short films, web series, music videos, and commercials, as well as the PBS documentary Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, which won the IDA Award for Best Short Documentary and was short-listed for an Academy Award in 2005.

Prior to all this, Mark started a software company at age 17, launching him on a successful career designing and programming computer games in San Francisco, where he received a patent for a CGI process combining filmed live action with computer animation.

Mark graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in literature & writing.

Mark Moran’s Website

Molly Moran- Production Coordinator and Accountant

Molly Moran is a film production coordinator and accountant. She began her career in 2004 working on indie features in New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. She then spent two years working for famed producer Barbara DeFina, who encouraged her to focus on production office work as the best training for producing. This led to her spending a year working on the Will Smith movie I Am Legend. In 2007, she moved to Los Angeles and has since coordinated features shooting in Georgia, Louisiana, and California.

Eve Light Honthaner Book Giveaway Contest!

September 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under news

Eve Light Honthaner has written the ultimate film production handbook and she’s giving one away to a lucky Film Method listener! To enter the contest simply create either a one-minute video or a 500 word essay about an experience you’ve had on a film set and what you learned from that experience. For the video, you can re-create your experience or simply tell us the story! Send your video or essay to info@film-method.com. We will be accepting entries through Friday, September 30th. Enter today to win!

Eve Honthaner’s Website

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