HowTo: Pick the Right Screenplay – Part 4

4) Of Character and Characters – conflict of emotions is the basis of the Right Script.


Characters and Character

Many scripts you’ll read and consider making into your indie film will wrongly focus on “characters” instead of  “character”. What’s the difference and how can you tell the good stuff from the rubbish!

“Characters” are those wierd, interesting, aggravating, gorgeous, stunning and impossible people we all meet in our lives. Whether we encounter them at parties, networking events or at the table of your favorite greasy spoon, they grab… demand our attention. We immediately fall in love or hate with them.  “Characters” are the stuff of legend and great anecdotes; However they are NOT the type of  “Character” you want in the lead role of  the Right Script.

Characters have a way of standing out from the ordinary. Whether it be their beauty, irascibility, quirks or quasi psychotic nature, we are drawn  to characters in our lives. They are intriguing in their oddity and magnetic in their passions, but they are not often very deep or complex in their motives.  Characters have mostly one or two bizarre or extreme traits that cover a rather shallow or mundane existence. While these types make great Supporting Roles, the Right Script needs more to sustain and entire story.

Great films and the Right Scripts are about the audience together agreeing to share a common hallucination or fantasy. We go into the dark theater, surrounded by hundreds of other people to hopefully FORGET about each and every one of those people around us. We go into the theater hoping to discover a character that we, alone, can inhabit for the course of 80-120 minutes. We don’t seek out great films to escape reality. We seek out great films to inhabit a heightened version of our own reality. Like an intense dream, great films are all about ourselves on a personal level.

The Right Script may have many “Characters” in orbital roles but it MUST HAVE a central Character that we can identify with. The best central character (ie leading role) must answer or at least address the question of, “What would I FEEL  in their shoes?”.  How would I FEEl  if I were the central character in this situation?  Most of us do not have the luxury of a simple life. We have conflicts in our lives; opposing goals and desires that often do not get resolved in 1-2 hours.  We go to films to discover answers to these conflicts.


Basis of Conflict

Although we can argue about how many true emotions human beings  and or lead character, experience, for the purposes of this article we’ll deal with four main categories. The Right Script will place your lead character in juxtaposition (ie conflict) of two or more of these main opposing emotions.

1) Mad (Anger, Ire, fury etc.), 2) Glad ( Happy, gleeful, expectant, excited etc.), 3) Scared (Fear, terror, horror etc.), 4) Sad ( Depression, melancholy, remorse,etc.).

Let’s look at a few great scripts that were made into great films:

ACT 1; In  WEDDING CRASHERS – Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play a pair of sketchy guys in their 30’s that must come to terms with growing up. Owen Wilson’s lead character starts off  “Glad” with Vince Vaughn’s character (A character but not THE character)  promising yet “another season of crashing weddings”. After an exhausting round of one night stands he is confronted with the fact that he’s getting older and still chasing around after meaningless affairs. “Glad” is confronted by “Scared” as Owen contemplates his next 60- 70 years, alone.

Rachel McAdams

Isla Fisher

ACT 2; Later, Owen meets Rachel McAdams (the girl of his dreams) and Vince meets Isla Fisher. Owen  is “Glad” again, hopeful that he can move on to a grown up relationship. Throughout the second act Owen’s character is confronted with “Scared” as he fears exposure of his true self and the lies he’s told to Rachel McAdams. Upon being exposed by Rachel’s fiance (Bradley Cooper), Owen tumbles into “Sad”  again as he and Vince Vaughn are exiled from paradise.

ACT 3; In the beginning of the third act, Owen’s character is “Sad” AND “Mad” at himself and at Vince Vaughn for not following his heart and missing the chance of a lifetime. Owen seeks out his “mentor” in a great cameo scene with Will Ferrell in which Owen is confronted with his “DEATH” (ie future alone, living in Hell). The writers even locate this scene at a grave site! Owen is terrified (scared again) and this terror motivates Owen to “risk it all” to get Rachel McAdams back in his life. And because this is a comedy, he succeeds bringing his character all the way back to “Glad” again.


Regardless of the genre, from intense drama to the most ridiculous fantasy comedies, your lead character must reveal themself via their resolution to this initial conflict with two or more emotions.  In the really great films, the lead character clashes with all of these emotions. If it’s the Right Script, we FEEL these emotions along with the lead character. When you or others read this script; Do they FEEL emotionally moved? When you discuss this story with other people; Do THEY get emotionally moved by the retelling? If they do, you have the Right Script and the right character in your script.

Part 5 Next – Plot and Story; Why are both needed in Indie Film?


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