Friday, October 16, 2009

What to do when your character is a Billy No-Mates?

You’ve written a comedy film with two female protagonists. They both have to be at least fairly likeable, but one of them doesn’t quite work. After reading it over and over, you realise what it is. The girl has no friends! She’s a recluse! She’s got no life outside of work, no existence unconnected to the plot. Who IS this person? And why would you want to watch her for 90 minutes?

That’s the problem with my script Star on the Run - but at least I’ve realised this after one draft. Now that I think of it, the amount of films I’ve seen in the cinema where the characters live totally friend-less lives is scary. All these lonely people going through life with nothing to do but cheer on their glamorous female boss in her attempts to snare a handsome but notorious bachelor (virtually every romcom I’ve ever seen). And action movies are even worse! Who does Rambo call when he wants to go for a beer? What does John McClane do at the weekends?

They say you should be able to say what each of your characters would eat for breakfast. Well, I think you should be able to tell what they’d do on Saturday night as well. Otherwise, everyone’s Jason Bourne – and he’s the only one who might be justified in having no friends, being on the run from the FBI, Interpol, MI5, etc etc etc….

This is tricky with films where it’s all about the plot – something like High Fidelity or Superbad work well partly because there isn’t much of a plot outside a bunch of people shooting the shit. But sometimes you can even use the fact that your girl or guy doesn’t have many friends as a plot point in itself – see Miss. Congeniality or Groundhog Day, where obsessive or obnoxious workaholics learn to rub along better with others. You don’t have to go overboard with this. Just a suggestion that this secretary/computer nerd/security man likes to sing karaoke or plays a mean game of football outside work may be enough to make them less cardboard.

Give your characters at least the semblance of a life outside the plot – or they’ll be forgotten as soon as the audience hit the car park…

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