Totally unintentionally, I’ve watched a handful of independent films lately. It’s just the way my Netflix queue was set up.
Apart from each one being a solid example of good writing and demonstrating how to craft a small and contained story with a limited number of characters, they also had the distinction of featuring well-known and established actors in a wide variety of roles.
My first thought was “How did they end up in this?”, but as the film played out and the story progressed, it became pretty apparent that the actors were attracted to the characters and that they were actually part of the story.
Ranging from those in a handful of scenes to the protagonist, each one felt fleshed out and three-dimensional. They had depth. Nobody came across as if they had no business being there to begin with.
This was also apparent in the trailers that preceded the films; many, if not all, I’d never heard of or had a very, very limited release. There must have been something to that script or the roles that would attract actors of that caliber.
As a screenwriter, you want to make sure that not only are you presenting a solid and entertaining story, but it has to be populated with original and unique characters we’re interested in, who are also developed enough that we become invested in wanting to see what happens to them.
Not as easy as you think.
How often have you seen a film or read a script where a character is simply a tired cliché? Notice how fast you lose interest?
Now if that character were something totally different than what you expected, wouldn’t you be more likely to want to go along on their journey?
Just as an example, I read a script last year with a protagonist who was introduced as a “total slacker dude, mid 20s”.
And if that wasn’t tropey enough, he was playing a video game in his cluttered studio apartment.
Double snore. Seen it countless times before.
I’d suggested to the writer they consider really changing things up with a totally different approach. Rather than a slacker, what if the protagonist was some kind of genius? Or had been successful, but now fallen on hard times? Something, anything to not go down Cliché Avenue.
See where I’m going with this?
You’re not only telling a story, you’re providing the raw, base material for an actor to work with. They like delving into new territory just as much a reader or audience. By taking a different approach and providing the foundational details, you can create a new and original take on old and f amiliar characters.
Like with the story overall, give us somebody we’re not expecting. The more unique and interesting they are, the more likely an actor will be interested in portraying them, just as much as we’ll be interested in wanting to see what happens to them.