Home » Uncategorized » It’s about “character,” stupid…not stupid characters

It’s about “character,” stupid…not stupid characters

Last night I went to the movie theater, plunked down $17, and over the next two hours had it stolen from me. This movie did not earn my money. This movie took it, laughing all the way to the bank. I am not alone. You might have been ripped off as well. In fact, as of last weekend, this movie has made over 80 million dollars.

That’s $80,000,000.

Not the biggest summer movie. Certainly not the best, and probably not the worst. But I chose to plop down my sweaty summer cash for this one, which is why it deserves mention in this blog.

I wanted to see this movie. I like the filmmaker. It features two Oscar-winning actors. It has a political storyline that intrigues me. The movie was well shot, the effects were excellent. The plot, with many holes, was still a good plot.

The characters were terrible. The good guys had very simple motives. The bad guys had zero motives. Add those together and you have two hours of no risks, leading to a predictable ending.

I learned a very important lesson here. Just because a character has traits, doesn’t mean it’s a good character.

You’ve seen it all before. A guy compulsively flicks open and closed his Zippo. A woman is an aggressive driver and screams at all the cars on the street. An old man is racist, even against the caretaker who diligently sits by his side. A doctor hasn’t slept in years. These are all traits. It’s what’s behind them that matters.

Think about some people you might encounter in your day:
The coffee shop barista who gets your order wrong.
The boss who insecurely criticizes you twice for the same mistake.
The waitress who is very slow to take your order.
The tourist who takes a picture of his food.
The co-worker who laughs too loud at the boss’s joke.
The person in front of you at the checkout line who is distracted by her phone and ignores her screaming baby.
The idiot who cuts you off on the highway and gives you the finger.

These are traits, or quirks. If your character has these, great…but the job is not finished. Actors will always do this work. Good actors will look deeper to find the motivation to justify their choices and the decisions laid out for them in the script. But those choices are internal, and there is no way for the audience to appreciate those golden nuggets of depth. So it’s up to the writer to do it:

The coffee shop barista who gets your order wrong, because he is distracted by the major fight he had with his girlfriend this morning about moving to the next phase of the relationship.
The boss who insecurely criticizes you twice for the same mistake, because her review is later today and she has a hunch her bosses are aware of the money she embezzled.

The waitress who is very slow to take your order, because she is very nauseous and is three days late for her period.
The tourist who takes a picture of his food, because he is a sous chef and the chef he works for is dying of cancer, and can’t travel to his favorite restaurants anymore.

The co-worker who laughs too loud at the boss’s joke, because the night before she accidentally sent him a provocative photo intended for her boyfriend.
The person in front of you at the checkout line who is distracted by her phone and ignores her screaming baby, because she is trying to pay online for her night course before the cutoff.

The idiot who cuts you off on the highway and gives you the finger, because he is late for his kid’s baseball game and if he doesn’t make it, it will reflect poorly on his custody battle with his ex.

The positive side of me is treating the $17 spent as a lesson, to make me think about ALWAYS providing depth of character. The negative side just wants my $17 back.

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