WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

CHARACTERS AND DOG JUICE


Bend It DVD - Buy it!

Martell's "Theory of Dog Energy" is that all dogs have the exact same amount of energy. For a normal sized dog, like a Retriever or a Shepard, that's the perfect amount of energy... but a really big dog barely has enough energy to move (which explains St. Bernards) and really small dogs have LOTS of extra energy (which explains Chihuahuas).

This theory also works with characters. In order to be memorable to the audience everyone in the script has to have the minimum daily requirement of character... the same amount of character no matter how big or small the part is. This is easy when you are dealing with lead characters who have 110 pages to meet their minimum requirements, you can spread it out. A little character here, a little character there. You can be subtle... show character through actions or show gradual changes in reactions to similar situations. Lead characters can take a while to get to know... you have the time to peel back layers and show us different, conflicting aspects of the character.

But when you have a supporting character who may only be in a couple of scenes, the character is going to come in strong, concentrated doses in order to meet the minimum requirements. Patrick Shane Duncan (Mr. HOLLAND'S OPUS, COURAGE UNDER FIRE) says that the less time a character spends on screen, the broader (bigger) that character has to be to make an impression on the audience. With a small character, you don't have the time to build character... they have to come fully assembled. They also have to come on strong enough to leave an impression... or the audience will forget who they are. They aren't on screen long enough to be subtle. The smaller the character the more exaggerated or quirky they need to be.

The British film BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award a few years back. As Ebert said on that little TV show of his, "If you liked GREEK WEDDING, you'll love BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM" - it's much better written than GREEK WEDDING and much funnier. The story is simple - Parminder Nagra plays Jessie, a high school senior who loves playing soccer, but her traditionalist Indian parents think it's time for her to stop playing games, learn to cook, and find a husband. If she can't find a nice Indian boy on her own, her parents would be happy to find one for her (arranged marriages are part of the tradition). Talk about universal stories - how many of us have dreams and parents who think it's time to wake up and find a real job? In order to dramatize the concept of finding a husband and settling down, the story takes place in the months leading up to her older sister's wedding. That way we can SEE what her parents want for her. The traditional wedding isn't an abstract idea - we can see the steps involved. The other side of the dramatic dilemma is represented when Jessie is asked to join a girl's soccer league... and becomes one of the team's top players.

That's how BECKHAM ends up with a huge cast of characters. We have Jessie's family and all of the relatives in town for the wedding (plus the in-laws and their family) and we have the soccer team, her coach, and her best friend on the team Jules (Keira Knightly).... plus we have Jessie's parents. Oh, and there are Jessie's neighborhood pals - she plays soccer in the park with them. They're all hunky Indian guys who see her as a pal rather than dating material. She's too much of a tomboy.

You might think with this huge cast of characters that we wouldn't get to know any of them very well, but you'd be wrong. Writers Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges do a fantastic job of distilling each character down to their essentials so that we instantly know them. Her team mates and coach are people you know, her family is your family, and the guys at the park are your pals. To illustrate how well this is done - there's a minor character at the engagement party - I don't think he has a single line of dialogue... but you really know who this guy is. At the engagement party, an entire sofa full of aunts and old women ask Jessie when she's going to get married... and what kind of Indian boy interests her - a clean-shaven man or one with a full bushy beard? A bearded guest at the engagement party pushes closer to overhear her answer. This guy may be traditionally dressed, but he gives off a Disco Dan vibe... and later when there is dancing he grabs Jessie and tries to force her to dance with him. Yikes! This is the Indian community's most eligible bachelor! Throughout the rest of the film, whenever there's a family function in preparation for the wedding, this guy is there to hit on Jessie. He may not have any dialogue, but he shows his character through actions. This guy is all hands! He's constantly inappropriately touching women - his hand slips while dancing. In one scene he "accidentally" nuzzles the breasts of a woman he's dancing with.

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Though this is a only a minor character, he symbolizes Jessie's worst nightmare - he's the guy she could have to marry if her parents opt for an arraigned marriage. That is his character's STORY PURPOSE - remember, even if you have a cast of thousands, each character must have a purpose in the story... why else would you pay an actor $650 a day to play the role? If the have no purpose - cut them. By the end of the film Jessie's worst nightmare husband has found a single gal who doesn't mind the way his hands slip when they are dancing... and they end up making out in the bathroom at the wedding reception. This guy may not spend much time on screen, but he is given a juicy character and juicy actions that expose his character in every scene he's in. You really know who this guy is.

All of the other characters in BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM are also well-drawn. Jessie's father (Anupam Kher), who spends much of the film in the background, is a fully developed character. We know him, we understand him, we care about him... we feel HIS dilemma of being a traditional man with a modern daughter. There's a great scene when he sneaks into a soccer game and watches his daughter play - at first angry that she has disobeyed him, then slowly becoming involved in the game and rooting for her. Again - the key is to know the essence of the character and find situations the pull the character to the surface.

Are your small characters big enough? If they only pop up in two scenes, is there enough CHARACTER in the first scene so that the audience can easily remember them in the second scene? Do all of your characters meet the minimum requirements?



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