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INDIVIDUALS


A major problem in many scripts is that all of the characters sound and act the same. Though all of your characters are aspects of you, they should be DIFFERENT aspects. Each needs to have their own individual point of view. Their own "voice".

All of your supporting characters need to be different. They need to have different strengths and weaknesses. Different 'looks'. Different personalities and ways of handling problems. Different "voices", vocabularies and speech rhythms. The audience should be able to instantly tell one from another, even if they are all dressed the same.

Buy The Barbershop DVD

Mark Brown's BARBERSHOP is a lot like IT's A WONDERFUL LIFE. Both films are about guys in their communities who are going broke, feel unappreciated, and are living in the shadows of their fathers. In both films, they feel like they are going broke because their fathers gave away services out of the kindness of their hearts... and the sons want to be smarter businessmen. Both films have villains who want to foreclose on the businesses (this fuels the story). Both are feel good movies about community.

BARBERSHOP is a movie that I wish had lasted longer. There were characters who I wanted to learn more about and relationships between characters that I wanted to explore more. Each of the characters in the film is an individual with their own distinctive style of speech. You could cover the character slugs and know EXACTLY who is speaking.

OUR CHARACTERS:

* There's our protagonist Calvin (Ice Cube) who owns the Barbershop and is always looking for a get rich quick scheme that will allow him to sell the shop. Calvin lives in his father's shadow and is scrambling for the light. He needs to find a way out.

* There's Old Eddie (Cedric The Entertainer) who has an opinion on everything - usually a wrong one. He never stops talking.

* There's Terri (Eve) who is worried that her boyfriend is cheating on her... and that someone has been drinking her apple juice, too. Everyone is taking from her.

* There's Dinka from Nigeria (Leonard Howze) who is the ultimate romantic, secretly in love with Terri. He writes her poetry, and sees everything in the world through long-stemmed rose colored glasses.

* There's Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) the college student who knows everything - Mr. Trivia. Knowledge is his power - he hopes to leave the neighborhood for a good job and a life in the suburbs.

* The only white barber, Isaac (Troy Garity), accuses Jimmy of being more white than he is... and that would be easy, because Isaac has his bling-bling jewelry and his do-rag and tries to act Black. He uses more street slang than anyone else in the barbershop.

* Ricky (Michael Ealy) is a quiet ex-con with rage simmering below the surface... and he doesn't like Isaac pretending to be Black. Ricky may have a gun in his locker, but he's a loyal friend to Calvin. He is a man of his word who would rather go to jail than give up his pals JD (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Lahmard Tate) who borrowed his truck to steal an ATM from a convenience store. The great thing about Ricky's character is that when he does say something, you realize he may be the most intelligent and well-read person in the barbershop. By the end of the film he calls know-it-all Jimmy on a couple of his trivia answers.

Each of these characters has a distinctive voice, an individual attitude, different relationships with the other characters and a character arc that is weaved through the film. Each character is an individual - cover their character slugs and their individual vocabularies would give away who was speaking.

Buy It's A Wonderful Life DVD

One thing I liked about it - it didn't judge any character except Keith David's (and we get to see him dancing with his bodyguard - so maybe there's a good side to him that didn't fit in the story). The guy who sells stolen stuff - used as a running gag - is also shown as someone who serves the community. When the AC broke down in the barbershop, he got the freon to fix it. The kid who gets a haircut and runs without paying turns out to be okay. None of the characters in the film were cliches. Everyone was struggling with some sort of moral question, or was more that they seemed. They were PEOPLE. Individuals.

They might have all been barbers, but each had a different outlook on life. Different strengths, different weaknesses, different ways of expressing themselves.


INDIVIDUALS IN THE GOLDEN AGE

One of the great things about movies made in the Golden Age (1930s & 1940s) are the supporting characters - they had all of these great character actors on studio contract and it made sense to put them in as many films as possible... and that meant writing great little roles for them. All of these roles were interesting individuals, and watching Golden Age films like CAPTAIN BLOOD and RED RIVER you can see how they did it.

CAPTAIN BLOOD is a pirate adventure book about Dr. Peter Blood, who takes no sides in war - his job is to help the injured. When he treats a rebel fighting against the government of England, he's arrested and put on trial. Blood tells the judge he's a doctor, not as rebel. Neutral. The judge sentences him to *death* for saving the life of a rebel. Instead of death, they ship all of the convicts to the British colonies in the Caribbean as slaves to work on plantations. Blood and his slave pals all get whipped and mistreated... and Blood has now taken a side - with the rebels. Oh, he's bought by plantation owner's niece Olivia DeHaviland - she buys him just to piss off her uncle. Blood insults him.

The supporting characters are so well written and well played that they become real people - like friends of yours. There's a slave-pirate who always quotes the Bible... but finds ironic passages to quote, so he comes off funny instead of as a zealot. There is a tough guy, always itching for a fight. The guy who always has his flask - even in sword fights he's taking a nip now and then. All of the bit-part slave-pirates have *personalities* and their own little goals. The colony's Governor is a great character - this fey, flamboyant guy in a powdered wig always complaining about his gout. The Governor's doctors both have distinctive personalities. The guy in debtor's prison who sells Blood the boat... and gets swept up in the escape, becoming one of Blood's pirates by mistake. Every single minor character is an individual in this film.

And all of the great character actors under contract at Warner Bros play these roles as if they're competing for an Oscar. If a character is only in one scene, they do everything in their power to be the most memorable character in that scene. You end up with all of these amazing actors playing amazingly well defined characters - written so vividly that they come alive on the screen. I've always wanted to take over programming at TCM for a week and do a festival of great character actors in bit parts. You would see several movies with completely different stars in different genres and wonder why these films are on the same program... then you'd notice some guy like Ned Sparks is in every movie. Who is Ned Sparks you are probably asking? Well, he's this guy who played bit parts in a lot of movies who had a very distinctive voice - and you'd recognize his voice from a couple of cartoon characters who swiped it. I think most people know the cartoons more than the real guy whose voice the imitated. But BLOOD has all of these great bit part players (but no Ned Sparks) playing the pirates - the guy in the background of some shot not only has a well written character, the actor playing that character is trying to make sure you remember him!

RED RIVER is basically MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY on a cattle drive, with John Wayne as an obsessed, nasty, mean, and probably out of his mind Dunson with Montgomery Clift playing the protégée turned mutinous Matt. But the real stars of the show are about 1,000 head of cattle and the well written supporting characters. The movie is about a cattle drive, and you get to see actors on horseback driving a herd. There are shots where you see at least a thousand steers interacting with the stars, and one kick ass shot that 360s around John Wayne on horseback showing steers for as far as the eye can see. Almost every shot in the film has a thousand steers in the background - if not the foreground with the actors. And there's another great shot from inside Walter Brennan's chuckwagon as they ford a raging river (for real) behind and ahead and surrounded by cattle. No special effects, no cardboard cows or CGI - this film is filled with real cattle.

There are all of these cowboys, secondary characters, and each of them has a real character and distinctive character traits. There are all kinds of great gags in the film designed to show the characters of these minor characters. They have an Indian on the crew who always wins at poker because they can't tell when he's bluffing - his face never changes expression. Walter Brennan loses his false teeth to him in a poker game, and this deal is made that the Indian will loan Brennan his teeth for meals, but afterwards they must be immediately returned. From this point on, every time there is a meal scene in the film it is followed by Brennan returning the teeth... sometimes just in the background of a shot.

There is a character named Dave who has a wife he's always talking about. Dave's life is defined by his marriage - and when all of the cowboys are talking about what they will do with their money once they get paid (a great scene for showing the difference between all of these secondary characters) Dave's dream is to buy his wife a pair of fancy red shoes. They live in a shack in the middle of nowhere, but he thinks his wife would love to own a fancy pair of shoes. There is another cowboy with a sweet tooth who is always licking his finger and sticking it in the sack of sugar on the chuckwagon... and that guy's sweet tooth not only extends to other aspects of his character, it creates a plot event later in the film when he accidentally knocks over a bunch of pots and pans while trying to sneak some sugar... and starts a stampede that kills some of the other supporting characters we have grown to love... and he has to live with this throughout the rest of the film. (There is even *another* plot even caused by the stampede that concerns his character.) The great thing about these little things that make each of the cowboys into individuals is that we feel like we know them, and care about them, and when things happen on the cattle drive to them we can relate. It's like we are on that cattle drive with them.

You should plan all of these things before you begin writing your script because different characters handle situations differently. If one of your characters is a Grand Prix racer, it'll probably change the outcome of your car chase if he's driving. Or create an interesting scene if he ends up in the backseat, and your fussy art expert is driving. These are two very different scenes, aren't they? Every character handles a situation in their own way, so you can't just plug a character into a situation or swap one character with another without changing the outcome of the situation. The Grand Prix racer evades the bad guys, but that fussy art expert is liable to total the car! A change in the outcome of the car chase changes EVERY scene which comes after it.


Attitude.
Vocabulary.
Thought process.
Background.
Goals and Fears.
Knowledge (and lack of knowledge).

How are each of your characters different? What makes them an individual?

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