With the holidays underway, families are gathering to share in good cheer. Or at least that’s what many families in the movies are attempting to do. Yes, that’s their ‘goal’ — but what actually ensues when the parties get underway, is often filled with hilarity or drama — and sometimes both. A variety of films such as Home for the Holidays (directed by Jody Foster), Home Alone (directed by Chris Columbus), Love Actually (directed by Richard Curtis), and It’s a Wonderful Life (directed by Frank Capra) continue to be found on many ‘best of’ lists. While their genres might differ, they share something poignant in common; they’ve touched upon some universal and relatable family issues and relationships.
Making the Most of Capturing the Holiday Family Dynamics in Your Screenplay
The ways in which characters relate to each other and the types of relationships they have, add the necessary layers of depth and conflict in a screenplay. Characters’ specific needs and goals can motivate them to seek help from one character for advice and assistance, or slyly befriend another character to achieve a goal. Relationships can be judgmental or nonjudgmental, one character can hold the other accountable for his or her actions, or assist the other through a challenging time. One character may have a hidden agenda and take advantage of another character, who is led to believe that he or she is being helped to achieve a goal, or characters can form an alliance to achieve a specific goal.
Getting to Know Your Characters Under Pressure
Understanding and conveying what makes your characters act and behave the way they do is imperative in a successful screenplay.
I follow my own advice that I offer my consulting clients and students, which is to write character biographies in your character’s voices (in the first person.) Make it a fun exercise for yourself — once it becomes a chore, you’ll lose interest and it won’t truly help you bring the best out of your characters.
Love stories can be found in all genres and this year’s films are no exception. From mainstream Hollywood to independent movies, the quest for love can be found in such films, including Brooklyn, Paper Towns, Far from the Madding Crowd, Carol, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Trainwreck.
While not all these films contain the formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl (complications break them apart) and boy gets girl, these narratives do contain empathetic characters — characters the audience cares about and are rooting for them to succeed in their journey.
In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays I write:
Misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and embarrassing and awkward moments are just some situations couples can find themselves in when it comes to romantic relationships. The love interests can be polar opposites, unknowing soul mates, come from different social classes or backgrounds, have different temperaments, and/or find themselves brought together by an unusual set of circumstances without which they would not have normally met or spoken. The obstacles the couple must face can bring them together or force them apart.
In It Happened One Night (Directed by Frank Capra, Screenplay by Robert Riskin) this classic romantic comedy set in the 1930s Depression-era, protagonists Ellie Andrews and Peter Warne are brought together in an unusual and funny set of circumstances. Ellie Andrews is a spoiled, stubborn, headstrong heiress, who, against her father’s wishes, just married King Westley, a fortune-hunter playboy. Escaping her father’s clutches she runs away—and onto a bus to return to King only to meet Peter Warne, an arrogant and self-centered recently fired newspaper reporter, who drinks, gambles, and chases women. Recognizing Ellie, Peter sees this as his opportunity to get his job back and presents her with an ultimatum: Give him an exclusive on her story and he will help her reunite with King or he will tell her father where she is and collect the reward. Ellie reluctantly agrees. Adventures ensue, as they travel by bus, on foot, and hitchhike, surviving exhaustion, hunger, adversity, class differences, and assorted calamities, which ultimately brings them together and they fall in love.