Category Archives: Film

Stand Like You Mean It!

I don’t know a lot about Lena Dunham or her work. And this post isn’t about her specifically. My point is the fact that in this major portrait of a powerful young woman shot by Annie Fucking Leibovitz, the photographer who shows up to tell you you’ve ARRIVED– she is posed like THIS.

cn_image.size.lena-dunhamThis familiar, infantilizing, pigeon-toed stance that is one of the ways we pose young women to make them look hapless and charming and harmless. The semiotics of that pigeon-toed stance are clear and culturally very well-defined. And of course everything in this photo is deliberate. Leibovitz is a master photographer, not your aunt shooting holiday snaps. Both of these women know what they’re doing, and deliberately chose a pose with a specific cultural meaning.

As I’ve said, I don’t know much about Lena Dunham and I’ve never seen Girls (because I suck at watching TV) but I’m fairly certain that this woman who is well on her way to heading a media empire is, if anything, sure of herself.

Why does it matter? Why do I have any fucks to give about a person I’ve never met and the pose she’s throwing in her Annie Leibovitz portrait?

Because: How we portray powerful women MATTERS. This is a portrait of a young woman who is newly very, very powerful, and she is posed in such as way as to ameliorate that power. Lena Dunham is a very powerful, very young, very wealthy woman now, and whether she herself chose to ameliorate that by using a childlike pose and Leibovitz agreed, or whether Leibovitz posed her that way deliberately and Dunham agreed, it sends exactly the wrong message.

We have a lot of trouble with powerful women in our culture, and even more trouble with powerful young women. We pose young, powerful men in ways that celebrate their power (this, this, this, this, this, and this). We pose young, powerful women in ways that sexualize or infantilize them (or–ick–both). See this, this, this, this, this, and this.

I understand that Lena Dunham’s character in Girls is all about straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood. I get that. But this is not a portrait of her character. It’s a portrait of a powerful writer, producer, and actor.

I understand that it’s her choice to pose how she likes, and Leibovitz’s choice to shoot what she likes. I understand that Dunham is likely considering her branding in this image, and uses the helplessness and winsomeness she’s portraying here to aid her success in an industry that’s famously skittish around powerful women. I understand the “don’t mind me; I’m harmless” branding choice. I understand branding yourself that way makes powerful men in the industry less nervous, and makes potential audience feel protective and charmed.

Understanding all this is part of what makes me so frustrated with it. We only ask women to ameliorate their power in this way. Only women need to soft-sell their power. This is gendered branding.

What would make it suck a lot less for me, personally (because this whole blog is, of course my personal opinion, and YMMV)

DID YOU JUST READ THAT?

DID I JUST TYPE THAT?

OK, I’m stopping myself. I have a blog that’s read by more people than I ever imagined possible. I’m in the middle of a post about the portrayal of women, and how it sucks that we’re encouraged to soft-sell our power. AND I JUST MITIGATED MY OWN OPINION IN THE MIDDLE OF WRITING IT. This training runs deep.

In the facebook discussion leading up to this post, I was told by an older man that my “style of criticism” was “over the top.” Whenever women speak out, whenever women claim our own power, whenever women voice an opinion without a meek “Well, it’s just my opinion,” someone is there to tell us we’re wrong for it. Often, we do it ourselves. This training runs deep.

I’m choosing to own my power. This is my critical read of this image and this branding. Full stop.

Deep breath.

What would make this a lot less frustrating for me would be if the imaging and branding of men and women were less gendered. There’s nothing wrong with a woman posing for a portrait in an infantilized way in and of itself, but at this cultural moment we’re faced with the hard, cold reality that women– young women especially– are instructed to present ourselves in ways that mitigate our power, and are met with a wagonload of disapproval if we do not, while men are encouraged to do exactly the opposite. This kind of gendered branding sucks for women AND men.

I’ve spent quite some time this morning looking through images of young, powerful men and women. I’ve flipped through hundreds of images of dozens of people. And the one that seems to sum it all up is this:

scarlett-johansson-and-keira-knightley-gallery

This photo of Tom Ford, Scarlett Johansson, and Keira Knightly, shot by Leibovitz for a Vanity Fair cover in 2010, sums it all up nicely. The parody shot Leibovitz did later also speaks volumes about how we portray powerful men vs. how we portray powerful women. It’s funny because of the ironic juxtaposition.

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It’s the same kind of humor we get from this bit of awesomeness:

Created by Theamat on Deviant Art

Created by Theamat on Deviant Art

and this:

What is all the Avengers posed like artists draw female superheroes?

What if all the Avengers posed like artists draw female superheroes?

And this:

Vicious Grace - Jim

The man in the above photo is fantasy author Jim C. Hines, who has an entire series of photos of himself posing the way women are drawn on book covers. It’s glorious, so check it out here.

There are numerous examples of men posing or dressing the way women are posed and dressed, all creating humor out of the ironic juxtaposition and all (hopefully) highlighting the sexualized and infantilized ways we create images of women. Check this out, and this, and this.

Lena Dunham is a powerful young woman, and an Annie Leibovitz portrait is a potent, lasting statement of one’s celebrity. I just wish they had chosen to frame her within that power, rather than mitigating it.

UPDATE: To my astonishment, 3000 people read this post within the first 48 hours it was up. So far I’ve read and/or received dozens of comments on it in various venues. The people who agree with me are a mixed bag of genders. The people who disagree with me are, so far, 100% men. That was, I must say, completely unexpected. I assume there will eventually be women who disagree (or, more accurately, voice their disagreement to me), but the fact remains that it’s gone this long with only male voices telling me I’m wrong, scolding me for “reading too much into it,” or taking me to task for “attacking” Lena Dunham. Interesting, right?

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How to Look Cooler Than You Are

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Cheshire’s basic poster image for the world premiere of The Fisherman’s Wife, by Steve Yockey.

 

You know what I hear ALL the time? “Your posters are amazing.” “Your production shots are incredible.” “Your flyers are gorgeous.” I KNOW. You know why?

Cheshire Isaacs, that’s why.

 

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Another Cheshire poster image. I directed this show, and he captured its feel perfectly with this image.

 

Apart from being Impact’s Managing Director, my partner in crime, and my theatre husband (you can ask Cheshire and my real life husband about how I can’t keep track of who I told what to. Magical), Cheshire is Impact’s Graphics Overlord. If you’ve ever seen an Impact poster, image, or photograph and loved it, you have Cheshire to thank.

 

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So why am I telling you all this? Because, kittens, Cheshire is leaving his job as Art Director at Berkeley Rep and going freelance. Need an amazing poster? A kickass logo? Exceptional, attention-grabbing PR shots or production photos? New headshots? BAM. He’s your hookup, no question. (He’s San Francisco Bay Area-based, so photography will have to be within a reasonable distance unless you have a TARDIS.)

 

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Cheshire’s basic image for Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men. My real life husband painted the mini to match the actor playing the paladin, Jonathon Brooks.

 

Cheshire has been making me look cooler than I am for years now, and now he can make YOU look cooler than YOU ARE. And if you’re already extremely cool, well, his work will make you EVEN COOLER.

 

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Cheshire’s image for Prince Gomolvilas and Brandon Patton’s last installment of Jukebox Stories

 

I have a lot of his poster images here, but fewer of his PR and production shots, because I have tons of his shots all over the blog.  Click around and check it out. His shots are incredible.

So check out his stuff and drop him a line when you need some amazing art, OK?

 

One of Cheshire's PR shots for Impact's Titus Andronicus. Mark McDonald, Reggie White, Anna Ishida, Michael Garrett McDonald, and Joe Loper pictured.

One of Cheshire’s PR shots for Impact’s Titus Andronicus. Mark McDonald, Reggie White, Anna Ishida, Michael Garrett McDonald, and Joe Loper pictured.

One of the PR shots Cheshire took for my Romeo and Juliet. You can see how the poster and PR shot match in tone and feel.

One of the PR shots Cheshire took for my Romeo and Juliet. You can see how the poster and PR shot match in tone and feel. Joseph Mason, Mike Delaney, Reggie White, and Jonah McClellan, with Seth Thygesen as the corpse.

Stacz Sadowski in a production shot from Cameron McNary's Of Dice and Men, of course by Cheshire.

Stacz Sadowski in a production shot from Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men, of course by Cheshire.

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Cheshire’s art for Impact’s production of Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman is now the cover art for the published version, available from Samuel French. This isn’t the only Cheshire Isaacs theatre poster that eventually became the book cover.

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Get It Together and Hire a Fight Director

As many of you know by now, I’ve been teaching at the Berkeley Digital Film Institute since its founding. Many film directors have passed through my classes, and exactly . . . um, carry the two, OK, FOUR PERCENT of them understand when they start my class that staged violence needs a fight director. And before you start congratulating yourself for being in theatre and therefore knowing better, easily half of all stage violence is blocked without a fight director. Maybe more. Here’s why you need to hire a fight director for your film or theatre violence.

Impact's Romeo and Juliet. Seth Thygesen as Benvolio, Marilet Martinez as Mercutio, Michael Garrett McDonald as Romeo. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Fights by Dave Maier.

Impact’s Romeo and Juliet. Seth Thygesen as Benvolio, Marilet Martinez as Mercutio, Michael Garrett McDonald as Romeo. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

They’re better at it than you are. I know you totally think you can stage that fist fight based on your many viewings of Star Trek TOS, but believe me, you can’t. Or, rather, you CAN; it just won’t be safe or look anywhere near as good as if you had brought in a professional. Here’s the deal: Ideally, you know the look that you want. But the road to get there is not necessarily a straight line. You don’t, for example, set up a stage punch exactly in the same way you’d set up a real punch. It’s not as simple as just not landing your punch. Additionally, every fight has a narrative. Do you know what the story of your fight should be? Do you know how to tell that story clearly? A fight director does. Nothing is more annoying, or pulls you out of a moment faster, than watching badly done violence. It can take a beautifully acted scene and throw it straight down the toilet. You can have all the honesty you want, but if your violence looks cheap and crappy, it’s going to obliterate all that honesty immediately.  So, for the same reason you hire any other designer whose entire job is to know more about their area of design than you do, hire a fight director. It’s the difference between a badass fight and this.

…….or you could just use your phaser. Still: KIRK RULES.

Fight Director Christopher Morrison:

“The fights are integral to the story. A fight happens when the characters run out of language to pursue their objectives and their choices become physical. Block/direct accordingly. Also understand a fight is a DESIGN element. As a director you should understand what KIND of violence you want, how that violence fits into the world of the play/spine of the story, and what tone the violence should be (i.e. cartoon, filmic, epic, comic book, intimate, ‘fake,’ dirty, etc.) and be prepared to speak to your fight lady as you would another designer on the team.”

Christopher Morrison getting thrown by Cara Gilson in Impact's production of Zay Amsbury's The Wake Up Crew. Fights by Christopher Morrison.

Christopher Morrison getting thrown by Cara Gilson in Impact’s production of Zay Amsbury’s The Wake Up Crew. Violence by Christopher Morrison.

They’ll keep you, your actors, and your audience safe. Apart from the obvious first thought– you want the people around you to remain unharmed because you’re not a psychopath– I’m guessing that you, like me, are someone who enjoys staying out of prison and avoiding lawsuits. An excellent way to do that is to hire a professional to stage your fights safely. Fight Director and actor Carla Pantoja:

“I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard or been privy to of actors getting physically injured because someone didn’t use a respectable fight director. Now when I say ‘respectable fight director,’ I mean someone with reasonable and up-to-date training, or even hiring someone in the first place. [Name] shared a story awhile back of a nonunion (sadly, most of these horror stories are peopled with nonunion folk) actor who had her arm broken and dislocated because the director didn’t hire someone and wanted an arm lock that was ‘real’ (ugh, I hate that term used in relationship to theatrical violence– you want ‘real,’ start a fight club). This director demonstrated on her and snapped her arm. She required surgery.

Part of using a respectable and up-to-date fight director is getting the up-to-date knowledge. There are techniques that are outdated. Just like acting, techniques change. “

All fights, no matter how well-choreographed or rehearsed, carry some measure of risk, like everything in life, but the better choreographed and rehearsed they are, the lower that risk is. If you’ve ever lived through an actor getting injured on your stage, knowing you did everything in your power to prevent that is a world of difference from knowing your actor has a puncture wound because you couldn’t be arsed to hire a professional.

And please be prepared to trust that professional and follow his directives. A safe fight will not remain safe if you throw all the fight director’s instructions out the window. Fight Director and actor Andrew Rodgers:

This show is about as bad as it can get for a fight director.  The company called and asked if I’d choreograph the violence and the description of the play didn’t seem so bad.  But then I saw the publicity photos– the sole actress of the production (let’s call her ‘Jenny’) had a knife in her hand in the pictures.  I came to a rehearsal to see what was going on and I discovered that ‘Jenny’ had NO IDEA what safety meant.  The knife she was using was a dulled-down butcher knife, and my heart stopped when she first brought it out.  The blade was dull but it still had a point on it, and she was playing with it like it was a teddy bear– rubbing it on her face, putting it in her mouth, holding it by the blade or with two fingers.  I nearly exploded.  To complicate things, there was no structural, dramatic or narrative reason for the knife to be in the show– the playwright thought it’d be cool and edgy, and he refused to do rewrites until opening week.  I had to explain to ‘Jenny’ that all weapons, dull or not, should be treated as though they are sharp, and that the knife that she was futzing with could actually kill her or another actor.  I thought she had it, then my stage manager called to say she was doing it again.”

I’ve been lucky at my theatre to have worked with many wonderful actors who would never dream of ignoring a fight director’s instructions, but of course we always reinforce that with support from the director, fight captain, and stage manager. Everyone needs to be on board.

Stacz Sadowski and Anna Ishida in Impact's Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Fights by Dave Maier.

Stacz Sadowski and Anna Ishida in Impact’s Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Yes, you can afford it. Carla makes an excellent point that nonunion actors bear the brunt of the foolery of the producers and directors who don’t want to hire a fight director. Why is that? Because the small theatres who work with nonunion actors are always looking for ways to keep costs down. I’m right there with you in the trenches. My company is the smallest of the small. No one at my company draws a salary. But we wouldn’t dream of doing a show with fights without hiring a fight director. We build it into the budget from the start along with every other design element. If I can do it with my microbudget, so can you.

Obviously you want a trained, professional, certified fight director, but can you afford one? YES, dammit. A little research will show you who the big theatres in your area are using. While a small theatre is unlikely to be able to afford the kinds of rates paid by a LORT, perhaps that LORT fight director is willing to work with you on a sliding scale. If not, it’s almost certain she has a highly-trained associate or star student who’s qualified and talented but is early in his career and looking to build his professional resume. Is there an organization in your area that trains fight directors and actor combatants? Is there a university in your area that offers stage combat training? A little sleuthing will reveal who teaches those classes. Don’t just assume that these professionals are out of your price range, even if your price range is $100 and a sixer of Pyramid Hef. YOU NEVER KNOW. No asky, no gety. But don’t skimp. Pay your fight director what every other designer is getting, because that’s what a fight director is: part of your design team.

Carla Pantoja:

“For those who believe it is too expensive to hire a fight director, did you know that most of us are willing to talk about prices? Sure, there are price points I can’t go below due to commute, etc., however, I know people and I will point you in the direction of someone who may be in your price point.”

Bring your fight director into the process in preproduction, not during tech week. Again, a fight director is part of your design team. You should be meeting with your fight director before rehearsals even begin. Even if the violence is nothing but a single punch, talk to your fight director in advance, let her know who the actors are and what skills they have, discuss the fight narrative and style with her, and ask her how much rehearsal time she’ll need and where in the process she needs that time to be. Fight director Alaric Toy:

“The sooner you include the fight director in the show the better. If the fight director can be part of the audition process, even better. That way s/he can get a good idea of each actor’s true performing capability then and there. Listing ‘gymnastics’ and not being able to perform a cartwheel is just bad. I speak from personal experience looking at some actors’ supposed resumes and the reality of their movement capability doesn’t match when I have to choreograph the fight.”

Carla Pantoja:

“Producers, please call us in early to the rehearsal process. I can’t tell you how many calls I get to stage something like R & J two weeks before opening and none of the actors have ever held a weapon. I’m not kidding. You are setting us all up for failure. When you call me the first time INTO TECH! to help stage a fall or a hit and the actor can’t do it fluidly and it looks clunky, it isn’t the fight director or the actor’s fault. I am not a miracle worker; I can’t magically give that actor the time it takes to incorporate the moves into their body. BTW, falls are the hardest things to sell, I have found. They are the hardest thing to get right technically while visually looking convincing. I don’t do these last minute calls anymore, they hurt my soul.”

Reggie White and Cassie Rosenbrock in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Reggie White and Cassie Rosenbrock in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

What the hell do you mean by a “fight narrative”? Isn’t it just a fight? Ow, even typing that hurt me. This kind of attitude is all too common, and makes as much sense as asking why you should hire a lighting designer, because can’t you just turn the lights on and off yourself?

Andrew Rodgers:

“That is the key to good choreography– thought. The actors MUST be thinking or the fight turns into empty steps.  The fight MUST have a purpose, just like any other scene in the play, otherwise it’s an uncomfortable dance break (and I’m usually a fan of dance breaks.) The actors MUST be processing what the characters are thinking.  It’s the simple things like this that make good combat– not speed or big shiny weapons– although those have their place.  It’s about thought.”

Carla Pantoja:

“I remember one of my mentors, Richard Lane, tell someone: ‘Would you do Oklahoma and not hire a music director? Or would you hire actors to do a play, just give them a script and have them direct themselves?'”

Don’t avoid hiring a fight director because you think your actors don’t have the training to pull off a professional fight. A trained professional fight director will work with your actors’ capabilities.

Carla Pantoja:

“While actors are amazing, we need direction. We need an outside eye to tell us if what we are doing is working. Safety is also nice. Fear is detrimental to our work as actors, not only fear of ‘is this working?’ but fear of being hurt physically.

As a fight director, I am an actor advocate. My job is to help you portray violence in a convincing way in a safe manner, creating a fight with you and for you. A fight you will enjoy to do and can do well within your own abilities. It doesn’t behoove me to make you do a move you physically cannot do, a move you are fearful of, or hold you back if there is a special move you can do that can be highlighted in the fight.

I have sadly worked with too many actors who have been injured and left distrustful of theatrical violence.”

Rehearsing the Hotspur/Hal fight for Impact's Henry IV: The Impact Remix. Violcen by Christopher Morrison.

Rehearsing the Hotspur/Hal fight for Impact’s Henry IV: The Impact Remix. Violence by Christopher Morrison.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE TREAT YOUR WEAPONS LIKE WEAPONS. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever allow an actor to point a gun loaded with blanks at someone, or at himself, and pull the trigger. A blank is not a NOTHING. That noise is made by a violent discharge that can seriously hurt someone. Just because it’s not propelling a bullet through the air does not mean it is a fluffy puppy. (Personally, I use sound cues for gunshots. A sound cue will recreate the sound of the gun in the setting. Is your play set outdoors? In close quarters? Is that gun supposed to be a hunting rifle, a shotgun, a .22? A blank fired in your theatre will always sound like nothing other than a blank fired in your theatre, and yes, all blanks of all sizes and types sound like blanks fired in your theatre, not like a bullet fired in your setting. That is, IF the blank even goes off. I’ve been through far too much “click click click click POP” to rely on blanks. And again, they sound like crap. An excellent sound designer is worth every blank in the world put together.)

A dulled blade is not magically prevented from doing any harm to anyone. It’s still a hunk of metal that can penetrate a squishy human body rather easily.

MORBO LAUGHS AT SQUISHY HUMANS

MORBO LAUGHS AT SQUISHY HUMANS

And NEVER take your weapons out of the theatre unless they’re in some kind of case or containing device. Do you want three uniformed police officers and one plainclothesman charging downstairs into your theatre five minutes before curtain? Then make sure your actor leave his weapon on the prop table when he runs to the bathroom, not shoved down the back of his pants.

(I don’t need to tell you that an actor who plays with the prop weapons backstage is an actor you should NEVER HIRE AGAIN, right? If an actor can’t follow the simple directive of “don’t fuck with dangerous props (or any props, really)” then that lack of concern for professionalism and safety is bound to carry over into other areas of his work.)

All good troopers know to put their weapons back on the prop table when they're off stage, and never touch anyone else's props.

All good troopers know to put their weapons back on the prop table when they’re off stage, and never touch anyone else’s props.

So please hire a fight director. You CAN afford it. A qualified fight director will enormously enhance the quality of your show, keep everyone in your building safe, and open your eyes to new perspectives on work that you may, in many cases, have been turning over in your mind for years. When you finally get your hands on Lear (and by “you,” I mean “me”), a fresh perspective on those scenes you’ve been dreaming about blocking for a decade will not only make the violence better, but will provide fresh insights into the entire piece– narrative, themes, and characters.

Stacz Sadowski and Miyaka Cochrane in Impact's As You Like It. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Stacz Sadowski and Miyaka Cochrane in Impact’s As You Like It. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

This piece wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the fight director Impact Theatre works with– Dave Maier. Dave is brilliant. He and I see eye-to-eye about violence and tend to exacerbate each other’s love for stage combat when we’re working together as director and fight director.  We’ve been known to turn the simple direction “they fight” into scenes that say as much about the characters as the dialogue, maybe more, and that’s something I would never, ever be able to do on my own. Working with Dave is a joy. I learn something every time I work with him, and his ideas about character and narrative are always fantastic.

So hire a fight director. Be safe. Be a better artist. Be awesome.

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Hey, Screenwriters and Playwrights: Create Better Characters

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I’ve been teaching at a film school for over five years now, and working with filmmakers has been an eye-opener. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope I’ve helped some filmmakers along the way.

One thing I think screenwriters and playwrights share is the need to create compelling, honest characters, and yet it’s one of the most common areas in which I see scripts fall flat. This can be a real struggle for early career writers.

So: Are your characters boring? Oh, don’t give me that look. You know what I mean. Bland, flavorless characters; characters whose predictability could be spotted by a nine-year-old; characters that are carbon copies of archetypal characters of the past.  They are all too common.

How are memorable, believable, intriguing characters made? While there’s no one right way, I can give you some pointers to help you, early career playwright or screenwriter, find your own process.

1. Imagine your characters as personalities, not as a collection of visuals.

This one is a particular issue for filmmakers. Filmmakers tend to be visual people, and I often see scripts that approach a character from the outside, and stop there. The writer knows what she wants the scene to look like, but hasn’t thought any more deeply about it than that. When you think about your characters, think in more detail about personality traits. Who is this character? Why does he do what he does? What does he want? Which leads me to:

2. Think of your characters as real people with needs and desires.

I often see characters that are treated as nothing but events in the life of the main character. Imagine your characters as real people with goals, hopes, dreams, fears. What does this person want? What does she want from the other character(s) in the scene? What is her opinion about the other character(s) in the scene, what’s happening around them, what might happen, etc? I see this particular “event-in-the-life” type of sloppy writing shine out in its fullest glory when people write women and people of color.

3. Write better women and people of color.

The amount of stereotypical, flat, and unrealistic women and people of color in film and theatre could, if turned into gold, buy every man, woman, and child who ever lived a copy of the latest version of Final Draft. It’s depressing. Even more depressing is the fact that this isn’t the sole province of white male writers. When writing supporting characters that are women or people of color, treat these characters as real people with stories of their own—feelings, opinions, needs, desires—and not just an event in the life of the main character. And here’s a thought: consider writing more pieces with a woman or a person of color AS the main character. I see much more diversity in main characters in theatre than in film, but we could use much more in both. (More stories from more diverse perspectives, please, with extra awesome.) BTW: One more hooker/call girl character and I will scream. Despite what you see in film, 57% of all women between the ages of 18 and 30 are not hookers. Crazy, right? I KNOW. Additionally, I could easily write a 1000-word blog post just about stereotypical writing for people of color. Be better.

4. People are never generic, always specific.

So stop creating generic characters. Stop throwing generic characters into scenes just to advance the narrative and start thinking of characters as essential parts of the equation of storytelling. I promise you that you can, with a little more thought, advance your narrative just as well—actually, better—with an interesting bartender as easily as a generic “bartender.” What’s more, an interesting, complex character can take your narrative in unexpected directions. Allow your characters to be specific people and see where that takes you.

5. The stronger your antagonist, the stronger your protagonist.

This one is more germane to screenwriting than playwriting, but this basic piece of advice should apply to all characters you create, whether they fall into the protagonist/antagonist structure or not. Make sure your antagonist isn’t a total screaming douchebag from the get go. It cheapens your protagonist’s eventual victory (or defeat, if that’s where you’re going). Make your antagonist a worthy opponent and the end will be much more satisfying. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious asshole (SPOILER ALERT: too late) take a tip from Shakespeare—all of his villains have some redeeming qualities, and all of his heroes have some flaws. People are complex, and if you want your characters to be believable, they must reflect that. An antagonist who has a point and makes some sense in his opposition to the protagonist will provide a much more satisfying conclusion.

6. Show, don’t tell.

Yes, I know this is the 100th time you’ve heard this, but it’s really true. Your character doesn’t need to offload sixteen lines of exposition in the first scene. Don’t be afraid of a little ambiguity. Allow the actors some room to create believable characters with your text. Real people are sometimes indirect, are mistaken, lie. People seldom come right out and say precisely what they’re thinking. Show us the character, the relationships, the emotional journey. Don’t feel the need to load it all into the lines.

7. Pay attention to “voice.”

Characters who all sound the same are annoyingly common in scripts. Create specific character voices. Observe the people around you—you’ll encounter interesting character voices every day. Individuals have specific vocabularies, speech patterns, and ways of framing and expressing opinions. Build this in tandem with your characters’ personality traits, as they will inform each other.

My last, and most important word of advice: Follow your heart. Tell the story you need to tell in the way you need to tell it. Only you can tell your stories, so honor those stories by crafting the best scripts you can.

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