Unforgettable Screenplay Character Introductions
- August 4, 2015
- Posted by: HalCroasmun
- Category: Articles
How do you get an A-list actor to fall in love with your characters?
I spent a year interviewing major actor's production companies to find out what actors need in a screenplay and how to get your script in the door. From those 32 interviews, we discovered many insights into what it takes to land an actor.
Early on, I was surprised how much was said about character Introductions. Why are these so important?
taking those actions, and saying those lines…in the first 3 pages!
At first, I though that actors wouldn't make a decision solely based upon the character introduction, but found out that it does happen, even on big movies. But more often, the actor stops reading after a bland character intro. Don't let that happen to your script!
Consider these two introductions and their affect on a reader, actor, or producer:
Which do you think would be more attractive to an A-list actor?
My advice: Make those character introductions as interesting as you can by putting your character into action right away.
To do that, we'll use a simple "action/insight" format on characters from five movies.
Action/Insight Screenplay Character Introductions
The action is important because it provides something visual that is interesting to watch on the screen. But the insight is far more important — we need to experience something deep about this character during our first meeting that will have us want to follow them throughout the story.
As you look at the examples below, think about your own character introductions and how you might improve them.
In"Schindler's List," Oskar Schindler's introduction shows his ability to schmooze with SS officers. While that scene did a variety of things, it also introduced Schindler through action that provided insight into his character.
ACTION: Schindler schmoozes SS officers.
INSIGHT: This man is a wheeler-dealer / war-time profiteer who has no fear of the SS.
They introduce Amir through two sets of actions simultaneously — being on the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and being tortured at the police station because they believe he is cheating.
Both situations show him as a stubborn young man who will do anything to remain on this show. Later, we discover that it is not for the money. He wants to remain on the show as long as possible so the woman he loves might see him. They had been separated at a foster home.
ACTION: Refuses to give up being a contestant on TV game show while being tortured.
INSIGHT: We get the character's stubbornness, his absolute commitment to remaining on this show, which is a hook — who would go through torture just to remain on a show when he could take the money and live a good life? That hook delivers a lot of character insight later on.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Melvin is in the hallway, sweet talking a little dog. The dog seems nervous, but finally Melvin wins him over…then throws him down the laundry shoot.
ACTION: Sweet talk the dog, then throw it down the shoot.
INSIGHT: Melvin is a selfish, manipulative man who can turn on someone in a heartbeat.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
In "No Country For Old Men," Anton Chigurh (the villain) is introduced when he calmly waits for the deputy to get off the phone, then chokes him to death with the chain between Anton's handcuffs. He then steals a police car and pulls over another car. When the man gets out, Anton puts a tube to the man's head and calmly shoots a nail into his brain.
And what is all this killing for? To make it easier for Anton to accomplish his goal that day — which is to kill someone else.
ACTION: Calmly killing the deputy and driver of the other car.
INSIGHT: This guy is a killing machine, with zero conscience.
THE DARK KNIGHT
In The Dark Knight, The Joker is introduced through a bank heist where each of the masked bandits are instructed to kill another one upon completing their job. As they systematically kill off their own team, it comes down to two guys. The first points a gun at the second and says "I'm betting the Joker told you to kill me as soon as we loaded the cash." The second guy says "No, I'm supposed to kill the bus driver."
At that point, a bus backs through the wall and kills the first guy. The second guy takes off his mask and IS the Joker.
ACTION: A heist where each robber is instructed to kill another robber, leaving only the Joker.
INSIGHT: This introduction shows us that Joker is ruthless, creative, and thinks many moves ahead of other criminals.
WHAT TO DO?
Now, look at your lead characters of your screenplay. Do you introduce them in action? Does the action give us an insight into a deeper part of the character? And are those introductions unforgettable?
If so, great job!
If not, just rewrite the character intros.
Don't stress out about it. Just look for the insight you want your reader to have about the character and brainstorm a list of actions that could deliver that insight.
WANT TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS MORE ATTRACTIVE TO ACTORS?
Check out our "Creating Roles for Movie Stars" class that presents our best model for writing characters that lure top actors.
Once you apply your creativity to introducing each lead screenplay character powerfully, you'll see that it is easy…and it can make a major difference for your screenplay.