Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hollywood Reporter Awards Watch

The Hollywood Reporter has a roundtable with six "buzzworthy" scribes who are in contention this awards season. It's interesting to read the content, but reading the comments where editor Jay Hernandez gets all defensive about not including any women on the panel is just as compelling.

His explanation...
  • For the record, several high-profile women were invited to participate and could not either because of scheduling conflicts or a lack of interest. The lack of women is also a function of the industry and awards season, when historically (excepting 2008) very few women are nominated.
You can almost decode the subtext. They are too busy ("overwhelmed"). They lacked interest ("not focused enough, probably PMSing"). They aren't in contention so we didn't bother to interview them ("perennial losers so why bother...") Poor Mr. Hernandez seems surprised at the backlash in the comments section.

Look, presenting a diverse face on an industry that isn't very diverse is always going to be a challenge but that doesn't make it okay not to try. And it's naive of the editor to not at least be prepared for the criticism.

Anyone foresee a one-on-one sit down with Jane Campion talking about "Bright Star" in THR's near future?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sympathetic Characters & the Perils of Backstory

Back when I worked as a reader, when I didn't "get" a character I'd often drop a backstory note about fleshing out the guy or gal in question. The producer I worked for would sigh, like he was disappointed and mutter that I was just like the studio honchos in suits, always yearning to see "how I came to be" scenes shoehorned at the midpoint of a story. He hated backstory with a passion I didn't understand when it seemed to me, fresh out of school, that learning about a character's past was a quick way to "get" him, nay, even like him.

Flashforward a couple years, on a recent draft of the much mutating crazy Bollywood musical, and I understand where that curmudgeonly independent producer was coming from, and how much backstory can be overcredited for making a sympathetic character sympathetic. Very rarely, is a clearly laid out backstory the reason you like or root for a character. Matter of fact, backstory can cripple your otherwise pretty darn compelling main guy.

So how do you create a likable protagonist? Here are a couple ideas from Mary Lynn Mercer's "The True Nature of Sympathetic Characters" which I found on a late night Google. It's intended for fiction writers so you have to chuck the last part about internalization but the rest of it is pretty on target.

• Get rid of self-pity. Readers hate it and furthermore (my opinion now) it's not active and your protagonist needs to be active.

• Scenes of goodness, "saving the cat" scenes that are unconnected to the story

• Melodramatic backstories

• Character's that don't quit. This is connected to that active protagonist. If the character cares deeply enough to continue on the quest when all around is dark, we're going to care about that character.

• Inner weakness. Conflicted characters. They have the drive to see them through the story quest but it must not come easy. Every step is hard but they can't turn back.

• Know your genre boundaries. What's fine and "humanizing" for your hero to do in a Western might be downright death for him to do in a romantic comedy.

Crazy how much the creation of a sympathetic character can have so little to do with laying out explicitly the "ghosts"/backstory of the character's life, right?

Now excuse me while I go cut the part where my protagonist talks about the car crash her mother died in, life in the orphanage and the puppy she couldn't save when the orphanage caught afire. (I kid...kinda.)

Happy writing.

photo by Crail
Originally uploaded by AndyRob