Film Courage: How does a character arrive for screenwriters? Is it something that is very vivid in their mind like this is almost a real person even though it is not? Or is it a hazy, vague thing that develops over many drafts?
Paul Joseph Gulino, Associate Professor at Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts: I think ultimately it’s going to depend on the writer and I have known writers that have a great character and they just want to see what kind of circumstance would be right for this character to explore.
In fact Frank Daniel [Paul’s former Columbia mentor] used to say that you could see a story as a scientific experiment where you take a known substance and an environment that you know and you put them together and you see how they react, found out what happens.
Some people will see this great character, what kind of circumstance would challenge them the most and make them explode basically? But most people tend to come up with a story I find first and they explore what kind of character can that be and would work for my story that I have.
And in terms of how different writers work, I know some writers will base it on a person they know and sometimes that is very useful and the advantage of that even though the person they know has nothing to do with that kind of story is that they can get real specific. Because you know that character, you know how they are, they are capable of some things, they are not capable of other things.
But I’ve been in a situation where we based a person on a script that was in the story and at the end of the story. And at the end of the draft I was like “That’s not the right person for that story.” So I wound up going through (I called it) a major character-ectomy. I changed the…
Film Courage: Ouch! I bet that hurt.
Paul: Right, well actually it worked out in the end. So different writers have different processes. But the key for me is to make it as specific as you can. I do have student who will say “He’s 19 and a typical Freshman.” And it’s like, there is no typical Freshman. There is no typical anything. Everybody is a little…everybody is unique and you look for that…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
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