Susan Kouguell is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and chairperson of the screenplay and post-production consulting company Su-City Pictures East She is the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself ). Follow Susan on Twitter: @SKouguell
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.
Choose whatever setting you feel will tap into the truths and minds of your characters. Put your characters on a therapist’s couch, on a tense television talk show set, or even trapped in an in-law’s attic -- the sky’s (the locations) the limit.
Here are some interview questions excerpted from my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! Your characters can answer some or all of the suggested questions below and/or you can invent some of your own.
- How do you feel being interviewed?
- What are your hopes and dreams?
- Describe the home where you grew up.
- If you could be anywhere in the world right now where would it be?
- What are your secrets?
- Why are you keeping those secrets?
- Describe your adversary, and explain how this person became your adversary.
- Who makes you angry?
- Who makes you happy?
- Describe your family members.
- Are you close to your family?
- Is there one member of your family with whom you are particularly close?
- Why do you feel close to this family member?
- Is there one family member you despise and if so, why do you despise him or her?
- Who are the most important people in your life, and why are they important to you?
Let’s close out 2015 with some holiday cheer from Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally. Here, Harry and Sally finally reunite at a New Year’s Eve party, and Harry proclaims:
"And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
Sign up for Susan's next classes
December 31: Advanced Film Rewriting
January 7: Writing the Documentary
January 7: World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into
January 14: The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation
January 28: Writing the Animated Feature
Check out all of Susan's Upcoming Classes!
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Documentary
Writing the Animated Feature
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting
Advanced Film Rewriting
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into