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The Insider View: Creating Memorable Characters with Rex Pickett

Final Draft, Inc.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 from 6:00 PM to 7:15 PM (PDT)

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  Live Webinar with
Screenwriter and Novelist
Rex Pickett
A Webinar Brought
to You by Final Draft, Inc.

 

Creating Memorable Characters


Plots, storylines, and high concepts are a dime a dozen. Yes, they’re important, and attention must be paid to them, but, in reality, what we remember from films is character. Brando and Pacino in The Godfather saga. We don’t remember who killed who for whatever reason. We remember their riveting characters.  Nicholson in The Last Detail. Hackman in The French Connection, Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Giamatti in Sideways. In novels we remember plot and characters, but in film we remember, most of all, memorable and enduring characters. 
 
Most scripts fail because the writer hasn’t succeeded in delivering three-dimensional character(s) that are uniquely differentiated from one another, and who, through the course of the film, move us, make us laugh, make us root for them, whether they’re chasing a love interest, bad guys, or an impossible dream.  To me, story is important, but character is everything. You will come away from the webinar with the following essentials for creating great, memorable, three-dimensional characters:
 
1.  Building characters from real life. Everyone you meet is potentially a character, but only a small fraction are really potent material. Learn to distinguish what makes someone a character. Look for outsized personalities, people who are singularly different from everyone else, someone who is funny, has heart and soul beyond what we normally encounter in most individuals. Look for difference. Then study them. If there is a character whom you don’t know, but need in your script – e.g., a cop –go looking for them. It’s all research, whether it comes to you, or you have to go and discover it.
 
2.  It’s a simple construct that you’ve heard a million times, but it’s true:  characters must be in conflict with one another, or with themselves, or with society. Put every character into conflict with someone or other, or something. It’s essential. Conflict = drama = comedy = resolution. (Often I’ll make lists under my main characters.  E.g., in Sideways I had under “Miles”:  introverted thinking type:  worrier; circumspect; hates rejection. Under “Jack” I had: extroverted feeling type: rarely worries, plunges headlong; heedless of consequences; is Teflon-coated to rejection.)
 
3.  Characters must have a voice. That voice comes through both dialogue and action, but mostly through dialogue. Try to find that voice through real people. Listen to them carefully. Eavesdrop on conversations. Be less interested in what they’re talking about than how they’re talking. Inflections, idiomatic word usages, what they’re like when they’re euphoric, sad, in a stressful situation. Never start a screenplay unless you can hear the main characters speaking in your head. Too many screenplays have, what I call, undifferentiated voices; i.e., everyone sounds the same. The writer is just using the characters as chess pieces to push the plot or high concept. That’s a huge mistake to avoid.
 
4.  I’m adamantly against plotting and 3X5 cards. Why? Because they deny the writer the opportunity to let the now living character in your imagination go where they will. Follow your character(s), don’t follow your plot adumbrations. Sure, you have a story-line and some big slam-bang finish, maybe, but let your characters take you there, don’t let them be tethered to a plot and just along for the ride. We’ll quickly lose interest in them. And when you lose interest in characters, the script is dead in the water.
 
5.  Ideas are cheap; execution is everything. I coined this phrase and have repeated it many times, and I still believe it. And execution is not just your ability to create a believable plot with convoluted twists and turns, it’s your ability to create an ensemble of characters who have the ring of verisimilitude.
 
6.  Transformative arc.  Once you have my characters – or they have you! – you ust then try to see, feel, what their transformative arc will be. Have all your main characters start in one place and end in another, not necessarily in a wholly other place, but inhabiting a wholly different, and changed, human being. If your characters are not transformed by their experiences, then their journey becomes devoid of meaning. And if it’s devoid of meaning, we won’t feel anything for them. And if we don’t feel anything for them – even if it’s Walter White becoming the epitome of Evil incarnate in Breaking Bad – we will stop caring; i.e., we will stop reading.
 
7.  From three-dimensional characters with the ring of verisimilitude we can spoke out to every possibility that a film narrative has to offer.  Once characters have come to life, writing becomes much easier. No longer are we forcing writing, grinding our way through scenes with one-dimensional characters who have no inner life. Conflicts whose hooks we have set early are now our friends. Characters are set in motion with said conflicts and now their journey starts to take on a life of its own. Once you start writing about real, instead of make-believe, people, your writing career will be radically changed. Success looms visibly on the horizon.

Learn these principles and so much more! Register today.

As an aspiring screenwriter, you've asked these questions on message boards, at conferences, and to consultants. But now is your chance to ask a working screenwriter and novelist what you need to know about writing great characters and creating conflict in your screenplay.

Don't miss this opportunity to find out what Rex Pickett has learned about the craft of screenwriting, and how you can use his knowledge to make your script even better.

Register now to ensure your spot at the live webinar event for only $29. You will receive an email with instructions on attending this event.

There will also be a live question-and-answer session during the last 15 to 20 minutes of the webinar where all attendees can chat questions to Rex live. These questions will be chosen at random. You may also submit questions in advance to webinars@finaldraft.com attention Rex Pickett Questions. These submissions will be considered for the Q&A as well.

If you miss the scheduled time, you will receive an email the morning after the event has closed with a link to watch the video at your convenience.

Register now and spend some quality time with Rex Pickett, courtesy of the leading software for screenwriters in the business, Final Draft.

About Rex Pickett:

Rex Pickett was born and raised in California. He attended the University of California at San Diego where he graduated summa cum laude with a Special Projects major, his diploma reading: "Specializing in Contemporary Literary and Film Criticism and Creative Writing." He moved to L.A. to attend USC graduate film school in the early '80s. He left after one year when the opportunity to make an independent feature film arose.

During the '80s Rex wrote and directed two independent feature films. The first, California Without End, was produced on a budget of less than $100K and was sold to Bavarian Radio Television. The second, more ambitious, film, titled From Hollywood to Deadwood, was a 4,000 mile road film made for just under a million. It sold to then Island Pictures (now MGM) and was theatrically released in 1990.

Rex has also written numerous screenplays, many original, some for hire, for both film and television (see attached resume). Most notably, he wrote the 2000 Best Live Action Short Oscar(r) winner My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York, and the novel Sideways, which was made into the critically acclaimed Oscar-winning film of the same title by Alexander Payne. Sideways went on to win over 350 awards from various critics and awards organizations. It is enshrined in the Writers Guild of America theater as one of the 101 Greatest Screenplays of All Time. The film changed the international wine world indelibly and time has only burnished its reputation into the now iconic.

As of this writing, Sideways: the Play, also written by Rex, is enjoying a SOLD OUT run at the Equity-waiver Ruskin Group Theater in Santa Monica, CA. It scored a stratospheric 95% Sweet on Bitter Lemons (L.A. theater's version of Rotten Tomatoes). Plans are already in the works to take the play on the road to the huge, international Sideways fan base.

Last year, Rex came out with his Sideways sequel Vertical. Unhappy with Alfred A. Knopf, with whom he was under contract, he asked to be released from his deal and formed an independent publishing company. Last month Vertical won the prestigious Gold Medal for Fiction from the Independent Publishers Book Awards.

Rex has written film scripts, TV scripts, novels, numerous magazine articles, written and directed two feature films, and now has a critically acclaimed smash hit play currently running. Several years ago he was offered a visiting professorship at his alma mater UCSD, but had to turn it down because he was too busy. He has conducted writing seminars and workshops and this year will be the keynote speaker at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. He is currently the wine columnist for Town & Country Magazine and is writing a pilot for HBO titled The Nose. He also frequently blogs for Huffington Post Books.

Rex now has ambitious plans to write the third part of the Sideways trilogy, something he had always envisioned. It will be set in a foreign country.

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Refund Policy: If technical difficulties are experienced or speakers are unable to attend or must be rescheduled, refunds will be issued only in the form of admission to a future event of your choice.

 

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