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Peter Russell Script Doctor



Building Characters Who Change – Part I

“You get rewarded in public for what you practice intensely in private.” “People’s lives are a direct reflection of their peer group.” “The past is not the future unless you live there.” – Tony Robbins, best-selling author and inspirational speaker One of the things I love about “Silver Linings Playbook” is the characters.  They are original, funny, and they change. There are lots of ways of looking at character.  Some writers’ programs have you write 30 random traits for your character.  Other books suggest that you look at myths to find your characters core.  Some of my other favorites include looking at chakras to discover the essence of the personalities you are creating. We like using a little thing we call a Character Matrix. A Character Matrix is a chart and it’s much more geek-centric than most of our tools.  It’s a chart-master’s delight that speaks to the heart of anyone who enjoys categorizing and organizing more than they like writing. Before we get to the geekery of organizing our matrix, let’s go over the components that make up the essence of good characters. 1.  Characters are most defined by their role in your movie.  Everyone has a role that they play, much like the people in your life.  I got a Christmas card recently from my friend who used to be a barhopping hottie.  Now, she’s a mom.  The entire card was covered with pictures of her kids.  She was relegated to a corner, wearing sunglasses and hiding her extra twenty pounds she swears is coming off this year.  Such a mom.  That’s the dominant role she plays in life at the moment.  Later on, she may decide to be more of a CEO or a mentor.  She may take up hang gliding or become a entrepreneur.  Those would be different roles.  Adventurer. Leader. Most of the time you’ve got some basic roles that characters’ play: Hero, Love Interest, Sister, Mentor, Wise Buddy, Screw-up Buddy, Trickster, Villain.  If you can figure that out first, great. 2.  We like to think about what the character thinks they WANT.  Wants are big deals in screenplays.  Wants create action.  Wants make characters strive, fight and jump over hoops.   Every character, hell, every person you know, wants something in their lives they don’t have right now.  The bigger the want, the more action a character will take to get it.   Ask yourself, what …

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My Daily Write: Driving with Characters

First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him. – Ray Bradbury Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better. – V. S. Pritchett We all want to write character-driven stories.  There’s nothing worse that an all action plot where the characters are cardboard cut-outs going through the motions.  That kind of thing should be left for video games. But how do you create a character-driven story?  First you have to start with a character.  A real person.  Someone who lives and breathes before they ever find their way to the page. For most of us, this is easy enough. We can imagine a friend, a brother or our boss. The trick is getting them to live on the page too.  What do you have at your disposal to make that character live?  Details.  Physical details.  Think meeting someone in a cafe.  How quickly do you assess who they are based on clothing, physical details and what they carry with them (props)? Who are these women? – Tall, running clothes, Louis Vuitton diaper bag, iPhone – Blackberry, sensible heels, short hair, no make-up Without a stitch of dialogue you have the beginnings of character through costume, props, and physical description. Now add mood (lighting and sounds), sets, set dressing when you introduce them…. – A crying baby, a Range Rover that has seen better days, an early morning rainstorm in Portland, a line of cars waiting for gas at the discount gas station – The clatter of ringing phones, a desk stacked high with paper, a stack of unopened wedding gifts with a note that says “to be returned” Now you almost have a beginning of a story without having written a scene. What’s missing? A goal. Give your character a strong desire in the beginning of your movie and make sure that they are always working toward it in someway.  Even when they’ve lost their way, the audience should have a sense that your character WANTS something very, very badly. To go home. To kill the beast. To find the diamonds. To stop the crime. To stop the train. To get a date. Specificity is your friend. Instead of giving your character an abstract goal like “love.” Choose a goal that is concrete. If there is not a physical manifestation of the goal – it’s not concrete enough to drive your …

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 I am busy reworking scenes today as part of the rewrites journey. Scenes are always about change. In characters OR in action. And about CONFLICT. How are your characters changing – through CONFLICT – in the scene you are writing today? PS = one side WINS in a conflict, the other LOSES. This is Peter Russell your writing coach on with online writing classes to help get you to next writing ✍️ level on your script!

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Great Storytelling

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list – When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next – is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres. 1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. 2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different. 3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. 4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. 5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. 6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? 7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. 8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. 9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. 10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. 11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. 12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. 13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. 14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. 15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. 16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens …

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How to Write an Award-Winning Short Film

The short film RULES Hollywood today.  With a great short, creators have gotten deals for feature films and television. Get the tools to create your award-winning short with this ONLINE class. Learn the 10 different kinds of shorts. See the similarities and differences between each. See the hidden structure of great short stories. Understand how to create your own shorts AND webisodes.  Get PERSONALIZED coaching to write the short film that gets you noticed. Choose one of two options: 4-Hour Video Lecture  PLUS 2 One Hour Consulting Sessions to work on your script  Or 4-Hour Video Lecture only **update: THESE OPTIONS ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE BUT YOU CAN PURCHASE THIS COURSE INSTEAD.

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How to Write and Structure the TV Drama

Man Men Breaking Bad The Good Wife CSI Scandal & Gray’s Anatomy If you want to write brilliant, breakthrough material, write for television. From “Orange is the New Black” to “Girls” to “Mad Men,” television writing is where the most entertaining, evocative and surprising stories are being told. Where do you start? How do you polish what you’ve got? Learn from the best. Peter Russell, award-winning UCLA Extension instructor of the year and co-founder of How Movies Works, takes you through the plot structures of television dramas: Episodic and Serial storylines. We also show you how creators Vince Gilligan and Aaron Sorkin create tension in TV DRAMA. He’ll show you BEAT BY BEAT how BREAKING BAD and NEWSROOM work. You’ll understand how to approaching writing shows like “The Good Wife,” and “CSI” or “Gray’s Anatomy.” You’ll learn about writing great characters, writing vivid action and how to build relationships between characters that the audience cares about. This 3-hour lecture is only $5 for the first hour and $20 additional for the full lecture. You’ll also receive a video link to the lecture to view online.

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New Workshop! How to Write an Award-Winning Short

Starts September 4. This powerful 4-week online workshop is designed to help you write your best short possible. We’ll go over: – The 10 different kinds of short films – The difference between long shorts and short shorts and webisodes. – How to write to shoot most effectively – The tools of great storytelling – Plus! You will receive a three-hour video lecture with bonus material you can reference any time. This online workshop will involve 3 online workshop classes PLUS a one-on-one story session with Peter Russell, award-winning UCLA teacher and long-time Hollyshorts judge. This class is regularly $185. If you sign up by Midnight, Sunday August 3 the class is only $150.

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How to Write the Next Multi-Award-Winning Short Film

Short films are the calling cards of the film industry. You can make them for as little or as much as your budget can allow — but first you need a great concept, a tight story, a character or two the audience wants to follow (note: we didn’t say “like.”) If you get it right, a short film can propel you into a feature, a TV show or a great partnership with a producer. You can travel to Toronto, Sundance and Cannes with priority access passes. You can get meetings and be known as the next hot talent. That’s IF you get it right. We WANT YOU TO GET IT RIGHT! This Sunday, July 27, Peter Russell, a long-time judge at the HollyShorts Film Festival , is taking HMW’s expertise as sought-after story developers and script doctors and applying our wisdom to the short film. He will show you several short films and breakdown the conventions of each. You will understand how to write one, how to make one and how to break out of the pack by shining your brilliance in the RIGHT WAY. If you have made a short film or if you want to make one — this is the class you’ve been waiting for. Click here to get tickets!

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About Peter Russell Movie&TV Script Doctor

Think of me as a writer, teacher and story consultant with over 15 years experience working with studios. From this experience, I have developed a great class list that focuses on many areas in the business. Peter Russell Script Doctor offers a large variety of classes, so be sure to check back often to see if there is an offering for you. Find Out More...