Bond with Your Characters
One of my personal rules of filmmaking is: Know the characters better than you know yourself. In 2012, the initial idea for Sincerely, Brenda began with one character. Brenda. One day she popped into my mind, and I began to see visions of this woman’s life. I had no idea what the story would be. I just spent many hours trying to understand this character. Naturally, the more I begin to learn, other characters developed, and the process continued until I discovered all of the characters. I begin to create backstories[i] for the characters. These backstories helped me further develop my characters on a much deeper level. Creating backstories also helped me discover the main story. I received inspiration for my film projects in many ways. Sometimes it’s a random idea. I may see another film that inspires and idea. I may read something in the news, or a book that sparks an idea. It varies. You may receive ideas or inspiration for your film in different ways, but ultimately it always leads to character and story development.
I started the process in 2012 and didn’t begin seriously writing the script until 2017. I attempted many drafts from 2012 to 2017 but would never get beyond 30 pages. I gave up so many times but felt this urge to revisit the story. Every year I would try again. It wasn’t until April 2017 when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child that I committed to finishing the script. I never stopped thinking about the characters during my down times though. I know this may sound crazy, but they kept speaking to me, revealing more about their story, forcing me to tell it. I truly believe we don’t choose our stories they choose us.
I want to take a moment to dive a bit deeper into the “character bonding process”. A character backstory can start from anywhere in that character’s life. I usually begin by asking questions about the character’s current situation and then work backwards from there. At this point I start journaling about that backstory. Backstory helps to fully shape the characters so that when you begin writing, you’re not guessing about what a character would do or say in a moment, you would instinctively know. The characters will guide you. Backstory is incredibly important in developing dynamic charterers and engaging stories. Here’s how I create character backstory:
[i] A backstory, background story, back-story, or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.