Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Character over Gimmick

Don't let the title of this article on the Writers' Guild of Canada page lead you to believe it doesn't apply to you because (1) you are not Canadian and (2) you don't write science fiction. The article borrows wisdom from Alex Epstein and the final paragraph where it speaks to the use of great character over the use of gimmicks in science fiction, applies to us all, regardless of what genre we write.

Comedy - Character is timeless. Jokes and gags can be trendy, dated, or overused to the point that what was funny the first time you saw a film, eventually becomes tiresome. Example: Napolean Dynomite. The film worked. It was funny. It made money. Nothing wrong with that. But I don't need to see another t-shirt or hear another teenager quoting this film and would glady live out my days never seeing that movie again. The Jerk, written by Steve Martin, came out in 1979 and even though the gags are cheesy by today's standards, the characters sustain it as a good view twenty seven years later. Character over gimmick.

Drama - Classic drama seems to have more staying power than other films. Why? Because character development is intrinsic to drama. Other genres can get away with weak characters if the film has a good gimmick going for it. While I'm not discounting the story, films like Gone With the Wind and Casa Blanca have extraordinary characters that appeal to new generations regardless of the era the film is set in.

Adventure - Why do we watch more classic dramas than classic adventure films? Because without memorable characters, the ancient props, sets, special effects and (gasp) lack of color turn us off. But, I bet my grandchildren watch Pirates of the Caribbean by whatever technologically miraculous means future films are viewed on. Why? Characters.

Character over gimmick. This is true for any genre or genre hybrid including rom coms, westerns, murder mysteries, fantasy and sci fi. There are plenty of great films that rely on gags, gimmicks, special effects, animation, dated events, and the video game of the month. But the films that withstand the brutal tests of time and technology are the ones that incorporate all else with great characters.


Konrad West said...

Hmmm. I thought Napolean was a great character, rather than just a gimmick.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I think Napolean was a candy shell with no chocolate inside.