Arts & Entertainment

Crafting and Introducing Compelling Characters

James Cameron

Lesson time 18:55 min

James talks through creating the perfect sketch of your characters, making them relatable, and introducing them to audiences.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Craft a Very Compelling Sketch • Give an Average Person an Enormous Problem • Introduce Your Characters With a Creative Synecdoche • Build Toward the Moment Your Characters Collide • Do Your Research for Historical Characters • Help Actors Influence Their Character


[MUSIC PLAYING] - It's absolutely critical in any film to have a character that you're willing to go on the journey with. And people use the term a fully-realized character. But I think it's important to understand that film is a very stylized art form. It it's not capable of the kind of novelistic detail of a 600 or 1,000-page novel. So you're never going to know everything about that character. You have to fill in the blanks with bits and pieces of your own life, and those of your friends, and so on. So how do you do all that? Well, you have to find little, universal things that you can relate to from one's life, as an audience member, and have the character do something or do things that you recognize. You can set huge challenges for yourself if it's a nonverbal character. And you're putting so much on the actor to express with their eyes, with their face, with their yearning expression, or whatever it is. But every character is a creation that exists between the screenplay-- the imagined character-- which is still out of focus, we don't apply a face yet, and then the director's imagination of what that can be on the screen. And then the actor fills in the final and, ultimately, the most important piece, what does this person look like? How do they move? How do they speak? So a character is really never more than a sketch. But it has to be a very compelling sketch. Giving an average person, a relatable, average person, an enormous problem and seeing how they solve that problem or process that problem is a good way to get buy-in. You basically want the audience to buy into the narrative. And they usually buy into the narrative through the characters. It's key in the way that you introduce a character to understand where they are in their life, what they're feeling, and what their problem is. Any character that you're going to follow has got a problem. And that problem needs to be declared fairly early on. Sometimes you can do it in the very first scene. And then the whole movie should ultimately be about somehow that problem gets addressed, gets resolved, or at least we understand that it's the thing that drove that character into whatever situation evolves. And the problem may escalate as well. But I do believe in the kind of principle of character is destiny. That character winds up in a situation of their own creation in some way. And it's somehow related to them solving their problem, whatever their problem might be. It might be that nobody sees them, that they're kind of invisible to the people around them, that they haven't found who they are yet or a way of expressing it. It may be that they don't have love, or that they've lost love and are now incapable of opening themselves to a new relationship. Whatever the character's problem is, you need to define it early on. And you need to do it in an interesting way where the audience can sympathize because we have this capacity for empathy and for understanding ...

About the Instructor

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

James Cameron

Academy Award–winning director James Cameron teaches you the tricks of the trade and shares his approach to epic moviemaking on any budget.

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