Choosing the Characters

In docudrama, you have to select your characters from real life, and sometimes your choices are extremely limited. The commonest problem is that you know the story, yet the central characters evade you. Ideally, you want a "hero" who will carry the story in the direction of your choice. Yet very often that ideal character just doesn't exist.

Sometimes you may have to amalgamate characters, as was done with the doctor-hero in And the Band Plays On. Sometimes you have to give a spread of characters to give enough of the whole story, as in the The War Game and the 1992 film Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster.

Dead Ahead is about the Alaska oil disaster. Writer Michael Baker spent an afternoon telling me about the difficulty of finding the right characters to carry the story.

For a long time we were interested in a fisherman we thought would he a focus of tension. There was also a guy called Kelly who almost single-handedly launched a kind of wildlife rescue operation. . . . So I began to wonder if we could reduce our canvas and look at the film through a Kelly story. Or should we do the captain's story?

And one by one the stories were jettisoned. Kelly's was too environmental. With the captain's story there wasn't a real thread all the way through. He'd been taken off the ship and was then out of the story till the trial. (Alan Rosenthal, Writing Docudrama [Boston: Focal Press, 1994])

When the search for the right "hero" still fails to turn up a plausible central character, he or she may have to be created out of the author's imagination. This was the ploy used by Ernest Kinoy when he wrote Skokie. In the film, the central character is a fictitious Holocaust survivor who violently objects to neo-Nazis parading through Skokie. The technique works well and gives us a sympathetic main figure who represents in himself the thousands of objectors to the march. The problem with the use of this device is that it can blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, and it can raise questions of credibility about the rest of the film. When you use it, do so with caution.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment