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Old 05-28-2011, 03:49 PM   #1
Manchester
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Default Starting with "too many characters"

I've seen script notes/complaints about notes that a script starts out with "too many characters".

The premise seems to be that it's just too much for a reader when s/he is trying to get a simple handle on what your script is about. Or, if you're going to start with lots of characters, at least give them intros that help a reader distinguish them. Since I have trouble remembering names, I can appreciate that.

And yet, what if your first scene requires lots of characters and you don't want to slow things down (on page 1) with a 1-2 line intro for each character?

I took a look at The Town and, whether by design or by chance, it seems to me that they provide some help.

Here are the verbatim character intros on page 1:
INT. KENMORE SQUARE SOVEREIGN BANK - EARLY MORNING

...

A WOMAN, CLAIRE (30) the bank manager and A MAN,
DAVID,(37) the assistant manager…

The BANDITS move with JARRING SPEED AND VIOLENCE.

They wear BLACK JUMPSUITS, hold ASSAULT RIFLES and wear
Halloween masks.

The FIRST BANDIT, DOUG (35)…
The SECOND, JEM (34)…
… GLOANSEY (32) another thief…
… the FOURTH, (DEZ, 28)…

A standard sort of intro for Claire isn't offered until page 5:
EXT. KENMORE SQUARE SOVEREIGN BANK - FLASHBACK

Claire gets off, sunset. She is quite beautiful but it
isn’t that, there is something endearing in her dignity,
her poise. Doug watches from a Cadillac STS.
Here's why I say they provide "help". These characters are introduced first with a generic term - A MAN, A WOMAN, BANDITS, FIRST BANDIT… - and with a name only after that.

As I read page 1, my sense - without stopping to think about it as I read - was that I need not worry about the names at this point. My brain latched on to the generic description, with the exception of Gloansey because he was only given a lower-case generic and it was provided after his name - which made his name stand out.

Another thing that helps (or, helped as I read more) is that each of the Bandits has a distinctive name, but that assessment came to me only in retrospect.

The script I have is "Current Revisions by / Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard 1.5.09", i.e., so yes, Affleck was writing somewhat for himself.

Does anyone else see/agree with my assessment of this "help"? Is this an established method and I'm just late to the party? Any other tricks for making a page-1 character-dump work well for the reader?
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Old 05-28-2011, 04:06 PM   #2
catcon
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Default Re: starting with "too many characters"

I don't see how any reader let alone audience member can remember so many characters up front.

I can think of a movie where a pivotal character was first shown sitting off by himself in an audience, which was an interesting way to do it. He remained unnamed and basically without any context of his eventual importance for most of the movie, till near the end.

But this post gave me pause because I know I have a lot of characters (18 total named chars) in my current noir, in outline @ 30 pages:

They operate out of an office, so 12 are identified in the first couple of scenes, even if just by name plaques. But only 6 have speaking parts in these scenes, and only 7 of the 12 are important in the long haul.

Later, 2 parents, the boss's wife, and the eventual murder victim come in early in Act 2.

2 cops come in at Act 3.

Interesting way to analyze characters in one's material.

Last edited by catcon : 05-28-2011 at 09:28 PM.
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Old 05-28-2011, 07:25 PM   #3
BattleDolphinZero
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Default Re: Starting with "too many characters"

Manchester, I think you have it right.

Anything you can do to maintain clarity...you do.

You can say sh!t like, "A MAN (GARY -- who we will formally introduce later)..."

Whatever you need to do.

When a bunch of characters are intro'd in the beginning of a script, let the reader know who they have to focus on.
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Old 05-28-2011, 07:32 PM   #4
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Default Introducing Numerous Characters

In a diner, I start the screenplay with the cook and two of the waitresses, and, soon, introduce another ten with one of the waitresses leading one of the protagonist's family to a table. True, in passing, one only has a glimpse of these characters, but five of them will die horribly as a consequence of eating that night's "special". What may appear to be an inconsequential scene with a crowd of extras is actually a foreshadowing that links each of the victims to one another, (much as the bank heist does in THE TOWN). On the first reading, (or viewing on screen), there'd be no "connect" made; but, on a second reading, (or viewing), the characters should stand out with the realization, (a "connect"), that several will be dead in the next few days.

Just don't dilly-dally at each table to learn each of their names. Those will be repeated in the deputy sheriff's investigation.
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Old 05-29-2011, 07:44 AM   #5
reddery
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Default Re: Starting with "too many characters"

probably best to take a look at a real script i.e. the Departed.

Character intros are as simple as showing characterization.
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Old 05-29-2011, 11:47 AM   #6
emily blake
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Default Re: Starting with "too many characters"

Galaxy Quest introduces several characters successfully in the first scene.
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