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screenwriting

Myers-Briggs at the Movies

Myers-Briggs at the Movies

We’ve all encountered film and television that’s positively holds us in our seats because of the characters. Even when a film’s plot weakens or dramatic action wanes, we stick to our guns and continue taking it in, fascinated not because of what we are watching, but who. We’ll even ingest whole seasons of cookie cutter television simply to follow that singular character, whose overarching issues bring us back for more, or that couple, who quicken our hearts with their “will they/won’t they” relationship. To put this in context — nobody watched House for the medical mystery.

But what creates that chemistry in a character? What are the building blocks of putting flesh and blood into an idea of a human being? What makes them work with or against others in a story? Coming up with such memorable characters is certainly one part luck, but, without sounding too clinical, areas of study such as psychiatry can also play a large part in helping creatives form engaging characters who, not only contain heart, but soul. One of the most well known of these possible aids is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Myers-Briggs: The Basics

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a “psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.” To put simply, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers used what they learned from Carl Jung’s four principal psychological functions (sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking) and created a test that could classify people based on combining four selections. With this combination, one could classify human behavior. These are as follows…

1. Extrovert or Introvert (E/I) — Extroverts learn best by talking and interacting with others. Introverts prefer quiet reflection and privacy.

2. Sensing or Intuitive (S/N) — Sensing types enjoy a learning environment in which the material is presented in a detailed and sequential manner. Intuitive types prefer a learning atmosphere in which an emphasis is placed on meaning and associations.

3. Thinking or Feeling (I/F) — Thinking types desire objective truth and logical principles and are natural at deductive reasoning. Feeling types place an emphasis on issues and causes that can be personalized while they consider other people’s motives.

4. Judging or Perceiving (J/P) — Judging types will thrive when information is organized and structured. Perceiving types will flourish in a flexible learning environment in which they are stimulated by new and exciting ideas.

When mapped out in all its different ways, we gain insight, not only on ourselves, but some of history’s greatest people.

When ENTJ Met INFP

So how can we use this classification system to make thoroughly dynamic characters? Simply knowing about the classifications and how they interact is half the battle. Need a combative, but sexually charged relationship for an ESTJ structured leader like Princess Leia? Look no further than the wild loner ISTP of Han Solo. Who can make things difficult for an INTJ like Walter White? How about making him work with a ESFP like Jesse Pinkman?

Understanding the dynamic relationships of each Myers-Briggs type allows you to structure characters in a framework and, when a story calls for it, move them out from under those foundations in transformation. You can either do this suddenly to shock your audience or gradually to show shifts in a character’s personality. You may even find that certain genres need special acknowledgment of MB testing. For example, a murder mystery will need you to construct a killer who is a certain type, but may be acting other variations out to fool your detective and audience.

Great tension can also be found between characters who hold the same MB type, but wildly contrasting ideologies. One could argue that a classic example of this is Silence of the Lambs, where both the cannibal Hannibal Lecter and the FBI agent Clarice Starling are INTJ. It is their dichotomy of psychological function versus moral action that draw them closer together and rip them farther apart almost simultaneously.

Letting it Play Out

The Myers-Briggs classification system is, without a doubt, an aid to any writer, not only because it’s a starting skeleton for creating, but because, if fleshed out completely, the characters create the story for you. Stephen King said it best in his book On Writing

“I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.”

If a writer can internally grasp the complexities of the individual Myers-Briggs types, they can almost act as a rulebook for your character’s actions. This can be extremely frustrating when you want your character to zig, but know full well that, no matter what, he will always zag. While such knowledge can drastically affect your story’s plotting, it also smooths it out and adjusts all those contrived false moments to work together instead of against the universe you’ve created.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator allows creatives to mold dynamic characters and turn them into choice-making entities who ebb and flow naturally. It is with such constructs that we can cut the strings from our puppets and let them create a world that fits their story best and make our audience shift forward in their seats that much farther.

Trust: The Hidden Component to Good Screenwriting

Trust: The Hidden Component to Good Screenwriting

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Throughout my years of reading both professional and amateurs scripts, I’ve noticed that what really makes or breaks a good screenplay is the use or lack of a single attribute - trust.

Yes, as Billy Joel put it, it’s a matter of trust and not where story is concerned. We’re going deeper than just the three-act structure and into the exact way the screenwriter puts into words the action and dialogue that make up their story. It is in these snippets of motion or quips of talk where a screenwriter can develop a relationship with several of the people who will eventually turn their story into a true blue fleshed out film and, by having such a faith in these individuals, the screenwriter’s own work will become cleaner and more concise in the process.

So who should a screenwriter trust?

Trust the Director

It’s amazing how many times I’ll read the first draft of a screenplay and find more of a shot list. You’ll see such things as…

“And, as David moves down the hallway, the camera pans past him to Susan.”

…or…

“Cut to Bob, who writes in his bed.”

Though amateur screenwriters would say such flourishes help illustrate the story they see in their heads, what none seem to realize is that their “mind movies” don’t count for diddly and, by growing attached to them, you run the risk of being disappointed by the final product, giving yourself one melancholy premiere after-party.

This doesn’t just count for camera direction either. I’ve seen lines upon lines of screenplays devoted to the deep details of how a location should look in a particular scene. Though one could simply say a location is a “seedy bar,” the description runs as far as to the color of the waterhole’s threadbare curtains. Leave these details to the director, as he will be leaving them to his production designer.

Remember, the director is going to film the screenplay any way they choose so understanding that from “FADE IN:” saves a writer from giving out a lot of unnecessary visual description and getting their heart broken when most of it doesn’t project on the silver screen.

Trust the Actors

Time and time again, I’ll see screenplays riddled with parentheticals, a device that, when used properly, can help actors realize the tone of dialogue. While this is fine when the mood of a character can’t easily be understood through their words alone, newbies to screenwriting love to slather every single snippet of speech with one, hoping that how they hear the line in their noggin won’t be lost on those beautiful beasts known world round as actors. Many times I’ve seen something like…

“Bob sees a car speed around the corner, heading right for Dan.”

BOB
(scared)
Watch out!

At least we now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Bob is scared. I thought, at first, he was perhaps giddy.

On other occasions, screenwriters will do the equivalent of this when describing the story’s action.

“Terrified, Michael runs as the madman with the knife chases after him.”

What other emotion would he be but terrified? He’s being chased by a madman! Adding the emotion only tells us (and the actor) what we can already can guess. In the action of a screenplay, many writers get caught up in embellishing, adding these small moments to grow their characters, even though all that should be on the page is what, in the end product, the audience will see.

By adding such things, screenwriters aren’t letting actors do their job of finding the arch and pathos of their characters amongst the story. It is for the actor’s benefit that screenwriters shouldn’t spell everything thing out as an actor must discover what makes their character memorable by themselves while using the story as the backbone to what they find.

Trust the Reader

Before there are any lights, camera, or action, a screenplay is read a couple thousand times by a multitude of people. From the big studio brass to the college intern, who is usually the first person to judge your script according to David Mamet, a screenplay has to hold up under many different eyes and, because of this, young writers tend to pad their script with all sorts of clues that they believe will shield their work from being misunderstood. For example…

“Ronald looks at the babies in the nursery and sighs, remembering how his only child had died in a fire.”

In this context, we have probably already seen a flashback of the aforementioned fire, but here the writer fails to believe the reader can remember the child’s death or connect the dots needed to do so and, to make sure all is understood, they put in a reminder to why he might sigh at the very sight of infants.

Yes, of course, you’ll run into readers who are more interested in the bagel they are eating than your script and they’ll miss the important bits all on their own, but a writer should never consider this the norm and, if something isn’t made clear enough through the dialogue and action, then most likely the problem comes back to how the writer presented his story in the first place.

It’s true that readers are the hardest people to trust, but, by doing so, a writer can really listen to their advice without feeling that they held their hand throughout the whole script. By keeping things lean and sparse, a writer can find out what parts of his story might actually need more explanation, which will, in the end, strengthen the screenplay as a whole.

Trust is a component every screenplay should have, but that doesn’t mean its an easy one for screenwriters to give. We are a defensive bunch, who at times would rather hand over our literal babies to a stranger opposed to our written ones. If someone hates our work we see it as a slight on us personally and so, as the saying goes, “Why open your heart if you only know it’s going to get broken?”

Trusting others with understanding our work is against our very being as it takes us out of the pilot seat and out of control, but, as you can see, it is imperative that we do so, for both our benefit and our story’s. If a screenwriter can accept the idea of trusting others with their work, they can take a sigh of relief, knowing that the devil is in the details, and concentrate on what they do best, telling a story.

So, you screenwriters out there, trust your director, actors, and readers for only then can they put their trust in you.

I Am Not My Art

I Am Not My Art

I’m not sure when it hit me, but it was less a shot to the head and more like carbon monoxide creeping up slowly. At first the phrase seemed quaint at best, but bumper sticker jargon doesn’t stay with you like some sort of brain anchor. It hit home through its simplicity not in spite of it - “I am not my art.”

What did it mean?

(or worse)

What were its consequences?

I’ve always considered myself an artist. Though the medium would change throughout my life, it was never just what I did. It was who I was.

Nathan Hartman: Singer

Nathan Hartman: Actor

Nathan Hartman: Broadcaster

Nathan Hartman: Writer

Nathan Hartman: Filmmaker

To that age old party question — “What do you do?” — I had an answer, and dammit and I was proud of it.

“Nobody else is going to do it for you,” they told me. “If you want to be noticed through that pile of has-beens, wannabes, and never-wills, you’ve got shine like lady liberty herself through the fog of mediocrity for all to see!” And so I gave it my all.

“Like my Facebook page!”

“Retweet me!”

“Check out my new website!”

I was a big bright neon billboard for myself.

And it was exhausting.

It is exhausting.

I got so focused on my end goal of artistic respect and success that I never noticed I was running in a hamster wheel and sucking from the drip bottle of meager praise found in a social media thumbs up.

It’s pathetic, but it’s human.

Lives have been wasted waiting for artistic recognition. Ask the sixty-five year old Hollywood waitress, who came to town to be the next Diane Keaton or the bitter Manhattan painter, who hasn’t been in a gallery in decades out of jealousy. These are the lucky ones. Others spend 60 hours a week being berated by their ego-driven superiors and have long ago decided that this is “okay” because well…at least they’re close to the action.

We were meant for more.

Sharing your art is a beautiful thing and tweeting about your next film/show/book/gallery isn’t some sort of crude creative exhibitionism, but we must be able to find contentment outside of our passion first. A college professor of mine once said, “We are human beings, not human doings” and he was right.

What good are we as artists in finding truth in humanity if we don’t know the truth of being human?

So yes, I write.

Yes, I make films.

Yes, I am an artist.

But I am not my art.

Cinema 2013: A Study in Excess

Cinema 2013: A Study in Excess

From its earliest beginnings, Hollywood has been a beacon of excessiveness — its a part of its marrow. You want spectacle? You want entertainment? Oh, they’ve got it brother and in spades. Whatever your fancy - guns ablazing, jokes a-yuking, or romance as thick as syrup, they’ll serve it on a tray. They are candy-makers and their sweets have only gotten sweeter.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little dessert to go with a steady diet of soulful meat and potatoes art, but it doesn’t take a cynic to realize that the majority of theater patrons are only eating from the cookie jar. Excess calls for more excess and, when tolerances are built up, new confections are required to tame the sweet tooth. Explosions must be bigger. Sex must be hotter and the ever indulgent cycle of creating entertainment for entertainment’s sake holds no end. Good or bad, it is the nature of this particular beast.

But 2013 signaled Hollywood’s pot truly calling the kettle black when two feature films (with the same star no less) attempted an examination of excess and stumbled all the way to their end credits drunk on their own filmatic overindulgences — Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Welcome to the Party Old Sport!

In 1923, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive living while renting a humongous villa in the French Mediterranean with his wife Zelda. In 2013, Warner Brothers released an adaptation of The Great Gatsby and continued its legacy of storytelling contradictions by showcasing the drama in one of filmmaking’s most shiny of excesses — 3D projection. Why? Because why not?

At the story’s core, we still have Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DeCaprio as a sort of other-worldly host to the madness) living in the shadows, desiring something more, and paying the ultimate price due to his unreachable ideals of love. But the film’s attempt at emphasizing the bleakness of overindulgence pales when in contrast to its own filmmaking. It’s like an alcoholic slurring that you’ve got a drinking problem.

Helmed by Baz Luhrmann, the Michael Bay of glitter, the wide shots are extra wide, the slow motion extra slow, and the roaring twenties roars from sub woofers to a fusion of Will.i.am and The Charleston in a never ending montage of extravagance akin to a Gap commercial. The amount of special effect shots in this simple human drama could rival the most marvelous of Marvel movies. Gatsby is almost a pantomime of the type of dramatic theatre once done in front of the camera, when people only knew how to play to the back of theatre halls and its boldness feels like just another layer of artifice — an extra line of icing on an already nauseatingly rich cake.

And Gatsby can’t have that cake and eat it too. While film is always an attempt at recreating some form of genuine emotion, an audience can’t connect to characters that, even at their most honest, are so pumped full of filmmaking technique and effect that the bloat overpowers their humanity. Such excess leaves one with a dizzying sense of confusion as the attempt at telling such a morality tale fades into the blur of the entire lush production.

The Party Stops When He Says It Stops

Released at Christmas, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street takes the concept of excess and runs at it like a bat out of hell. More annoyed than concerned with the ethical implications of having too much, Wolf is the antithesis to Gatsby’s even feeble attempts to seek out truth beyond extravegence. This isn’t another Wall Street. It’s what ivy league business majors dream about in reaction to seeing Wall Street—screaming from the rooftops that greed isn’t just good…it’s great!

Unlike Gatsby, Wolf is excessive less in its visual aesthetics and more in its overall demeanor. The protagonist, Jordan Belfort (a now wild eyed DiCaprio), certainly doesn’t have the same gloss and veneer as Jay Gatsby. He’s an animal, pure and simple, and the story lets him roam the velts of New York, mating and hunting at his whim with little lasting consequence. Even his penance is just another way for him to make a buck. In fact, Wolf’s overall assessment of excess is that it’s a shame the world doesn’t allow for more of it because everyone would be happier. If the actual moral is the opposite than it’s going about it in the post-modern of ways.

Beyond the story, Wolf clocks in at three hours and is Scorsese’s longest movie. It shows. The scenes are drawn out like some sort of first cut, promising on delivering, but expounding on nothing. At least ten minutes are given to Belfort, high on Qualuudes, crawling on his belly to his car. We laugh. We watch. We laugh again and then we watch….and watch.

But length isn’t the only overload. Wolf has been notorious in the news for having to cut down on its nudity and sex to not receive an NC-17 rating and what have been left is still the hardest of possible R’s. There is certainly artistic and storydriven reasons for full frontal nudity, but when Wolf takes on such moments it never focuses the narrative, just adds to the distractions and eventually the monotony.

Famous anchorman Ron Burgundy said it best as he winced into a glass of scotch…

“We’ve been coming to the same party for twelve years now and in no way is that depressing.”

The lack of even this sort of denial is what makes Wolf whimper. It doesn’t know that the party (or film) has to resolve. It doesn’t realize that the people (and audience) tire as it orders another round of shots. It doesn’t let up and confirms that even the most white knuckle of roller-coasters can grow routine if rode for hours on end.

So as 2013 wraps up and the theater-goers grab their coats from the bedroom, we’re left cleaning the dishes and aknowledging that Hollywood’s very nature, or at least some its more modern techniques, may make it the least likely of candidates to discuss the concept of excessivness. For what sort of animal bites the hand that feeds it?