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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.

Have Creatives Overstuffed Themselves?

Have Creatives Overstuffed Themselves?

In this day and age, it couldn’t be easier. If you want to watch a film you can almost spit in any direction and hit an appliance that’ll make it happen. In fact, many of us can just reach into the pocket and take hold of a device whose main function of “calling people” has taken a back seat to its video/gaming capabilities. Words like “Netflix,” “Hulu,” “Vimeo,” and “Youtube” have become synonymous with an instant encounter with any motion picture - from the biggest Hollywood blockbuster to your cousin Joey’s reenactment of that scene from “Blade Runner.” It has never been a better time to be a film junkie, which, consequently, makes it the worst time to be a creative in the field.

Now hear me out. While I make such a statement, let it be known that I also praise the world wide web for letting me see that small Swedish film that will never make it to the “Cinema 28 3D IMAX Xtreme theater” downtown. It’s a great time to love foreign and independent film because the iTunes’ and Netflixes of the world have made it possible for me to see them in the middle of “God knows where” and “Hell if know.” But, as the old saying I’ve repurposed goes, “with great movie watching power, comes great moving watching responsibility.”

There was time where I was watching a movie a day…a DAY. And this was not during my one summer extensive film watching experience “The Criterion Summer” (shameless plug). That was this month. Think of it…at 2 hours per film, that’s 14 hours a week. I was watching two work shifts worth of film and television a week. There is no way that is healthy, either physically or creatively.

And therein lies the rub. With so much media at our fingertips, can creative people be as creative as they used to be? It can’t be easy. I know it hasn’t been for me. There used to be just my own little self whirling around in my brain but, after a week of film, now there’s a whole mess of ideas, styles, and characterizations that are rolling around in there with me, making it harder for my own originality to shine through. Maybe its just me but, how many times have filmmakers considered an idea and then, after viewing, say a really great horror movie, find themselves now wanting to make their first idea now with a horror slant or tone?

It’s a bit of a catch 22. Most filmmakers get into the craft because they have been heavily influenced by film and see it as a great medium for expression. So they do two things- try and make their own original films and watch as much of other people’s work as possible. But, by watching others, they are influenced and their work becomes less original to their own creative core. In that case, they either develop a film that reminds them of other’s work (far too often referred to as a homage instead of laziness) or go back to the drawing board and watch more film in hope of inspiration. It’s a viscous cycle that’s hard to break.

So how do we break it? It’s called “The Blockbuster Video Effect.” There was a time where we paid to rent each film we watched and, because of that, we were more selective. Now services like “Netflix” give you a whole video store for the price of two rentals a month so, instead of being choosy with what we watch, we just take in more than ever and consume the bad with the good. To be the best creative people we can be, we should see these internet services not as buffets, but as simply more options on the menu. And, though the world of technology would like to convince you otherwise, absence still makes the heart grow fonder and consuming film in proper portions would not only help exercise our creative juices but also make our more selective film viewing experiences that much more enjoyable.

Now this could easily be taken as a “go outside and play” sermon, but I tell you that’s not the case. For creatives, we should be spending the majority of those reclaimed 14 film-watching hours for working on our own ideas and stories. Good art takes time and, because of that, you’ve got to put in those hours “at the gym.” Imagine what that would look like - a whole generation of filmmakers separated from the umbilical cord of film consumption, but nursing on the mother of inspiration only when necessary.

I’m not sure the world would be ready for it…and that makes it all the more intriguing.

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.

The Death of the Sitcom

The Death of the Sitcom

Every new television season comes with its share of new shows, but the fun really doesn’t start until after the premieres, when the networks have to sober up and look at their scripted “one-night-stands” in the harsh light of ratings and feedback. This is when heads begin to roll. But in this slaughter, where the promising don’t fulfill their promise or have enough time to do so, a few of the weaker links still fall through the cracks - like the infamous case of NBC’s two season dud Whitney.

Bawdy, crass, formulaic, and stale, the show spotlighted the talents of comedian Whitney Cummings and was a droll affair that played out in the classic three camera, laugh track addled style of so many sitcoms before it. But, what made this show stick out was the company it kept. At the same time, NBC’s thursday comedy lineup was The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Community — all single camera shows with two being faux-documentary style to boot.

To put it simply, “Whitney” was the most red-headed of red-headed stepchildren and, while it started with much hype, it ended like Old Yeller. It was a fossil before it even started precisely because its sitcom format has been the staple of television comedy for so long. It had no alternative but look haggard in comparison to the newer range of single camera comedies, which range from parody (NBC’s Community) to almost pathos (FX’s Louie).

So, what went wrong with the sitcom? When did it begin plummeting into mediocrity? Sure, the laugh track (pre-recorded laughter added to the show in post-production) can be blamed at least for taking the innocence out of the process and allowing the material to grow weak, but shows like “Happy Days,” “The Odd Couple,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” were all “sweetened” with the canned giggles in one way or another and the writers and performers still felt an obligation to the live studio audience to be funny - an extra effort that shows on the screen.

What is probably more the case is that the populace have just outgrown the format and, with their lack of caring, it has calcified on its own. “But,” you say, “how can this be true when Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory still do so well?” Well, what is the definition of doing well? Ratings? Awards?” Sure, the sitcom is still the leader when it comes to what is watched in comedy, but, when you look at the ratings, they also, for the most part, come from the same place - CBS - the most watched broadcast network and the last vehemently clinging to the sitcom format that their older, more Neilson TV watching, demographic prefers.

But let’s move on to the awards. The typical sitcom, while still getting recognition in acting categories, hasn’t won an “Outstanding Comedy Series” award in six years, which could have been eight if not for a mercy win for “Everybody Loves Raymond” upon its ninth and final season. Along with that, the sitcom format is only present in one nomination every year, while single camera shows fill the rest of the list. Even worse, a sitcom hasn’t won “Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy” at the Golden Globes in the last 14 years, as most of the wins have went to cable comedy programming, who were the early adopters of the single camera format with shows like Sex and the City.

So yes, the sitcom structure still putters along with it successes, but failures like Whitney show the slow price TV is paying for a lack of originality and its formatting constrictions. The Netflix generation doesn’t buy the preprogramed essence of these ancient formulas they’re tweeting their way from webshow to Youtube clip and becoming the most discerning, or at least most finicky, audience television has ever tried to grab.