Above all, when telling a story — remember that CHARACTER IS KING! It’s my belief that there is no such thing as a “plot driven story” (well, there are, but they’re awful and boring as shit).
Story and plot are the unavoidable result of a believable character making honest choices when presented a problem. People show their true character in times of conflict; showcase who they are, who they want to be and often times seize the chance to push themselves and even change. If they’re honest and true to themselves, that is.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ isn’t about the Ark and how cool it’s powers are and whether or not the Nazi’s will gain control and rule the world. That’s the plot that came about when a genuinely believable character made choices. Raiders is about Indy. Who he is … How he acts around an ex girlfriend… How he’s motivated by obligation to his former mentor… Believing in hocus pocus or not, and what he’s willing to do when he’s forced to deal with any of those things.What’s the plot of ‘Toy Story’? Toys get lost, need to find their way home. Pretty boring. But, that’s not what the film is about. Toy Story is about both Woody and Buzz each overcoming their inner demons, realizing their purpose is life is to be there for the people they love. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
Ollie Johnston was one of Walt Disney’s famed Nine Old Men. Right up until the end of his life, he understood that the purpose of creating characters is to infuse life into them. To make them as real as possible so that they’re believable. Months before he passed away, he still had this to say:
I so admire the passion of what Ollie was trying to say here. List off some of the most memorable characters you know. Professor Snape, Huckleberry Finn, Darth Vader, Andy Dufresne, Buzz Lightyear, Jay Gatsby, Ron Burgundy, Don Draper, Walter White, Suexliegh, Bart Simpson, Michael Scott, Robert Langdon, Jason Bourne, Simba, Pee Wee Herman, Bruce Wayne, John Hammond, Bugs and Daffy, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, The Cat in the Hat … Think about all the greatest movies, books, comics you’ve ever read and take a closer look at how they’re all really about the character’s in them making choices, not the “story”. Every one of those “stories” is about the character making choices about a problem, based on who they are.
One of the principles I learned when studying Meisner’s acting techniques, in fact THE principal fact about what acting really is, was this: “Being truthful in an imaginary circumstance.”
Do that, and you’ll never fail.