"Our older brother took all the cool toys, and then we got left with ... peg-warmers."
- Dave Filoni, Co-Executive Producer, The Mandalorian
In my "day jobs" as a script analyst and screenplay contest judge, one of the mistakes I see writers make most often with their characterization occurs when they put all their story "eggs" in the protagonist's "basket".
These writers invest all of their efforts into developing every aspect of the protagonist, from their motivations, to their ancestry, to their favorite pizza toppings.
However, when they spend all of that energy on the protagonist, they often don't have any left to develop the script's supporting characters.
This lack of focus leads to these supporting roles functioning solely as part of the protagonist's journey rather than as fully-developed characters.
In these scripts, the supporting characters often serve as simply the "best friend", the "love interest", the "evil boss", or the "nagging mother", and often fail to attract the audience's interest.
In some cases, enterprising writers have taken lesser-known characters from another story and turned them into compelling protagonists in their own stories.
One of the best-known examples of this approach to characterization appears in the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
It only took about 300 years, but these supporting characters from Hamlet finally got their due as protagonists in their own story.
Instead of getting trapped into their Prince's tragedy, these Danish dimwits get sucked into an absurdist world where "all the world's a stage" and they are merely players.
The same idea applies to the hit Disney+ series The Mandalorian.
While much of the world lost their minds over "Baby Yoda", the producers had the idea to place lesser-known characters at the center of the action.
As Co-Executive Producer Dave Filoni said in an interview, “Our older brother took all the cool toys, and then we got left with Ugnaughts and Jawas and peg-warmers, but somehow we got a Boba Fett figure, and then we painted him silver and made him cooler, ‘cause sometimes you make it your own.” (emphasis mine)
The most prevalent example of the power of "leftovers", in terms of both box-office receipts and wider cultural impact, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By the early 2000s, Marvel Comics was emerging from near-bankruptcy. A major source of revenue that the company used to get back on its feet came from selling off the film rights to many of their iconic characters, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four.
When they tried to launch their own movie studio, they didn't have the rights to their most famous names, so they had to start with a "leftover" character: an alcoholic, Cold-War-relic, Howard Hughes-style munitions manufacturer who was "not the hero type."
From there, they added more "leftovers" to the recipe:
- An idealistic World War II soldier wakes up after a 70-year nap.
- An over-muscled spoiled brat gets kicked out of his dad's house.
- A nerdy scientist develops severe anger management issues.
- A Russian spy must face the "red in her ledger".
- An assassin still uses a bow and arrow in the 21st Century.
- A three-foot-tall talking raccoon has a gun fetish.
- An eight-foot-tall walking tree says the same three words over and over again.
- A desperate thief steals a suit that can make him shrink to the size of an ant.
- A grief-stricken woman creates an entire town based on classic TV sitcoms.
You don't even need to dig through a Shakespeare collection or visit a comic book store to find another "leftover" character who took the world by storm.
Just open your wallet and find a $10 bill.
How does a "bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman" become the source of the biggest sensation on Broadway in the last 20 years?
Because a writer saw potential in a "leftover" character and made him a compelling protagonist.
Writers should give their supporting characters a VOTE, just like their lead characters.
Because if you don't develop your supporting characters …
… someone else will.
Speaking of a $10 bill, Story Into Screenplay will evaluate the first ten pages of your feature screenplay or TV pilot script for just $10.
Story Into Screenplay will grade your pages based on criteria such as
- Character Development
- Entertainment Value
Most studio readers and contest judges evaluate a script based on the first three to five pages.
If your first few pages can captivate a reader, then your chances of success go up astronomically.
Story Into Screenplay also offers a FREE one-on-one consultation for writers who take advantage of this special offer.
To find out more about the "10 Pages for $10" special, as well as the other services Story Into Screenplay offers, fill in the form on the side of this page, or send a direct email to storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com.
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