Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Importance of Supporting Characters

Disclaimer:(The ending to the 1980s film Chan is Missing is revealed in this post.) SpoilerAlert!

When asking the question what are the importance of characters one must first ask what are the role of characters in films today? What purpose do these support characters play in the overall plot of the story? Are they just there to help move the story along, or do they sever a deeper more fulfilling purpose to the story?

What is the problem with a supporting character just being a believable characters and lacking an underling purpose? Well I feel, as a writer it is your job to tell the human experience in as many ways as you can. I feel that it is waste of words if there is no deeper meaning behind, if not all, but most of the objects in the story. These objects included but are not limited to the settings, the costumes that the main and supporting characters wear, what the characters eat or drink, and just any random item that draws the attention of the viewer. It seems like a waste of words to not have your supporting characters not only play a physical role in the film but also have a deeper impacting on the film itself.

In the 1980s independent film Chan is Missing, the main characters searches the entire film for this person Chan, who owns him money. Along the way he meets up with the cast of supporting characters one by one who try and help him in his quest to find Chan. The purpose of these supporting characters is not just to simply either point him in the right or wrong direction, but they each portrait different aspects of Chan's life. They never find him and you as the viewer never really get to know what this Chan person is really about but through these supporting characters you get a rough idea of who this man is and what he is like as a person.

In the independent film Waking Life that main character is placed on a quest of find out why he cannot awake from the dreams that he is having. Along the way he meets and has conversations with a wide variety of different types of people all representing different types of important topics such as philosophy, the importance of scientific evolution, the role that government plays or should play in our daily lives, the importance of dreams and how to understand what they could possible mean, and so on. This film goes overboard with this idea. The supporting characters have little to no trace of humanity and are just ideas in the physical form. It works for the film but only because it was an independent and it fit in to the purpose of the film.

The only problem that I see with this is that if you write your supporting characters this way than the viewer will only see them as ideas or portraits or whatever that they are supposed to represent and not real characters.

I feel that it's the writers job when creating supporting characters to find a balance between the idea of the characters, or what the characters stands for on a deeper level and this characters as a believable person.

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