Who are your characters?
The goal of this chapter is to reflect upon how your main and secondary characters are established and whether they reflect our social diversity. Without imposing quotas, these questions allow you to explore the diversity of your characters and how it impacts your story.
A few key figures:
of on-screen 3-person group interactions are between three women (40.74% take place between three men). (Using data science to understand the film industry’s gender gap, 2020)
of characters with disabilities in the top 10 TV shows in the US are played by able-bodied actors. (The Ruderman White Paper, 2016)
of lead actors are women. (UCLA, 2022)
of lead actors in theatrical and streaming Hollywood films produced in 2021 are people of color. (UCLA, 2022)
What is your characters’ mission?
The concept of “success” includes many facets that go beyond those conveyed by the current dominant models (financial gain, the appeal of power, etc.).
This part of the guide offers ways to explore and highlight new sources of personal and collective fulfilment and development by reflecting upon characters’ aspirations and their understanding of current issues. Instead of creating smooth or predictable characters, this section takes into account the contradictory nature of human beings and leads them to new, more contemporary reflections.
A few key figures:
of survey respondents report having learned about a social or environmental issue through fictional TV or film. (Research A Glaring Absence, 2021)
of the 37,453 film and TV scripts analyzed by researchers at the University of Southern California specifically mentioned “climate change” (Research A Glaring Absence, 2021)
Which societal model serves as a backdrop for your story?
Our consumption of natural resources exceeds what the Earth is able to replenish in a year. According to Earth Overshoot Day, it would take 1.75 Earths to regenerate what we consume.
Because humanity will have to adapt to these fixed planetary limits, the goal of this chapter is to reflect upon your characters’ habits and lifestyles (their relationship with consumption, nature, etc.) in order to identify other models that are more compatible with the resources actually available.
A few key figures:
This percentage represents the relative average duration of nature scenes in Walt Disney films in the 1940s, versus 50% in the 2000s. (Public Understanding of Science, 2014)
At current global consumption levels, we would need 1.8 Earths to meet our needs (5.1 Earths if every human consumed like an American). (Earth Overshoot Day article, 2022)
of the world’s population will live in regions where water resources will no longer be sufficient by 2025. (World Resources Institute)
of vertebrate populations disappeared between 1970 and 2018. (WWF Living Planet Report 2020)
The testimony of Jack Cooper Stimpson, Writer and Director:
The climate crisis deserves robust and imaginative storytelling. This is an existential issue and often evades ordinary thought and feeling. How do we convey the emotions of response, togetherness and adaptation through our scripts and inspire audiences to act?
I’ve often approached climate-storytelling via the lens of activism and civil-disobedience. Having been attracted to the comedy and chaos of protest, I’ve found characters who haven’t really existed in the mainstream media before. I discovered characters with big ideas and big emotions, who are quite often trying to overcome enormous challenges. Challenges well beyond their typical capabilities. The dynamics and scenarios that these characters find themselves in help portray both the enormity of the issue at the hand, the futility of trying to fix a broken system. But they also remind us of the human connection at the heart of the crisis. Being an activist can often feel like you’re a headless-chicken, doing your best to make change but quite often failing with spectacular effect. The trial and error of activism is something to celebrate and find comic relief in.
In 2019, I wrote and directed ‘Extinction’. A comedic satire about Extinction Rebellion. The film starred Emma Thompson and needed to engage viewers, without ever feeling preachy or worthy. We relied on comedy to convey the urgency of the movement we were portraying. This tone and genre helped us properly exmaine the beautiful intricacies of being an activist. The mistakes, the mishaps, the general state of confusion. We were able to make jokes about our characters, because ultimately, they’re in the right. These are ordinary people doing exctraordinary things to try and save the planet. The climate crisis is a terrifying thing, but an old saying often comes to mind: if you don’t laugh, you cry.