Friday, May 20, 2011

Character Interview - Ross LaManna

I’m going to spend the next few posts interviewing successful writers about their process of character development.   We’ll start today with Ross LaManna. 

Ross LaManna is the creator of the popular Rush Hour franchise (he has story and screenplay credit on the first movie).  He also wrote the novel Acid Test and is Undergraduate Chairman for the Film Department at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.  He is currently developing several reality TV shows.

Q. What is required for a compelling character?

Likability.  Yeah, I know some movies have anti-heroes, but the ones that succeed with that are the exception that prove the rule.

Pluck and determination.

Being an underdog really helps.  Have you never met anyone, no matter how successful or powerful, who doesn't identify with the underdog?  

Positive aspirations.  Look at the top 10, 25 or 100 films of all time.  The vast majority of them feature characters with what most people would consider to be, well, heroic, old-fashioned, good-guy attitudes and motivations.

Aside from good storytelling, there is a really important reason why your lead character must have sufficient dramatic meat — in order to attract a star. It's nearly impossible to get a movie made without one.   

Q. What is your approach to building a character?

This kind of stuff I usually write is more plot-driven than character-driven, so I'm always mindful of giving the hero the background and skills necessary to do the things the plot demands of him, and create this background in a somewhat fresh way.  For instance, in my novel
Acid Test, I needed a hero who had a broad range of law-enforcement and military skills, but I didn't want him to be an FBI/CIA/cop cliché.  Research uncovered an interesting variation — USAF Office of Special Investigations.  They're trained like FBI, often have other military skills, but have no jurisdiction off of military bases.  So, unlike 007's license to kill, this hero has real-life limitations, which create impediments and, therefore, some additional drama.    

Q. How much back story do you create for your main character before you start writing?

It varies, but I like to at least know a broad emotional and demographic background along with the practical background discussed above.  

Q. What is the most important thing(s) you need to know about your character before you start writing?

One should start a character off in a place of need or crisis, so that the process of the story unfolding is also the process of taking them through some emotional changes. The best stories seamlessly integrate the hero's emotional journey with the progression of the plot.  For instance, in
Casablanca, Rick's journey from cynicism to selflessness drives the story as well as his character arc.  

Thanks Ross!  Next up we’ll hear from Paul Guay, screenwriter on Liar, Liar, Little Rascals and Heartbreakers.

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