Family can make or break you. But no matter what, they'll always give you something to write about.
It's that time of year again.
The holiday season has the same connotations for people around the world. We gather with our families or surrogate family to celebrate the holidays. These times can be the culmination of year-long drama, periods of mourning for those lost, and once in a while the happiest memories that last a lifetime.
No matter what you feel in regard to the holiday season -- it always offers something to write about.
Let's talk about how you can use the next few weeks to inspire what you're going to write next -- whether it is a movie, an hour pilot, or half-hour TV spec. Maybe even a comic to be turned into a movie or show.
Sometimes it's not so bad to be home for the holidays!
I love the holiday season, and not just because of all the amazing food. It marks a time where you can sit and binge on some of the best movies about other families to make you feel like your own is a little less crazy.
But then I started thinking about my family, and how when I write any "mom" character in a script it's loosely based on her. and the same goes for the "dad" characters, too. Then, I took a step back and realized that as much as I am excited to get presents this year -- I am more excited to mine my family for stories.
Like I said above, taking specific details from people you know can help deepen your characters.
So when your annoying uncle asks you to pass the mashed potatoes, listen to the way he asks for them. The way he says things. Write down his terrible stories and see if they can help you begin to understand why he's so sick in the head.
The same goes with your in-laws. What makes them tick? What goes into the insanity that is buying you woolen socks when you live in a desert climate? Why do they rub their noses together? Why, God, why!?
Anyway, the holidays are great times to jot notes so that when an exec reads your script later and loves one of those idiosyncratic character moments you can tell them the true story behind it. A bond can be formed and they'll never forget you as writing assignments become available.
Listen to the Dialogue
The conversation around the table often involves funny dialogue or moving stories.
Listen to how people talk to the group as opposed to talking to one another. Are there devastating one-liners your grandpa drops when remembering his late wife? Emotional tirades given by your sibling who sears you're the favorite?
Or just things your mom says to keep everyone's ass in gear?
Adapt Family Legends
How did your grandparents meet?
What was the girl like who dated your Dad before your Mom?
Has anyone in your family seen a ghost? Experienced God firsthand? Or had a crazy day? Met a celeb? Slept with a president?
All jokes aside, I love digging into my family history for specific moments and events that define the people I think I know. I'm from a family that's part Irish, so you know they live to weave a tangled web of exaggerated experiences to share.
Some of the best moments in my scripts are just repackaged stories told to me over and over again. How about you?
Look, the holidays are great and all, but the best part is when two people fight over the last turkey leg, and you find out about all the sordid details and deep issues that have tormented each individual for years.
So while most people tell you to just love and let go during this season, I say poke the bear!
Start some shit with the people around the table and watch it burn. Then use it for your screenplays.
Ask about a divorce. Ask about regrets. Make them tell a story inappropriate for kids.
Sure, this will get you on Santa's naughty list, but sometimes it's worth it to see how people react in real-time. It can bolster the way you build characters and the way you let scenes pan out.
Summing it all up
No matter what, always end your time spent with the family with an "I love you."
Everyone talks about the last time they saw someone. Maybe it's an elderly relative who doesn't have many moons left or that cousin who lives a little recklessly and takes an ice-laden road home. And hey, there's so much cancer out there. You never know when cancer will get someone.
The point is, use the holidays to say I love you and tell people why. It can help you understand the story of your own life.
And don't be afraid to share your stories, too. They'll bring people closer and get them to trust you more. So you can steal the best parts of their stuff for your own.
And also just foster a family that has your back and will see you work when it hits the big or small screen. Can't wait to see what you come up with.
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