“Storytelling is about emotion.” This is the advice Christopher Mack’s father gave him at the start of his career. Having worked in the infamous writers’ rooms of some of Hollywood’s biggest networks, like NBC or Warner Bros Television, Mack knows a thing or two about what makes a good story. On 2 December, as part of the Cairo Industry Days line-up at this year’s film festival, Mack broke down what exactly keeps viewers invested in a story. Spoiler alert: it’s the character.
Mack. If they are motivated by an internal need, viewers will identify with a story’s character. But it’s not just any goal that will do. It must be difficult to achieve so that it creates conflict. Some of the examples he provided include saving the world, revenge, or getting richer.
champion who is engaging until the point he reaches his pinnacle of success and turns stale,” he warned. The underdog is another example, a character who goes from weak to strong. The activist has strong beliefs and fights for them. “And though they don’t change themselves, they change the world around them.”
Director of Grow Creative at Netflix, Mack’s job consists of training writers and producers in the elusive art of character creation. He brought this expertise to a masterclass that attempted to answer questions like: How is emotion incited in film and television audiences? How does a character achieve iconic status? The answer to such questions, according to Mack, is setting a character’s goal. “A character we love is a character we can root for. Their successes are our own, and so are their losses.”
Mack then dove deeper into this notion and outlined thethree main ingredients that make up a character worth rooting for. The first is catalyst. This is what propels the character to act, it is the backstory that justifies his or her actions. The second is the moral compass. “These are the guiding principles that define who our characters are as people.” And finally, there needs to be transformation. A character must “face trials and tribulations to experience growth. This is what humanizes a character, makes them relatable,” he explains.
Candid about his own experiences, Mack used this knowledge to examine the characters that had affected him and encouraged creatives to do the same. “You all have rootworthy characters in your life,” he exclaimed. His advice is to study them, to find out their motivations and guiding principles, and translate these findings onto the page. “Ask yourself,” he insists, “how do you want the audience to feel?”
To create a compelling story, characters need to have a clear goal, “because a goal hooks the audience,” revealed
And this recipe isn’t limited to a story’s protagonist. It applies to all characters of a story. If these three components can be mapped out onto a film or show, it will probably be better for it. Mack went on identify the various character types we encounter onscreen as well as some of their drawbacks. “There’s the reluctant
When the event came to a close, Mack was asked more than once whether film streaming giants like Netflix would kill cinema. He gave a lucid answer, cunningly relating the question straight back to the topic at hand. “In life there are two types of characters: victims and survivors. So, movies shouldn’t sit around acting like victims,” he joked. “If they want to survive, they should do something to up th
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