On October 7th, I hosted a webinar called “How Professional Screenwriters Create Great Characters”, where I talked about how to come up with interesting and unique characters, as well as how tapping into your everyday life interactions with people can help with this. This episode addresses questions you asked in our Q&A session that we didn’t have time to answer. There’s lots of great info here, make sure you watch.

Show Notes

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Autogenerated Transcript

Michael Jamin:
I feel like we’re overthinking this a little bit. I feel like maybe we’re giving labels that don’t need to be labeled. We have a hero. We’re going to put this hero on a journey. And who are the people? Or if it’s a like a buddy comedy or whatever we’re talking about, or if it’s a husband and wife or whatever, what’s the story? What’s the journey we’re putting them on and who are the characters we’re going to get in their way? You’re listening to What the Hell is Michael Jamin talking about? I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creativity, I’m talking about writing, and I’m talking about reinventing yourself through the arts.
Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin, and today we’re going to answer the question, what the hell is Michael Jamin talking about? Well, today I’m talking about questions from my previous webinar. As many of you know, I do a webinar every three weeks or so where I talk about screenwriting and it’s about an hour long and you’re all invited and it’s free. And I don’t always have time to answer all these questions, but Phil is here with us visiting again. Hello, Phil. Hello and happy to be here. He’s going to hit me with some of these questions we’re going to answer.

Phil Hudson:
Lemme hit you baby one more time. Let’s do it. All right. So again, kind of group questions, context for everyone. This was from a webinar talking about how professional screenwriters create great characters. You’ve got another really good webinar that a lot of people really like, which is how to write a great story. And so contextually, these are really more character based. There’s some miscellaneous stuff, there’s some break in questions. We’ve kind of grouped them together. So as I go through these, we’ll just try to keep ’em on theme and let’s get into it. Let’s talk craft. Think Craft is always a good place to start. Anna Renee Chavez wants to know what big differences are there between writing for animation versus live action?

Michael Jamin:
Great question. Oh, and I just want to clarify everybody by webinars, you are free. Go to michaeljamin.com/webinar to sign up. I changed the topics, but whatever. So this woman wants to know what’s the difference between writing for animation and live action? Not that much in terms of, and I teach ’em both in my course. The differences really are not that different. The only thing you want to think about is well ask yourself why is this show animated? What’s the advantages to making this show animated? So in BoJack Horseman, it’s a very real and grounded show, but you have horses talking and fish talking, or Whitney, you couldn’t do that in live action. So you’re taking advantage of the medium. If you have it animated, take advantage of it. When my partner and I did Glen Martin DDS, which is the show there a stop motion animation, we would ask ourselves, what’s Clay tastic about this? We’d call it, because it wasn’t claymation, but we pretended it was claymation. So what’s Clay tastic about this scene? Is someone’s head going to come off? So for example, we did an episode where the character, the boy got his head stuck in an elephant’s ass. You can’t do that in live action. So you can do that in animation, but the story itself, it’s very similar. The stories are very similar. It’s just that you just take advantage of the medium.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, awesome. And I think another good example of this, where a choice was made to do live action RET link’s buddy system, you had mentioned to me that one point that it’s basically just a cartoon. It’s like a live action cartoon with silly It is, but they can’t be as silly as they could if it was animated and they could do whatever they wanted. So it still kind of grounds it in this reality, but it’s still a bit silly.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it could have been a cartoon, but we would’ve gone even we did one episode where we turned Lincoln into a robot because the character was like, my life would be easier if I was a robot. So that probably would’ve been even better if it was animated. But in real life we just started putting ’em in crappy robot costumes.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
But it was funny. We turned him into a robot, so it was kind of broad.

Phil Hudson:
Love it. Julia Wells considering extraordinary and ordinary pairing. What would you say about friends, how I Met Your Mother, or shows that are more grounded? I think this is in reference in your webinar when you’re talking about your characters and putting your characters together or how you write your characters for a specific story, and there’s a difference between extraordinary and ordinary if you want something extraordinary when you’re pairing your characters together.

Michael Jamin:
Well, yeah, most shows are like that. Most sitcoms, the characters are just normal people. And yeah, it was kind of like ordinary characters, kind of an extraordinary situations where it would’ve been unusual. I’m trying to think of an example from friends, but alright, so they did an episode where Joey and Joey and what’s his name, not Kramer Chandler, the guy Chandler are going to sit in their chairs all episode, all ordinary guys doing something extraordinary. They’re not going to move from their chairs and they’re going to see if they get everything delivered and they’re going to eat and drink and they’re not going to get up, stuff like that. So I don’t think it’s any different from any other sitcom I’ve worked on other than the characters.

Phil Hudson:
I just started re-watching How I Met Your Mother, which I’ve seen who knows how many times. But it’s a good background show while I’m working on stuff that’s not necessarily logical, analytical stuff. And there’s an episode where it’s the Halloween party and he’s the hanging Chad because he met the sexy pumpkin in 2001 during the election or 1999 or whatever. And so Barney’s got tickets to the Victoria’s Secret model, Christmas Halloween costume party, and he’s trying to get his friend to this extraordinary thing and his friend won’t leave. He wants to be at this party to potentially meet this girl on this rooftop again. And it’s the push and pull of Come be amazing, stop looking for love, you’re losing. So it plays really well in that situation. Alright, cool. AIA Saunders or AIA Sanders, I apologize for ruining that. How do you feel about basing a character on them knowing themselves or basing a character on yourself and your own doubts?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, do it all. I mean, you should do it. You should totally mind your own life For stories, and I have a whole module on this in the course, and you can disguise it too, so people don’t have to know it’s you, but you’re just stealing parts of yourself or parts of people as other characters, but you change it enough and change the name, but also change professions and change. You’re just stealing attributes from people so they wouldn’t know it. But that’s what your life is for your life is to steal things from

Phil Hudson:
Perfect. Charles Shin, do you have any tips or advice with coming up with great names for your characters?

Michael Jamin:
I spoke a little bit about this in the old days. We used to have a baby naming book, my partner and I, and then now it’s kind of easy to go on the internet or just in life. You’ll come across a street name and you go, oh, that’s a good last name for a character. I just kind of keep a list. What was one? I had one the other day I added to my list, I can’t remember, but it was like a street sign I go that I passed. I go, that’s a good character’s name.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. I’ve also seen our showrunners on Tacoma fd. There’s a random character as Chief Phil Dylan. Well, I’m Phil. It was the writer’s pa and I replaced Dylan, the writer’s pa.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it’s funny. I know they took that for you. I mean, they tend to do that a lot where at least Steve Lemi does. He’ll just name characters after people he knows.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. There’s one line from Ike in an episode that I think you guys wrote. It’s like Benjamin Duff or Benjamin Crump

Michael Jamin:
And

Phil Hudson:
Ben Crump was our DIT set. Right. So just throw people’s names and give ’em fun stuff. Awesome. You also talked, I think you talked about funny names that go together too. At one point that was something you do.

Michael Jamin:
I talked about, I had a character named, what was his name? Something

Phil Hudson:
The third? It was something the fourth. The fourth, yeah. What was his

Michael Jamin:
Name? God, I can’t remember.

Phil Hudson:
It was like, but it was a bunch of things together that rhymed almost or had similar names.

Michael Jamin:
I’d have to look it up. I can’t. Oh, Dan Danforth iv. That’s what it was. Dan Dan. I had a character named Dan Danforth iv, and I just thought that was a good name because Dan Danforth is weird enough. But why did his parents have to saddle in with the fourth? Because, well, they felt like they had to because the father’s the third is a generational thing. They can’t, so they stuck this guy with his shitty name and what’s that going to, having a name like that, you’re going to be teased as a child. And I thought the character is kind of a feckless type and he became a sheriff of a small town as a way of demanding respect because he’d been teased all his life to be named Dan Danforth iv. And so now he has a badge, but people still think he’s a dipshit. And so I just thought it was kind of a good name for a character like that, who’s kind of feckless.

Phil Hudson:
Alright, jumping into the course and character related topics, these are a bit intermingled because a lot of what you talked about, and we even brought this up with Mike Repp and Kevin Lewandowski about how valuable that course, that character worksheet is. But because this webinar is about character, there are a lot of questions about character. So number one, pat Nava. How do you make characters that the audience wants to know more about?

Michael Jamin:
Well, it’s not so much the characters, it’s just the story you give them. So that’s not so much the character. That’s the story.

Phil Hudson:
There we go. Cookies and sugar. How do we make characters diverse and not self project

Michael Jamin:
Diverse and not self project? They seem very different questions to

Phil Hudson:
Me. So this is, I think a really good question and from context for this, this person is a minor and they want to be a writer and they’ve been told by their well meaning adults in their life and mentors not to do that because it’s a waste of time because you’ll never make it as a writer. And that was a question she’d asked another point. So this question really speaks to me of something I heard really early on when I was studying, which is you are not your characters. Don’t write yourself into your characters, which is kind of contradictory to the advice you give, which is writing your life for stories.

Michael Jamin:
Why not? I dunno why they would give you that advice. Why not? Yeah, it might’ve been because people were just writing self-indulgent material that could have been,

Phil Hudson:
I know on writing by Stephen King, he says that you are not your characters and it is a mistake to think that your characters will behave the way you would. So if you find your character doing something you wouldn’t do, it is your job to allow them to do that. And I find that a lot with my writing. There are many things I write where I would never do as someone from a more conservative background who is religiously inclined, like my characters say and do things all the time. I’m like, oh, where did that come from? Not who I am, but that’s what it felt like needed to happen as that character was coming through me. And I feel it’s my responsibility to just let that happen. But the difference is to me is don’t make your characters do and make the actions you would do. And if you’re a more passive person, that’s not a good thing for your character to be because your character needs to make choices. And that’s the conflict of it all.

Michael Jamin:
But Larry David on Kirby Enthusiasm, he’s playing himself, but Larry David is not that person in real life. These are just, it’s a heightened version of himself. Larry David knows when to hold his tongue. His character doesn’t, his character can’t let it go. Larry David just playing. It’s a heightened version of himself. It’s the worst version of himself, which is why it’s so funny he wouldn’t do that in real life. I mean, Larry, he wouldn’t do that,

Phil Hudson:
Right? But if you look at yourself, or even friends you have or people that you know and you say, I’ve got this buddy who is super quiet, but then when he talks it is just cuts with a thousand lashes because he is so sharp, it’ll just take the wind out of your sails in a second. So if you have someone and you take that element and you say, I wonder how I can make that funnier. How could I take this tick that I have or that my wife has and just make it, turn it up to 11. That’s where the comedy comes from and that’s where the conflict comes from. So that’s what you’re saying by mind your life for stories and put your characters in situations you’ve been in, but don’t do what you did necessarily.

Michael Jamin:
You could turn it up. Yeah, turn it up a notch. That’s it. It makes it fun and interesting.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. Cool. Matthew? I think he likes lasagna. Many people begin with an idea for a character. I’ve always been led by the concept and the plot, then I tailored the characters to fit within it. What are your thoughts on that method?

Michael Jamin:
Sure. I mean that works fine. I mean, if you can create someone who still feels real, like I said, even though Larry David is a heightened version of himself, it still feels real. It feels like he almost, it’s not crazy. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he would do that. So as your characters don’t, as long as it doesn’t feel like you’re contorting the character to do something that your story requires, which would not be human behavior, at the end of the day, these characters have to be human

Phil Hudson:
Like jumping the shark

Michael Jamin:
Or jumping the shark. But also often my partner and I will write a scene and Seaver will say something like a character that’s not human behavior. We’re just making the character do this because two writers in Hollywood need him to say that, which is, I mean, sometimes we’ll laugh, we’ll say, why would a character say that? And then I’ll say that we have four cameras on him and we have to shoot something tonight. But that’s not the right answer. The right answer is it has to be human behavior.

Phil Hudson:
So tangentially related would be DSX, Mina, right? Which is circumstance or coincidence, getting your character out of trouble or solving your problem. So it’s not the same, but very similar as it’s a

Michael Jamin:
Lazy writing dem and I believe is Latin for God,

Phil Hudson:
God in the machine,

Michael Jamin:
A God or God can get you into trouble or a coincidence can get you into trouble but can’t get you out of trouble. So if God comes to the rescue and saves the day, that’s considered bad writing. So an example for this that people like to harp on is somehow Palpatine returned. Isn’t that his name? Palpatine?

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, Palpatine.

Michael Jamin:
Palpatine. I didn’t even watch it. I didn’t watch it, so I’m not going to badmouth that movie, but that’s what people say somehow God came in and everyone seems to roll their eyes at it. And again, I haven’t seen it so I really shouldn’t say, but that’s what I’ve heard. That would be an example of maybe something that people don’t, they went too far.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, yeah. How do you introduce characters? I normally have their name, age in a short sentence, which sums up their personality. I then allow them to show their character through their actions.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, those are stage direction and no one wants reading stage direct wants to read stage direction. So I usually say what the character’s name is exactly a few, maybe a physical attribute or two their age and something about their personality that gets it real fast. Here’s a bad description. You see this a lot, Lucy, cute, but doesn’t know a girl next door. Cute, but doesn’t realize it or sexy, but doesn’t know it. How many times have I got to see that and you just roll your eyes. So it’s got to be better than that.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
That’s cliche.

Phil Hudson:
Do you ever put anything related? I’ve heard other writers recommend putting in cues for clothing to help wardrobe understand how this person dresses or informed character. Is that something you ever consider?

Michael Jamin:
Only if it’s absolutely necessary. If the character wears loose fitting clothing to hide their body, that makes sense. But unless it’s absolutely necessary, we can have these discussions at the production meeting. We don’t need to know it now in the script unless it absolutely necessary.

Phil Hudson:
Great. Tom Merrim, when you write characters, do you focus more on the personalities you want added to the mix or focus more on the role each plays or what they need to do in the story?

Michael Jamin:
And that’s what I teach in the course. Every character has to be there for a reason and they have to help elucidate the story or else it’s just, you don’t want to just mash these. Even if you have 10 great characters, like oh, they’re all interesting, but maybe they don’t fit together. They have to fit together to tell a story. The story is the look. We all work for the story, the writers, the directors, the actors, we all serve the story and that includes the characters. The story comes first. That’s why it’s so important to learn what story is.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. Great. Justin Kaiser, to develop your characters, do you focus on relationships more than the characters themselves?

Michael Jamin:
Well, more, I mean, I always think what’s the relationship between this character and the other character? I mean, you may need to know that if you have a father and a son and you want to know how they interact and maybe the kid’s under the father’s thumb and at the end of the show or movie, he’s going to stand on his own two feet and defy his father. That’s important that you might need to know that. But I don’t need, if that’s what the story is about, then yeah, I need to know the relationship, but I don’t need to have all the answers, just the ones that are pertinent for the story.

Phil Hudson:
And when you get into the course, you’ll learn that there’s this awesome sheet that you have that you were provided that was given to you. Was it Steve Levitan gave it to you. And it’s basically defining all of these nuances of your character so that you can build them out to be someone unique. And you clearly see a pattern. And this kind of relates back, I think to cookies and sugars question. I’m assuming this is universal, not just to me thing, but definitely a Phil Hudson thing. When I create my characters and I start using that spreadsheet, I start noticing like, oh, they’re all very similar. We got to mix that up, so let’s fix this, let’s fix this. And so those are like, I have specific things I go to or lean towards and it’s like I need to fix that. And that allows me to create conflict creates differences in the way people see things. It also empowers me when I’m writing these characters to know how they would talk about this specific thing or react in this situation in a way that empowers the story to be better and serve their role that they’ve been given.

Michael Jamin:
Here’s an extreme example of that. Let’s say you’re writing Oceans 11 and you have, I dunno, I guess, or have loving characters or whatever. You got the brainiac, you got the suave guy, you got the bomb cutter, who’s a loose cannon, you got the thug, you got the nerd or whatever. Every character in that group has their own distinct, not only personality, but almost archetype of personality. There shouldn’t be overlap. And then that’s an extreme example, but even if you’re writing something more grounded and real or intimate, rather, you’ll ask, you’ll have the same conversations with yourself. So why do I have two heart throb characters? I only need one. You want to have different viewpoints. In the episode, we talked a little bit about love. Actually in the last podcast we talked about, we did a q and a and I mentioned love actually is about looking at love on Christmas time from whatever, 15, how many storylines, whatever, eight storylines. And each character has a very specific kind of role. And there’s no, and there shouldn’t be. If there is, we don’t need two characters for that same point of view. This is a work of art. You don’t need two, just one.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. And going back to how I met your mother, there’s really three kind of four different characters there in this group. There’s a couple, Marshall and Lily, there’s Ted, our protagonist, and there’s Barney, and then there’s Robin. And they all reflect this different opinion about relationships and dating in New York City. You’ve got the couple that have been together since college and they’re together and they just love each other all the time. The ones seeking true love, the player who just wants to hook up with as many women as he can. Ironically played by Neil Patrick Harris, who’s gay, and he does a great job of playing that person. And then you have Robin who is afraid of love and kind of withdraws from love and that creates that ecosystem where they’re all playing off of each

Michael Jamin:
Other. They all have different viewpoints. Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
I’ll also say I’m working on this feature that I haven’t written a feature in a long time and I got the story that I really like and it centers around a family situation. And I’m thinking about my family and my brothers and my relationship with my siblings. And it’s like we were all raised the same. We are all very different people. We have fights because there are things we absolutely disagree on, but then there’s always this layer of relationship. And we had understanding that even when we get really mad at each other to a certain degree, we know we’re always going to come back together. Except there’s always that thing dangling out there that maybe we won’t. And I have one sibling who’s like that. I don’t know that I could have a same conversation with her that I could with my older brother the same way I would. She may never want to talk to me again because he’s just a bit more sensitive. So it’s like, okay, how do I look at all of these relationships here? And just because we all come from the same place and we had almost the same experiences. We are all very different.
So Cameron Barnes, he said, Michael said, a cast of characters should be in constant conflict, but does that actually just mean constant conflict throughout the story?

Michael Jamin:
What else would it mean? I mean,

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, I dunno.

Michael Jamin:
I don’t know. I mean, yeah, conflict

Phil Hudson:
Doesn’t, lemme talk about the constant conflict. Maybe just address that.

Michael Jamin:
Well, conflict doesn’t have to be people fighting. It could be passive aggressive. It could be people caring very much for each other, the mother, and you’ve seen this trope before, the mother, the overbearing mother, trying to get the daughter to be happy and settle down and find a man, whatever. She’s just in her life that’s conflict. A mother who’s constantly meddling and she means well and the daughter knows she means well, but she keeps stepping on her toes. You’ve seen that story a million times. We’ve seen it because it works. So that’s conflict. But if it was, what about a show where everyone was always getting along? Well, that’s boring, unfortunately that’s just boring. That’s the scene right? Before everything goes south, that’s what that is. You have one scene like that and then it goes

Phil Hudson:
South. And it’s not that it’s all okay that people are just kind of egg shelling, walking on eggshells around each other to maintain the peace in this moment, right? Yeah, because it’s going to go nuts at any moment. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Drama is conflict, guys. So that’s it. Drama is conflict,

Phil Hudson:
But that’s also just life. And I think that’s why we watch it. Life is not perfect harmony at all times with everybody. There’s things,

Michael Jamin:
But even if you had a scene where young couple’s in love and everything’s great. Okay, great. What’s one scene they met boy meets girl, they fall in love. Great. How many,

Phil Hudson:
Why do you leave the towels on the floor? He leaves the

Michael Jamin:
Towel. Yeah, something’s going to have to happen where

Phil Hudson:
When you take your toothbrush out of your mouth, it flicks toothpaste on the mirror and you never clean it. Right? That’s the stuff that eats at couples.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. So you need stuff like that. Everyone loves Raymond. They were a happy couple, they had a happy marriage, but you still have to fight Rose, what are we watching?

Phil Hudson:
But that’s also fighting in a relationship is what makes your relationship better. If you can get through those things. And fighting doesn’t mean screaming and yelling and throwing stuff at each other. It could just be disagreements or heated conversations is like you got to get through the conflict, come to a resolution,

Michael Jamin:
Right?

Phil Hudson:
This thing bothers me. This thing bothers you. How are we going to fix this? We live together and we’re going to be together forever. So let’s figure this out. It’s going to bother me every day forever.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
Matthew Lavania back. What’s the difference between a villain and an antagonist?

Michael Jamin:
I don’t know. I mean a villain I guess is an arch formative, a villain sounds like it’s something that’s a heightened antagonist. That’s what it sounds like. An antagonist doesn’t have to be a villain. It could just, if you have, like I said, a daughter and a mother and the mother’s overbearing, then the mother’s an antagonist. Doesn’t mean she’s a villain. The stepmother’s the villain in Cinderella. So it’s just a heightened antagonist I suppose. But we’re splitting hair. I don’t think we have to worry about that really. I mean it’s like an academic question. I could think

Phil Hudson:
You might say Thanos in the Marvel universe is the villain because he’s got this big existential threat. But I think one of the things you highlight definitely in my writing is your antagonist still needs to be likable. Not likable in the sense, but we need to understand that they think they’re the hero. And in this case, Thanos wants to prevent genocide because his world went through this. And so his way of doing, it’s by killing half the people in existence to prevent this thing from happening.

Michael Jamin:
Think about land from Quentin Tarantino’s,

Phil Hudson:
Glorious

Michael Jamin:
Bastards and glorious bastards. What a great villain. I mean, he was a great villain. He was the Jew hunter, the Nazi man that was a badass guy. But he was complex and there was something so about him, even though what he was doing was so incredibly vile and offensive. And so that’s when you humanize your villain, you make it. It makes your writing so much richer. I mean the fact that he spoke so many languages and he was educated. He’s

Phil Hudson:
Charismatic. Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
He was charismatic and yet still

Phil Hudson:
And very polite. Thank you so much for inviting. Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
Very

Phil Hudson:
Inviting, inviting. May I ask you for some milk?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
The Jews are underneath me right now, aren’t they? Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
And you just didn’t know where you stood with the guy. So he was just a very nice guy doing awful, awful things. So that’s great writing

Phil Hudson:
That scene when he’s sitting down with Ana, I’d like to go over the theater and he’s vetting her and he’s putting cream down for her and he’s like, he knows who she is. It is unspoken subtext. He is aware that this is the girl that got away. You see it in her reaction when she leaves and she’s hyperventilating and she just kept it together

Michael Jamin:
And he was like a mercenary.

Phil Hudson:
Then you find out later that that’s all part of his plan. This is how he’s going to get out.

Michael Jamin:
Great writing. That’s all that is. That’s all that movie is great writing,

Phil Hudson:
Which is followed up by

Michael Jamin:
Great acting

Phil Hudson:
And great production and great editing and great everything. That’s

Michael Jamin:
All that was though.

Phil Hudson:
Alright. Luke felt. How do you ensure that the story around the character matches the lesson that they need to learn?

Michael Jamin:
Can you say that again? How do I ensure?

Phil Hudson:
So this is a presupposition that your character needs to learn something by the end of your script. So how do you ensure that the story around that character gets them to the point that they learn something?

Michael Jamin:
Well, okay, I don’t believe characters have to learn anything. I do think they have to grow or else why did you put ’em on a journey? If not to them it has to be you’re changed in some way. If you take a character and you take ’em to the top of Mount Everest, they have to be changed in some way or else why did you take ’em there? So it doesn’t mean they have to learn a lesson, they could be worse off. But if your why stories is a journey and why go on the journey if we’re not going to get a view and the view better be something interesting, why did you take me on this long trip? And if the character didn’t in some way change or grow, it doesn’t mean learn a lesson, just change in some small way. Why didn’t we take ’em on that trip? Why did we go there? Why did you waste our time? And by the way, there are bad movies where this doesn’t happen and I always feel like, well, why did you just waste my time? And so just because there’s bad writing out there doesn’t mean we have to participate in it. It doesn’t mean we have to add to it.

Phil Hudson:
I think there’s an inclination, and I’ve seen this in myself and many other writers in film school and definitely here in Los Angeles, that you want to buck the trend and buck the system and you don’t want to follow story structure and you want to do your own thing. It’s almost like you want to reinvent the world of writing and you also want to play into tragedy and disappoint, defeat audience expectations and all these things. And that’s artful writing. And I think what I’ve learned from you in the course and being in the writer’s room is that those things serve a purpose and you can still do those things, but you do it in a surprising way and it works because there’s a structure to it.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. I mean, everyone wants to reinvent writing, reinvent the story. Look, the story works. It’s been working for thousands of years. You can make a good living writing compelling story. And when I watch a story that’s compelling and that works, I don’t think, wow, they just reinvented the story. I don’t think that, I just think they told a really good story. I feel like they’re doing what I’m doing, but maybe better or on a higher level. I don’t think they just completely change with some small exceptions sometimes. I’ll watch, for example, inception, Christopher Nolan, I, I’ve watched it four times. I still don’t know what it’s about. I still can’t follow it. It’s obviously a great movie, but I don’t think we have to all write like that in order to tell a great story.

Phil Hudson:
And I think he just announced what is happening. He just revealed that during the Oppenheimer interviews. You can go look that up on the Google if anybody’s in. But yeah, I mean that’s his style and it’s very much his cscope, I think is what it is. Or Cscope, his logo is a maze. It’s elaborate. He’s kind of telling you this is his way of telling

Michael Jamin:
Stories. That’s how he does it and that’s how he thinks.

Phil Hudson:
It started with Memento and it started with even other stuff he directed but didn’t write, which I’m blanking on it, but it’s like one in Alaska and it’s psychological thriller. But yeah, all of his stuff is that, and that’s his motif and his style.

Michael Jamin:
I’d go so far as to say that the guy’s kind of a genius. And so unless you think you’re a genius too, maybe don’t try to reinvent. I don’t think I’m a genius. But that said, I couldn’t write anything like Memento. It hurts my head to think about it. And I enjoyed a memento and Inception really loved it. I couldn’t come close to it. I write, what I do is I write comedy and I’m very good at that. My one little thing, and that’s okay. We all have our one little thing that we’re good at and you have to just lean into it. Christopher Nolan doesn’t write comedy, which is good. He has a sing that he does and we love what he does. We don’t all have to be experts at everything.

Phil Hudson:
Right? Yeah. Justin Kaiser, how do you decide that another character is needed to advance the story or if that attribute moral personality can be added to another existing character?

Michael Jamin:
I

Phil Hudson:
Guess kind of the question is how do you know when you have enough characters in your story?

Michael Jamin:
Well, it’s a little different. If you’re writing a TV show, if a TV show you need to write, you have to have a cast and it has to be conflict. You want to have, let’s say five or six characters that always are going to always be in conflict with each other week in and week out as you tell different stories. If you’re writing a movie, you really want to think about who’s the star of this movie, or if it’s a two hander, who are the stars, if it’s a buddy cop movie or whatever, you have two cops or it’s a buddy movie or a road trip movie. You have these two characters and you only have the other characters as needed to help tell the story, the journey you’re putting those two characters on. So if you take a good example, because we’re mentioning Buddy comedies, midnight Run, so Charles Groden and Robert De Niro. It’s a buddy comedy you’re putting and a road trip, comedy, whatever, not so much a comedy but drama and you’re putting them on an adventure, so you just need obstacles to throw in their ways. So you have Dennis Farinas character who’s the mobster, but we’re not following Dennis Farinas story. We’re following Robert De Niro’s relationship with Charles. That’s it. Everyone else is there to help. Tell Robert De Niro’s story and Charles Groton’s story.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, easy Rider, very similar, right? You’ve got these two bikers and you’ve got their lawyer Jack, Jack nickles, and then it, it’s about them. And that’s experience of going across America right in the seventies. It’s not about the hippies they meet at the Waterhole in Santa Fe. It’s about those and what happens to them as they go through America, Julia Wells, and how do you prevent the worst characters from being so far outside their wheelhouse that they can’t possibly succeed or it becomes unbelievable. And this is in reference to this kind of golden nugget you’ve been talking about recently in your Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
Everyone please come to my webinars about this one’s about character. She’s talking about character, but I do another one on story and they’re free. You go to michael tamer.com

Phil Hudson:
And you’re going to get a lot of these questions for people. A lot of this is coming out of, it’s in context in the webinar. So you’re hearing this lesson and these very important principles for writers, and these are questions coming out of that. And this is one of those questions referring to a tip you give in the webinar about how to write characters that a professional writer would use.

Michael Jamin:
So she wants to know how do you make sure that your character is not so off the map that people don’t like it or something?

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, because the point you’re making here is you don’t want a perfect character. You want the worst character for a situation. Yeah. So how do you not make the situation so bad that per character can’t navigate it?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Well, I think what you do is you have your character and get better, so improve on it. So like I talked about, one of the examples I gave in the webinar was Aria Stark from Game of Thrones, and we gave her one of the hardest storylines, which was she was a little girl, her family was murdered, and now she decides she’s going to avenge the death of her family. And I talk more about this in the webinar, so I’m not going to go too much detail, but Aria Stark is the worst character to give this journey to avenge the death. She’s like an 8-year-old and she’s tiny. And so we give her skills. So we slowly take her down this path where she learns skills and becomes a great fighter. Little by little, she learns from this, the dance.

Phil Hudson:
You learn those attributes, but it’s there, the seeds are there. She’s interested in sword play. She’s a bit of a tomboy. She wants to know these things that her sisters the opposite, wants to be the queen, wants to marry the king, that whole

Michael Jamin:
Thing. So we put her, she’s the worst person to put on this journey, but we slowly give her the skills on these little storylines that we give her to become the one who kills the night King. No one can kill this guy. He’s made of ice and somehow she, but had we not put her on this journey, she would’ve been the first one to die. Hey, it’s Michael Jamin. If you like my content and I know you do because you’re listening to me, I will email it to you for free. Just join my watch list. Every Friday I send out my top three videos of the week. These are for writers, actors, creative types, people like you can unsubscribe whenever you want. I’m not going to spam you, and the price is free. You got no excuse to join. Go to michaeljamin.com. And now back to what the hell is Michael Jamin talking about?

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, it’s all great. It’s such a good show.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
Darlene Smith, can you ever overc create a character?

Michael Jamin:
I dunno what that means. Overc

Phil Hudson:
Create overriding is a thing. I don’t think this is, can you think too much about your character? And I know a lot of people spend times writing full biographies about their

Michael Jamin:
Characters

Phil Hudson:
And all that kind of stuff.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. As you write, you learn more about the character. It’s so weird when people say, I wrote, they say, I have the pilot, the Bible, and the first three seasons of my show mapped out really? In other words, you’re saying you’re not willing to discover any of this as you go because they just haven’t mapped out on a piece of paper. It’s like in a real writer’s room. We got a team of writers working on this, and over the course of eight seasons, we were learning more and more about the characters as we go. It’s not Breaking Bad wasn’t fleshed out in the pitch. Jesse Pinkman wasn’t even going to be a main character in it. You learn about your characters as you’re writing. You see what works and what doesn’t work. I think there’s a temptation to spend all this time overthinking your characters without even putting a word on the page.

Phil Hudson:
Look, it looks like writing and I think that might be, this is procrastination.

Michael Jamin:
Yes,

Phil Hudson:
It’s world creating. I think I told you maybe eight months ago, nine months ago, there was a kid who was in film school, he messaged me and he’s like, Hey, I’m really interested in this and writing, and I just love creating worlds. I love world building. I love doing all this stuff. And that’s my favorite part of this. And it’s like, cool. None of that matters if you don’t have a character we want to watch because that is all that matters is what is this character? What is the journey they’re going on? It’s procrastination. It feels like it. And look, this might be a bit of a gross word to use to describe this, but it is masturbation. It is just you are doing this for self-indulgent reasons to make you feel like you’re writing and it’s literally not moving the chain, which is pages, words on the page, words on the page, words on the

Michael Jamin:
Page. My partner and I, we’ve gotten called out on this more than once, where the executives will look at an outline or a beat sheet and they go, I don’t understand this character. And we’re like, well, we don’t really understand the character yet either. We plan on finding it as we write, but they get mad. We need to know now. All right, well, we are just kind of pulling the wool of your eyes. We’ll figure it out. We’re going to find it when we write it. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what to tell you. We thought about it. We’re not there yet. We have to discover it as we write. Sorry, but this is how it goes.

Phil Hudson:
I want to highlight here, Michael, too, that this is for a lot of people who might hear what you say about story structure matters and there’s a structure that you need to stick to and you talk very in your free lesson, michaeljamin.com/free. There’s a whole bunch of free resources on that page. One of those is this free lesson about story, and you talk in there about Picasso. And Picasso was a master at 14, and then he learned and created his own version of art that’s worth millions and hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, by the time he was 80, so he had like 65 years if I’m asked of figuring out how to make his own thing and reinventing this. But it’s grounded in the rules of art and painting, and you talk about structure and how it matters, but in the same breath you’re saying like find it as you go. Find it as you go. And there’s a balance there. And I think very often, definitely myself, very black and white, and there’s a lot of this, you need to understand the principles so that you can break the rules, but you also need to understand when to focus your time and when to shift. And that I would venture to say just comes with time. You got to get in and do it

Michael Jamin:
A lot and over and over and over again and you’ll learn. And then that’s how a lot of times we will have the perfect character, all the perfect characters, and we’ll start writing and we go, none of this is working. So what we thought was perfect is not working. How do I know it’s not working? Because the words are not coming out on the page. It’s just not working.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. Don’t be so damn precious about your story and your characters and your idea. Just get it out and move on. It’s reps. You got to get your reps in. All right, cookies and sugar. How do you keep a romance novel? Interesting. How do you create conflict between the two characters while still having them come together in the end to date? How do you write villains in? And part of me is, I think we just answered this with the toothpaste and all that stuff we’re talking about. You can get there, but Hitch comes to mind for me, right? It’s the right characters. Remember? Yeah. Will Smith is the dating expert, and he helps guys who kind of suck at dating, get girls that they like. And Eon Goya’s character is like a gossip writer, and she finds out about this guy and she’s going to go find him and hunt him down. But at the same time, she falls in love with Hitch the Guy. And then it kind of comes out later that she feels like he played her and it’s because her friend got some douche bag who he wouldn’t help made some reference. And so it all kind of boils over at the end. And it’s about helping a guy fall in love who’s in love with this airs getting her to fall in love with him. He’s a klutz and he can’t do it himself. And all the things she fell in love with were him. His mistakes, not the stuff Hitch taught him how to do, right? It’s all the sincere him stuff. But that is a great example of this is a romcom, this is a romance story. This is

Michael Jamin:
Go watch when Harry Met Sally, which is the best romcom ever. And so when you keep your, it is boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. That’s the middle, right? Then boy gets girl in the end again. Or not. Or not, but getting together at the end, you need to get your characters, they usually get together earlier and then something goes south. And that would be probably be your second act break when they break up for whatever reason. So go watch Harry. I met Sally. That’s a brilliant, brilliant romcom.

Phil Hudson:
Awesome. EG wants to know how do you overcome difficulties with writing dialogue? Acts broken down, but having a hard time with dialogue?

Michael Jamin:
Well, yeah. I mean, there’s a couple of things going on. One, you can record your dialogue into a tape recorder or whatever, digital recorder and play it back. And it should sound natural. It should sound the way people talk. You can go to a coffee shop and listen to people how they talk to me. That’s the fun part. If you’re having problem writing it, it could easily be because you don’t know what your characters should say. And if you don’t know what your characters are saying, you don’t have a dialogue problem. You have a story structure problem if you don’t know what your characters should say. So I suspect that’s what’s going on. I suspect this person doesn’t have a dialogue problem. They have a story structured problem.

Phil Hudson:
That was my thought too, because it’s pretty easy to know what you need to get. You shouldn’t have a scene where people are just showing up to talk that does nothing for us. Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
It’s that critique I have. And I’ve noticed even in my own writing early on, which is there’s a lot of people doing things and nothing’s happening.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah,

Phil Hudson:
That’s a bad note to get by the way, guys, you don’t want that. Doc B, is there a method by which to place arc points, the character will learn something or experience that helps them grow? Or do you let the story find the right moment for a character evolution?

Michael Jamin:
Can you repeat it?

Phil Hudson:
It kind of was tough to get through. So is there a process or method that you use to put in plot points or story points that require your character to grow or evolve?

Michael Jamin:
Well, again, we’re talking story structure. That’s what they need to, that’s what I teach in the course. There is a process. Yeah. Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
I recently, go ahead.

Michael Jamin:
Characters don’t have to grow. They have to change, but they don’t have to learn a lesson, but go on.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah. And again, that’s that advice. It just hangs out. There is your character needs to learn something, your character needs to learn something. And just kind of hanging myself out here. Again, the first question you asked me when you’re giving me screenwriting advice is you asked me the question, what is the definition of a story? Hint. Hint. That’s go get the free lesson on michaeljamin.com/free because it’s the same question and you teach this principle, and I said, it’s a hero who goes through trials and ends up better in the end. And your response was, what about King Lear?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Here’s another example that go watch a movie called Manchester by the Sea with Casey Affleck. And in it he plays a guy who’s responsible for the death. There’s an accident. He’s responsible for the death of his wife and his child, and he’s living with his horrible guilt. He

Phil Hudson:
Won an Oscar for that, right? That’s the one got the Oscar for,

Michael Jamin:
I don’t know. But it was a great performance. And so he feels responsible for the death of his family, and I think he may have been an alcoholic or not, I don’t remember. And then he forges a relationship with his nephew, and you think maybe this relationship’s going to save him. And you get to the end and you think we’ve taken Casey Affleck’s character on this journey where maybe he’s not going to be depressed anymore. Maybe he’s going to allow himself to change and grow and he can’t. And so that character goes on a whole journey, but really doesn’t change and is a beautiful, beautiful movie. But again, the emotional journey is there. But he decides at the end, I can’t grow. I can’t Change

Phil Hudson:
Without A Trace is another great film with Ben Foster and he’s living in, he’s a vet with PTSD and he’s living kind in the wilderness outside of Portland with his daughter. And then Child Protective Services kind of gets involved and he kind goes on the run with her and they escape. And then at the end they end up in this town and there are these kind people who want to take her in and they’re offering to give them a place to stay and take care of him. And then one night he is packing his stuff and he has to kind of leave his daughter behind because he can’t deal and she can’t deal with living in the woods. And she shouldn’t because a teenage girl and should have a life. And they have this beautiful, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else, watch, but there’s this beautiful moment where at the end you just know they’re both okay and they’ve both got what they need, but it’s not what you want for them. You want these two to figure it out. You want him to get better and he just can’t cope with civilization Society. Yeah, good stuff. Matthew Lavania, what are your thoughts on withholding information from the audience to allow them to work things out for themselves rather than spoonfeed them everything?

Michael Jamin:
Good question, Matthew. That is something I struggle with, that it’s not an easy task. That’s kind of the difference between writing, in my opinion, writing smart writing, and maybe not so smart writing. So if I were to tell a children’s a show, like a family show, middle of the Road, family Show, kind of a hokey, I would break that story the same exact way I would break an episode, let’s say, of Marin, which was a very sophisticated dark comedy for adults. I would break it the same exact way. The differences for the family show, which kids are supposed to watch with their parents, I would spell it out a little more. I’d do a little more spoonfeeding. And for the adult show for Marin, I would make the, I just wouldn’t say it as much, and the audience would have to figure it out on their own. And people would think, oh, Marin is smart because I’m making them do the work. Whereas it’s literally the same steps, the same beat board, it’s all the same except I’m making, I’m spoonfeeding the family show, but I’m making on Marin. I’m letting the audience do little work. And when you make the audience do more work, they feel it’s a smarter show because they have to be smarter. They have to pay attention more. And so that in my opinion, is the difference between a smart show and let’s say a not smart show.

Phil Hudson:
For the newer writers, there are two terms that come to mind. One is subtext, which I could not wrap my head around when I was first figuring learning writing, but it’s absolutely critical to writing professionally. You need to understand it’s like what’s not being said, it’s being said, but not said that subtext. And then the other is this principle of audience inferior and audience superior, meaning your audience doesn’t know what’s going on versus your audience knows more than your characters know what’s going on. And there are tools you use. So in a horror film, you might use Audience Superior to say, oh no, don’t go in there. Don’t go in there that the killer’s in there. But then you might use audience inferior and a horror film for the jump scare where leather face pops out in the woods and gets your kids. So they’re just tools of the craft and you use ’em. Applicably.
On this note, I’ve talked about the show when Bluey is very popular right now on Disney Plus. It’s a kid’s show about their dogs and even at shows from Australia. And they’re fascinating. And I love watching them probably more than my kids love watching them because they are very smart, very, this was something I just saw on TikTok yesterday. It’s a new term I learned called a Rainbow Baby. Have you ever heard that term Rainbow Baby? Is the baby born immediately after a miscarriage or a stillbirth or something like that? And it’s a very emotional thing for parents. And there’s an episode where Blue’s kind of acting out how her mom and her dad fell in love and kind of how Bluey got there and her sister Bingo’s helping her act it out. And Bingo’s got this balloon underneath her belly to pretend like she’s pregnant and she’s playing the mom.
And they don’t tell you this. And I’ve watched this episode probably five times, and until someone pointed this out, there’s this moment where the balloon pops and you see Blue’s Dad grab his wife’s hand and they hold hands. And I get emotional as a husband with kids. It’s like, oh, they went through a miscarriage. And they don’t tell you. Kids will never know. But as an adult it’s like, wow, there’s a level to this that is just beautiful. So that’s subtext and it’s audience inferior. It’s all those things that we’re talking about. So I’m going to wipe my tears now into my microphone. A couple of questions left, and I know we’re going to be a little bit long here guys. So apologize. You’re getting a bunch of questions answered. The Lovely Bone 0 5 2. How do you make character’s voice different than your own? Which I think is kind of the projecting question we talked about earlier, but do you have any about voice?

Michael Jamin:
That’s the fun part. If you’re writing for Frazier Crane, you speak like Frazier Crane, you look up words in the thesaurus. So he uses smart language instead of good and bad, it’ll say delicious and magnificent. How do you do that? That’s the fun. That’s the imitation part where we get to imitate people. So you listen, you use your ears and you mock people

Phil Hudson:
And you have experiences you’ve talked about before.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
Joshua and Ashley Earls Bennett want to know, this is about miscellaneous questions, by the way. Is there a character sheet for stories that have taken place in the past? And I think this is a reference to a story Bible and not the one you do for pitching, but the one in the writer’s room.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. I mean, I don’t look at it. I mean, most shows keep a Bible for whatever purposes. I don’t even know why. But they keep a record of all these characters and stories that have been told. So if someone needs to know for at some point in the future, it’s there, but I don’t reference them.

Phil Hudson:
Here’s an Easter egg on why you might have this, because we didn’t have this on Tacoma fd. And then there was a point where in this season of Tacoma fd, they’re going to rename the street pan easy way. And so we need to know what is the street of the firehouse. And so I had to go dig through every last episode of the script, every script from season one through, and you find out, well, we’ve had two addresses because someone wrote it down, or I know we ran into a plot point where it’s like we need to pick a specific game that was missed as a plot point for this episode, and why Terry’s mad at his daughter because that’s the night she was born. But in the timeline, we might say she was this age, and then now you’re stuck trying to find an important event in this specific year because you have to maintain the continuity of the story.

Michael Jamin:
And that’s a good example. So if we have an episode and we want to like, okay, we want to bring back Eddie’s

Phil Hudson:
Spatchcock.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, whatever. A girlfriend that he had in the first season one, what was her name again? I can’t remember. We want to bring this character back. We’d asked the writer’s assistant, the writer would check the Bible that they kept a record of because we as the writers might not remember because it’s like a trivia. It’s trivia from four seasons ago.

Phil Hudson:
Awesome. Jenny Harper. Are there any character sheets that list how each character changes by beat? Beat by

Michael Jamin:
Beat? No, we wouldn’t keep a record of that. That’d be crazy. That’d be too much work.

Phil Hudson:
Is there a reason for a character or a writer to keep that?

Michael Jamin:
I mean, I often would wonder when I watched Lost or even Game of Thrones, I’m like, wait, who knows what here? It’s hard to remember. That’s the challenge. One of the challenges of shows like that, wait, who knows what’s going on here? I’m terrible at that. I don’t like that aspect of writing, but certainly What is that?

Phil Hudson:
So this is a book by Javier gr Marks watch, which we’ve talked about before. He was a writer on Lost and he’s got a blog where he talks about that first season of Lost, which he was on, and this is his book, shoot This one again, which is kind of stories, essays on being a writer and a showrunner. And this book is really good and he talks a lot about Bibles and what it was like to come up with stories and things like that. And they’ve got a really great podcast too on TV writing that’s not very active, but it was really good resource called Children of Tendu. So if you’re interested in more of that stuff, I think they’re a very good resource for that. And that book’s great. Check it out. But shout out to Javi. You know Javi, right? You’ve met him. Is that right?

Michael Jamin:
No, I never met him. I know who he is

Phil Hudson:
Though. You know of him.

Michael Jamin:
I think maybe we tweeted each other once or twice or something.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, they’re cool guys. I’ve reached out to them as well to help them with their podcast back in the day. They did not take me up on it, Michael, but you did.

Michael Jamin:
Oh well, I did. Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
They missed out. Yeah. Chris, who wants to know, what are some examples of compelling character development in television characters who really stand out from a professional writer’s perspective?

Michael Jamin:
Well, I mean, Walter White fantastic, but anybody on Breaking Bed? Is it fantastic? You

Phil Hudson:
Talked about Aria Stark already. That’s another great one. John

Michael Jamin:
Star. There’s so many great characters. I mean, when people think there’s nothing good on, it’s like, well change a channel, man. There’s plenty of good TV on. I dunno what you’re talking about. Stop watching your terrible shows. It’s your fault. I’m loving severance. I’m loving severance,

Phil Hudson:
Severance.

Michael Jamin:
It’s so interesting to me. Yeah, love

Phil Hudson:
It. Alex r how in depth do rooms of writers deconstruct characters?

Michael Jamin:
Well, we have an idea when we start writing and then the characters, it’s not like we deconstruct. They actually become, it’s almost like they’re real people to us. And so are you deconstructing your mother or do you just know your mother? You know who mother is and so they’re real people. It’s not like we’re not taking ’em apart and laying ’em on a table.

Phil Hudson:
Do you want to talk about the doctor? No. In the writer’s room that came up recently this week in a conversation with somebody. But it’s also like this might be that someone, it’s almost like you’re nitpicking your character a bit.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, but I don’t watch Dr. No, so I don’t really keep,

Phil Hudson:
No Dr. Noah as in the doctor Noah in the room. Maybe that’s not you. That’s them. Dr. Noah is the naysayer, the guy who says tears things down and doesn’t like.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I mean that’s not a helpful, you can find a reason to say no to every pitch in a writer’s room. It is just not helpful. So find a reason to build it up to be positive and to say something helpful.

Phil Hudson:
How do you make sticky or awesome characters that get stuck in people’s heads and hearts and how can you have a character that you expand over more than one season? How do you develop a character?

Michael Jamin:
This is the journey we all put ourselves on, but again, I don’t even think it’s so much the character as it is the journey we put them on. You could take anyone, make them interesting. I feel you could make anyone interesting as long as you put ’em on the right journey.

Phil Hudson:
Dave Campbell, how do we get away with using characters based on real life when there’s always that stupid boilerplate saying exactly the opposite. The characters and events are not based on real events or

Michael Jamin:
How do we, I guess what’s the question? Do

Phil Hudson:
Do we get away with using a character that’s based on somebody in real life when there’s always that stupid boilerplate? The disclaimer about this is not based on real people.

Michael Jamin:
Well, I mean change ’em a little. You’re basing it on them and you’re changing their name and their identity. And so if you’re going to make a character against model it against your best friend, change it enough so that your best friend doesn’t find out, it won’t know. So that’s how you do it.

Phil Hudson:
I wrote a script once and gave it to my friend who’s an actor that was on the bridge and he was a little on the nose, but I appreciate it. He felt like I wrote him, which I did. I wrote him. He was just such a character and it was not interesting to him as an actor who has been on a major show, he’s just like, this is just me.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right.

Phil Hudson:
Mishu Pizza. Can character foils also be considered a side character or a supporting character or the main character’s best friend? I feel like foils don’t always have to be the antagonist. Is that true?

Michael Jamin:
I feel like we’re overthinking this a little bit. I feel like maybe we’re giving labels that don’t need to be labeled. We have a hero. We’re going to put this hero on a journey and who are the people? Or if it’s a like a buddy comedy or whatever we’re talking about, or if it’s a husband and wife or whatever the story, what’s the journey we’re putting them on and who are the characters who are going to get in their way? And often if it’s a husband and wife, they’re going to be fighting each other, so Okay, good. And who are the characters that we need to create to help foment this argument that they’re going to have?

Phil Hudson:
I think Workaholics is a great example of this. It was probably about three seasons in where it kind of clicked for me. Like Anders Holick is the straight man. He is the protagonist who’s like wants to be city councilman and wants to do this, but he’s friends with these stoners. And you’ve got Blake who’s basically a comedic relief. And then you have Adam and Adam is tearing him down or convincing him to do bad things all the time. He’s kind of the bad influence. And so he’s kind of his foil or his antagonist in all of these things. He’s just such a ridiculous character. And so it’s a really fun three piece comedy group where they’re just, one person wants to do things kind of the straight way, but he always gets talked into mayhem by one of the other characters and they’re best friends and roommates, so you can’t get out of that situation. So it creates fun because there’s that conflict all the time.

Michael Jamin:
So no one’s a villain’s and no one’s even a foil. It’s just like, okay, I want something and this other character wants something else. And

Phil Hudson:
There’s rivalries in the office place, but they’re not even, they might be a stumbling block for this episode, but they’re not the centerpiece of the whole season. Charles Shin, what is the process like working with a writing partner when most writers write alone?

Michael Jamin:
Well, my writing partner and I will get together and we’ll talk about, bang out an idea, we’ll pitch ideas and bounce ’em off each other. Then when we start writing, we are literally sitting at the same computer. We have one computer and two monitors, or now actually we have two different computers, but we share a screen. So that’s how we do it. Other teams trade. I’ll do act one, you do act two, and then we’ll punch up each other’s stuff. That’s not how we do. We literally write every line together so that we’re always on the same page.

Phil Hudson:
Are you doing any of that over Zoom or are you still meeting at each other’s houses

Michael Jamin:
Now? Well, a little bit we did on Zoom, but now we go to each other’s houses.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, I was wondering how Covid affected you guys because you guys live relatively close to each other.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, we were still pretty, there was a while we were doing on Zoom, but now we go

Phil Hudson:
Lorenzo Savoia wants to know. Any comment on the end of the screenwriter strike?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I’m glad a deal was reached. I think the writers, yeah, were pretty happy. It was ratified by about 99% of us who voted yes. So it wasn’t an excellent deal, but it was much better than we would’ve gotten had we knock gone on. Strike

Phil Hudson:
Helga G. Is there any formula on when you start a story from the end and then start on how we got there and sometimes the ending is not what you thought?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, sometimes you’ll start on the second act break and oh, how did we get here? Go watch Bound Ist. A good example of that movie bound. It’s often, it’s just a device. It’s another way of telling a story. I don’t do it often. It can make a story a little more interesting because if you have a lot of peril, if you’re writing a thriller, that could be a good technique, oh, how did we get here? But then again, you don’t want to spend too much time. You want to just open that story on that one harrowing about to be cut open by a buzz saw, how did we get here? And then so you’re really just talking about one scene and then taking it back.

Phil Hudson:
And it can definitely be a cliche the three days later or six weeks earlier, flashback, that kind of thing. It can be a cliche, so it needs to be earned. I think a little Echo three is a show on Apple tv and it’s about a bunch of Delta force guys who go down to South America to try to save one sister and the other one is married to his sister and it starts that way with her being lined up on a pond and they’re going to shoot these people. And then you hear gunshots. And then it cuts into three months earlier when they’re at the wedding and these two are getting married and we introduce the characters, but it ended at the end of the episode. So we end at the end where we started and then it gets us right into the next episode. And that’s meant to be you’re going to burn through the whole thing in one sitting. You’re not going to sit there and go episode by episode. So I felt like they handled it, but the whole time it did click in my head like, okay, this is one of those cliches of the pop backwards jump back in time.
Alright, lucky Carillo, how do you approach rewriting a script that is fully complete and has 15 drafts already has notes, and just sat on pause for a couple years?

Michael Jamin:
How do you do it? You do it. I mean, I don’t know you, I’m not sure what the question is. Are you going to do it or not?

Phil Hudson:
And I think this is something you’ve also said, and I don’t want to judge this, and it’s Lucy Carillo, by the way, not lucky, but I don’t want to judge the work. I have no idea what it is, but there’s a great point you make, which is stop polishing that turd, right? Just move on. And if something’s been sitting there for a couple years, work on it. If you’re several years and skip it, go to something else. But if you’ve done that and you’ve come back and you feel like you need to write it again, write it. Just sit down and rewrite it.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, do it

Phil Hudson:
If you feel like it’s worth your time, but it’s a time cost benefit analysis. And there’s also sunk cost fallacy here, which is you need to understand is it worth rewriting this thing or is it worth writing something new? And if it’s been sitting there for a couple years, it might be dated or feel that way already unless it’s time piece set time. But the sunco fallacy is a real thing a lot of people get caught up in. It applies here, which is I’ve already invested this much time in it, I better keep going. And the reality is the moment you feel that you should stop immediately and move on because you’re already overinvested in it, it’s not worth continuing to go. David Campbell, two questions left, Michael, but we still need to know what the proper terminology for exterior or interior establishing shots are. That was in relation to you telling them not to worry about formatting because software will handle that for them.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I mean honestly, yeah, you need to know it, but it’s, it’s not hard to learn Interior school auditorium day, now you know how to do it. Exterior school, playground, afternoon, done. Now you know everything you need to know. Yep, it’s it. Describe the location, what time it is it, and we’re done

Phil Hudson:
Learning. The formatting is not writing. Figuring out your characters is a part of writing. Writing extensive biographies and backstories is not writing that world. Building is not writing, writing is writing. You do these things to get to the point where you can sit down and write and they’re part of the process, don’t get me wrong, but you got to get words

Michael Jamin:
On the page. All that stuff you can Google, it’s free. I don’t teach that in the course because it’s unimportant and it’s all public. You can learn it from Google and if you get it wrong, no one caress.

Phil Hudson:
Ask chat GPT, and they’ll tell you

Michael Jamin:
If you get it wrong, it doesn’t matter. Well,

Phil Hudson:
Final draft by the way, you hit tab and you hit scene heading, and then you type in what you need and then you hit enter and it automatically knows. This should be a description and then you hit enter and then you command three and you’re going to get a character. It’s just part of the process.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, yeah.

Phil Hudson:
Last question.

Michael Jamin:
Ah, last question.

Phil Hudson:
Can you ever talk about what’s going on in the mind of a character? For example, he stares into space, his mind somewhere else.

Michael Jamin:
What about it? What’s the

Phil Hudson:
Question? Can you ever do that? Can you ever go into the mind of your character?

Michael Jamin:
Oh,

Phil Hudson:
Your scene description, I think is what he’s talking

Michael Jamin:
About. Yeah, you can Sure, sure. She asked the question. Let’s say the wife wants to know it’s on the husband’s mind and he’s about to answer. Should he say it or not? He’s sitting on a secret. Does he open his mouth or not? You can put that in. You don’t want to do too much of that. But if it helps the actor,

Phil Hudson:
That style, that’s style and voice. That’s your style and voice. I’ll tell you, I’ll give you another example of this for mine. The script that you read on episode 33 of the podcast, ripple, and then you sent me off to rewrite it and then I gave it to a bunch of people after I did a bunch of research and rewrote it again. And I got this great compliment, but it was a bit of a back on to compliment. It’s like, I don’t need you to tell me the character’s mad in the scene description because you’ve already got an embarrassment of riches here, right? So he’s saying is the subtext, did the job, me saying the character is mad. We infer that because of how well the scene is, where the scene is in the subtext. So I was just overdoing it. I didn’t need to put that there, but that’s prose. You would say he’s upset thinking about his when he was 15 and his mother. That’s prose and that’s novel and it’s not screenwriting.

Michael Jamin:
But if you have a scene where the character’s sitting on the bus staring out the window wondering what has become of his life, you could say that. Yeah,

Phil Hudson:
You can act that out. It needs to be seen and character, an actor needs to be able to do it or say is really what a screenplay is, right?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Yeah. So in the dialogue list scene, you might need something like that. What is the character thinking about as he stares out the window of the bus?

Phil Hudson:
Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil Hudson:
Awesome. There you go.

Michael Jamin:
Woo, everyone. Let’s tell him what to look forward to. Phil,

Phil Hudson:
We got lots of good stuff. Obviously this is a bonus episode for coming q and a questions coming from your webinars, which are happening every three weeks. If you’re hearing this, it means there’s one tomorrow, so you should go register@michaei jamon.com/ webinar. It’s 100% free. You hop on for about an hour, you go through some pretty cool lessons, and then you do some q and a. And I believe we’re still giving away. Someone will win access to your course.

Michael Jamin:
Oh yes. So that’ll be good.

Phil Hudson:
So if you want access to Michael’s course, just show up and someone’s going to win. And we do it. We’ve done every time so far, which is great. You’ve got your book coming out, you want to talk about that?

Michael Jamin:
Sure. It’s called The Paper Orchestra. It’s a collection of personal essays, and if you want to learn more about that when it drops, go to michaeljamin.com/book and hopefully it’s a fun read and hopefully it’ll inspire you and you’ll learn a little bit more about yourself as a person. And that’s my passion project that I’ve been working on for the past four or so years. And that’s just what I wanted to write. It’s what I wanted to write for myself. So I think it’s intimate and it’s true. And as a TV writer, I write what they pay me to write, but this is what I wanted to write on my own.

Phil Hudson:
And it’s awesome. And anybody who’s been lucky enough to see your live performances of that are great. You’re going to be doing that again in spring, it sounds like. I

Michael Jamin:
Hope so. Here’s a base you can see it’s got a nice reflection on it. But yeah, go to michael jamon.com/upcoming if you want to see me in person. I’ll definitely be doing shows in LA and hopefully New York and then some of the bigger cities, hopefully Toronto, and hopefully it’ll be a small tour in some of the bigger markets that I’m in.

Phil Hudson:
Yeah, awesome. Outside of that, lots of free resources@michaeljamin.com/free, so you can go there. Samples of your writing, you’ve got free screenwriting lesson, a bunch of good stuff in there. And yeah, I mean you got your lots of social media @MichaelJaminwriter kind of all over giving out free stuff every day.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Come follow along everyone, and thank you for listening. I got some really good guests coming up, so if you like our podcast, go give us a nice review on Apple. Yeah,

Phil Hudson:
Even just like that’s a written, if you have a second, just to write a quick note. This is great. Like this, even if you hate it, I don’t like this that helps with Apple, but on Spotify or something, just hit the five star, leave us a five star review wherever you listen to it. Just hit us a review. It helps more people find it.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Thanks so much everyone. Alright, thank you, Phil. Until next week, keep writing everyone.
So now we all know what the hell Michael Jamin is talking about. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for my free monthly webinars@michaeljamin.com/webinar. And if you found this podcast helpful or entertaining, please share it with a friend and consider leaving us a five star review on iTunes that really, really helps. For more of this, whatever the hell this is, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaeJamin writer. And you can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilaHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane and music was composed by Anthony Rizzo. And remember, you can have excuses or you can have a creative life, but you can’t have both. See you next week.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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