A note on therapy: I am a major advocate for therapy. I have personally experienced the benefits and know countless others who would boast the same. I view therapy as an opportunity to understand myself better with the help of a professional that knows how the brain works. More on all that some other time.
A note on screenplays: I am a major advocate for character development in screenplays (and TV scripts and novels and the like). Almost all of my stories come from a place of character, and when I’m struggling with a given project it’s usually because I don’t have a strong enough understanding of the main character. What would she do and why? How does she feel and why? She’s x kind of person so what y things make sense for her career, her relationships, her family dynamic and her future? More on that right now.
A few weeks ago I started consulting with Sandra Cohen, Phd. on the development of her blog – Characters on the Couch.
In Sandra’s blog she plays therapist to TV and film characters. She has diagnosed Don Draper, discussed Lena Dunham’s TV OCD, and tried to understand Piper’s jailhouse dramatics. It is an incredibly fun read for any media lover – or therapy lover. But Sandra has an equal passion, I learned, for working on the invention of characters. Once I found that out I decided to have Sandra do some consulting for me.
I am currently working on a screenplay about a woman trying to make an incredibly difficult decision. This girl needs therapy, stat. But since she is fake and I am not a therapist, I decided to try out the next best thing. I booked Sandra for a session to play therapist to this figment of my imagination.
I came at Sandra with a list of questions all related to how my character would act given her circumstances:
How would stress affect her body? How much of a breakdown could a person like her really have? Would she marry the type of guy I created based on the kind of woman she is?
I wanted to make sure that I was building realistic causes and effects based on the back-story I created. Sandra came back at me with a list of way more interesting questions:
What was her childhood like? How would you describe her parents’ relationship? In her life, who does she want to be and why? What is she afraid of? Is she actually afraid?
It was the single most productive hour I’ve spent working on this project in the hundred plus hours I’ve spent working. But it makes sense, right? I wasn’t thinking of my character as a fully realized human being, so I couldn’t figure out how and why she should do certain things. Therapy helps you understand yourself in a fuller way. So why not chat with a therapist about your characters just like you’d chat with them about yourself?
Yes, I realize this is the most Woody Allen post I’ve ever written, but I don’t care because I’m going to finish this damn script now, and it’s going to be great.
For more information on Sandra Cohen’s entertainment consulting practice, check out her website!
(image source: scriptmag.com)