Directors Series

Consider Human Behavior for Dynamic Characters and Performances

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

The writer must prioritize, creating engaging, dynamic characters; however, how they translate onto the big screen is just as important. That is where the director comes in. Both are responsible for understanding human behavior to create complex, believable characters. The director’s job extends to getting actors to tap into their abilities and conveying those said emotions within the story. Hence, to achieve this, let us discuss some basics of how we, as people, operate to formulate compelling voices and direct moving performances.

How To Apply What Motivates Us, Into Our Own Films

Vudu - The Pursuit of Happyness Gabriele Muccino, Will Smith ...
Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

When it comes to people, we all know how extremely complex we can be, and everyone around us. It is never an easy task to figure out. Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere, and that could be recognizing how some essential experiences influence everything we do. These are our native culture, genetic makeup, appearance, and our current and past circumstances and situations. Because of our exceptionally unique lives and being an artist, we have a natural need to tell our version of the human condition. Then the question becomes, how do we create compelling characters and effectively? One way to approach this is by breaking down the different factors affecting the human mind to understand better why different cultures and environments affect us and motivate us to act in particular ways.

So, make it a priority to discover what makes us “tick” and learn what inspires our actions. Then graduate to learning how vital self-esteem and body language are, along with understanding how and why different cultures and environments affect us and cause us to react in a specific way. Observe everything as an artist to aid in telling the most genuine stories possible. Because through this, we gain a greater perspective of how people make sense of the world they live in and behave accordingly.

How To Approach Understanding Yourself to Tell Great Stories

7 Reasons Why “The Master” Is Paul Thomas Anderson's Underrated ...
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master (2012)

Beyond understanding everyone else, it is just as important to know thy self. Human behavior entails how we act based on different personal factors, such as our attitudes, character traits, and social beliefs. Since our physiological needs can influence our perceptions of others, the way we make sense of the world directly influences our interactions. Each person on the planet lives a different life from the other, with distinct experiences, and our ideas and attitudes can be similar or different, from one person to the next. Now add in how we are all affected by our combined life experiences, a great many factors can then influence us.

Some examples are how the rules and social beliefs that govern our individual groups and societies form us. Religion, genetics, and mental health are other powerful influences on how a person behaves and reacts to life. The point is, there is never one reason why a person does something. Some behavior is even wholly unconscious, so looking for one reason why someone behaves a particular way will lead to serious misunderstandings. Additionally, another critical factor in understanding ourselves is knowing that we interpret ourselves through how other people see us. Other people’s ideas and reactions matter to us, so they significantly impact how we move and behave. Being as we tend to judge what we are like by the way people think of us and how they respond to us.

Identify Our Differences

File:Pocahontas e John Smith.png - Wikipedia
Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) Although the film has its problems, “Colors of the Wind” is a beautifully made exploration of different world perspectives.

Our society and culture that we live in work to form our “group” beliefs, illuminating shared ideologies. These have a strong influence on how we interpret certain events, explain what is going on to ourselves, and how we act. If we as filmmakers want to understand people better, we must make an effort to know their society and culture. We can all agree that so much of what we learn from when we grow up is about behaving in the way “our society” expects. As a result, when people with different cultures come together, biased assumptions can occur and end in them not understanding each other, or worse. Then there is the time period in which someone is born, and other factors like longevity, public health, living standards, and education variations. Where we live and work is an influential, forming variable along with our definition of personal space.

The Most Important Factor: Body Language

City Lights (1931): the course of true love never did run smooth ...
Charlie Chaplin in City Lights (1931) One of the masters of body language in cinema.

Most people gravitate towards believing nonverbal communication (subtext) more than the words (text) actually said. Naturally, most are inclined to pay notice to a person’s body language and tone of voice than we do to their actual words. Facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice are essential factors for informing us about our attitudes and feelings. The key is to know these feelings to understand how we should respond to them. I, for one, think the best content has stories and actors that can convey poignant information with subtlety. Such as the brewing hate displayed through a series of looks between Eli and Daniel in “There Will Be Blood,” or the deep pain in the eyes of Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros, “Joker.” There is also power in words chosen and how they are spoken to convey extra information and build a more vivid performance. Quentin Tarantino’s knack for dialogue and his character’s diction creates memorable and delightfully entertaining performances. It helps to listen to the pattern of word’s people, or characters are using to find out what they “really” are saying—or not saying. Additionally, eye contact may be the most intimate and powerful of them all. Creators can utilize it whenever it feels right to capture their audience furthermore.

Basic Human Needs

Every person has a sense of self-worth or self-esteem, as we choose to believe we act and think a certain way and what we are good or bad at. Healthy self-worth is the ability to accept whom we are by recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and our value as a person. Thus, naturally, people look for sources that reinforce how they see themselves in a positive light to fuel our sense of identity. For a person to develop healthy self-esteem, two psychological needs have to be satisfied. These are positive considerations from other people like love, affection, and the need to explore and develop or own interests, ideas, and talents. Fortunately, most people have positive self-esteem; however, problems can arise when our need for endorsement from others is in direct conflict with our own abilities. Those who suffer from low self-esteem will typically believe they are failures or inferior to other people and seek positive experiences to compensate for negative thoughts.

MOVIE: Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki – GEEKY MYTHOLOGY
Howl’s Moving Castle: When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle.
Review: Howl's Moving Castle - Slant Magazine
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Conclusively, creators should keep in mind human’s basic needs and the role they play in our nature. And recognize that no matter where their characters are from, humans worldwide have basic (food, shelter) and higher needs (knowledge, beauty, goodness, justice, order). Each day, people all over the world strive to achieve these two classes of needs. When our basic needs are not met, they become the main object of our daily goals. If the higher needs are not met, they begin to motivate our behavior. All this to say, there is strength in knowing how you operate—the good and bad—to illuminate the creative process and bring forth the most dynamic characters. As artists, we need to prioritize understanding human behavior, as it reveals what “really” motivates them to take action. We can then apply these human traits to our fictional characters and be better-informed filmmakers, to block scenes better, and gain greater confidence in guiding the actors to authentic performances.

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