It’s All About the Characters

Hollywood loves to focus on action that involves multi-million dollar budgets. Then they wonder when these multimillion dollar movies flop at the box office. It’s because Hollywood put all their money on special effects (think “Mortal Engines” or “Rambo: Last Blood”) rather than actually focusing on telling a story with interesting characters who achieve a resolution in their lives.

Small, indie films don’t have the budget for car crashes, computer-generated special effects, or massive explosions with stunt people flying through the air. Instead, these smaller, indie films have to focus on telling interesting stories.

In “Sword of Trust,” a woman discovers that her grandfather in Alabama left her nothing for her inheritance but an old Civil War sword. The twist is that this sword supposedly proves that the South won the Civil War because it’s the sword the Union Army surrendered to the Confederates.

Based on this strange premise, the movie then focuses on developing all the characters and their interactions with each other. The woman who owns the sword has her lesbian friend with her. Together, the two of them decide to sell the sword to a pawn shop owner and his idiotic helper.

Because each character has specific goals and personalities, they constantly clash with one another in hilarious and interesting ways. This conflict stems from each character’s desires, which makes their struggles seem more realistic and believable. Contrast this with bad movies that introduce characters just long enough to help the plot before they disappear again with no explanation for why they helped the hero.

In “Mortal Engines,” there’s a scene where the hero is captured by slave traders. Then out of nowhere, a woman fights the slave traders to free him. Nowhere do we ever learn why this woman is fighting the slave traders and why she rescued the hero.

In comparison, “Sword of Trust” introduces us to four unique characters who all have goals of their own. The woman who inherits the sword just wants something more substantial for her inheritance than a sword. Her lover just wants to support and protect this woman.

The pawn shop owner who the two women try to sell the sword to just wants to make money. The pawn shop owner’s helper is a likable idiot who helps the owner out just enough to be useful, but still remains nearly useless enough to be annoying.

When these four characters clash, they create humor and advance the story at the same time through their conflict and interaction. That’s far more effective than simply blowing something up like in “Rambo: Last Blood.”

So watch indie films to learn how to tell effective stories without over reliance on special effects, exotic locations, and incredible stunts. There’s a reason so many big budget Hollywood movies keep bombing. It’s because they embrace style over substance, and that’s the guaranteed formula for failure that Hollywood knows how to duplicate year after year.

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