Skip to main content

Writing characters actors want to play

I just watched the movie Interstate 60 the other day, and it sucked. Like, I don't want to be too harsh - it had a *lot* of redeeming qualities, that I'm about to talk about, but make no mistake - it really did suck. A lot of lazy writing, a lot of cliches (which I guess is lazy writing, but kinda more... rookie writing? But this guy isn't a rookie). You watch the movie, and you're like, "Holy crap, why is Gary Oldman in this? And why is James Marsden?" And you laugh that they were in such a dumb movie.

Then it keeps going, and Kurt Russel shows up. And then Chris Cooper. And you stop laughing, and start wondering what you're missing, because you're clearly missing something. Was the director some big shot or something? No, not really, though he did write the Back to the Future movies (which is why you weren't surprised when Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd were in it).

The answer is actually an interesting story, and an important lesson for writers. The writer/director, Bob Gale, had some other movie he'd written that he was shopping around, and nobody was biting. Every time, they'd ask if anyone important was attached to it, and he'd say no, and they weren't interested. So he said, "Screw it," and decided to write a movie with characters that all sorts of big names would want to play.

And damn if he didn't do that. For all of its faults, Interstate 60 does have a lot of interesting characters, that really do seem like they would be a lot of fun to play. And so he got Kurt Russel attached, and Gary Oldman, and James Marsden, and on and on and on, as all these actors saw all these characters that they really wanted to play. And then he got his movie made.

That is, I'm thinking, a better "cynical" Hollywood strategy than chasing the trends. If you wrote a character that Christopher Walken wanted to play, I don't think you'd have too much trouble selling your screenplay after that. So that's what I've been thinking about lately.

I've been having trouble figuring out what I want my next project to be - less because I can't come up with ideas, obviously, and more because of a paralysis of choice. I have so many ideas, ideas that I really like! How do I pick between them?

And so now I'm thinking, go with the ones with interesting characters, rather than interesting stories. And make the characters more interesting. Focus more on that.