The Emotional Toolbox
At the end of March, I was one of those lucky people who could participate in a two-day screenwriting master class by Laurie Hutzler, who worked as a creative consultant for BBC, Channel 4, and also worked with Oscar winners like Nick Park or Steve Box.
At the beginning of the lecture Laurie asked a question: Who is a writer among you? Who’s a director? Or producer? Well, I’m neither of them. I hope that in the close future I’m going to be a part of the populous family of editors. So we could ask the question: What made me to go to a lecture about writing? What does an editor benefit from this when he/she doesn’t even write?
The answer is multilayer. At first, of course, curiosity made me to apply. The curiosity that a person with so much experience in the business like Laurie is what kind of person from up close and personal. Is she capable to share her knowledge with such enthusiastic amateurs like myself, and if yes, how does she do it?
Of course, the fact is that if there is an opportunity to go to a special master class like this, why wouldn’t I go? But my most important reason to go was professional development. Because while we work on a video material with different characters, we must identify ourselves with them a little bit. An editor has to know about dramaturge, what emotions the characters deal with, what development they go through. In the editing room we rewrite the story, reshape the different characters who the audience finally get to see on the screen.
The keyword to all of this is self-recognition. In order to create the characters and understand them we must know and understand ourselves first. To do this we have to ask ourselves 6 questions: How do those people see us who don’t know us well? What are our biggest fears? What are our biggest virtues? What kind of people do we want to become? Which of our characteristics annoy other people? What are the things that upset us? We can think about the answers to these questions anytime, not only when we write. Because these are the characteristics that move us and our characters. These are that we use to hide from the world, and our most personal fears sting us into action and lead us astray. Our virtues that we face everyday and use them to overcome a problem. Our goals that we fight for. And then finally the lesson we learn or fail.
Laurie lead us into the world of the most important personality types through film examples. We learned how differently the characters see the world around them, how they see life itself and how they relate to love or what their dark side lies in. But they have one thing in common. A character never fully changes. A character learns and develops. But most of all, a character feels and this makes them real, credible personalities. And if they really feel, then we can have feelings for them too. If something catches us in them, entertains us, grabs our attention, that makes the characters memorable and then we can start to believe in them.
Laurie Hutzler: The Emotional Toolbox
2 days. 13 hours. A group of 40. With significant proficience. An extra one, with less practical knowledge: me. As I was heading to the conference room in the staircase, I heard an international teeming from upstairs. I might have been misled by the enthusiasm in their voices but I was surprised by the average age. It was higher than I expected. As if I stepped across a time gate by accident. I was concerned with my age and level of experience. I received a folder, an elegantly designed budget on my jumper from Équinoxe Europe, the organizer of the course, and I felt some kind of stupid anxiety.
Who’s a writer?
That was the first question of Laurie Hutzler to the audience, right at the beginning of the course. I didn’t raise my hand, it made me pondering to decide what the right answer was. And this insecurity led to even more questioning. What am I doing here? The answer was right there in the folder: “Our master courses are dedicated to anyone dealing with scripts – who write them and also who read them.”
How can we get to the heart of the story?
Laurie has found the way. Not only to the heart of the story, also to the heart of her audience. At the same time, I wanted to find out if I was a victim of marketing and business, so I continued listening to her suspiciously. She has already worked for the BBC, Chanel 4, Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks, but I was not convinced by names, nor by the fact that she was talking about characters who has to connect with the audience emotionally. The most amazing thing was that she proved everything through demonstration and practice. She did move us emotionally… as she was asking about our first memories of films.
As if she was a psychologist, as if she knew everything about human nature. Some of us were trying to hide our papers from her, after answering 6 questions about our personalities. From these answers we started to build up a fictional character, with its imaginable but most likely ways of improvement. It felt more like a therapy. Our fears, desires and features can help us to climb the wall that separates us from creating lively and authentic characters in fiction. We only need self-knowledge and consciousness.
In a way it was a little distressful when we got to character analysis. Is it possible to create a piece of writing (which is supposed to be art) in such a mechanic way? No, it is not how it works. Laurie only equipped us with tools. To create lively characters, with whom we can forward our emotions to the audience. I’m glad I could participate in the course as a student of Budapest Film Academy.
As a Budapest Film Academy student, I got a chance to participate in a lecture by Laurie Hutzler, the well-respected American script expert. The lecture, being part of a master course series, was sponsored by the Hungarian National Film Fund and Media Desk Hungary. Was it useful? Does it help in writing? – people asked me at the end of the course.
Laurie Hutzler has already proved that she is not a novice in film making. As an expert of character developing, she has been employed by all the most successful film companies, like BBC, Diney, Lime Pictures and Pixar. My answer to the question is a definitely, yes, only by taking a look at her CV. From the beginning I was sure I could improve with her help.
Laurie Hutzler has been consultant to Oscar-winner movies, she has had lectures at Sorbonne, Camridge, The University of London, also in Dallas. She created The Emotional Toolbox, a model used all over the world in the business of filmmaking by professional screenwriters. But from the first moment of the lecture I was sure that this method does not only gives a hand to professionals, but it could help everyone to understand themselves.
A story is based on characters. A story is the basis of a film. The basis of a film is given by the authenticity and truthfulness of the characters. But how are characters built? What do they do and why? What do they think, how others think about them? Do they change as we do? Do we change at all?
In order to understand characters, we have to know ourselves and everyone around us; we have to go deep to psychology, we have to get familiar with a merely complex system of characteristic features. This is the point where Laurie Hutzler and her famous method becomes handy, with the 9 character types she grouped.
Personally I think, the most interesting and exciting part was to see how characters of well-known soaps and feature films work. Also to find out (with the help of funny and thoughtful demonstrations) how they don’t. A defect in character building in the process of script writing can easily lead to a fall in the reputation of a movie, even to the end of a series.
Laurie Hutzler was amazing. Being a bright, witty, pedagogically sensitive lecturer, she could pass on her knowledge in a simple way, with full of examples. It was definitely worth listening.
ELTE-Budapest Film Academy