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Carlos Cuarón’s Advice On The Creation Of Characters At The 18th FICM

By: Ximena Cuevas

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Cuarón presented the webinar “La vida de los personajes: de la palabra a la imagen”, moderated by the screenwriter and coordinator of the 2020 Forum on Indigenous Peoples, Marina Stavenhagen, in collaboration with the Sundance Co//ab platform by the Sundance Institute.

Within the seminar, Cuarón answered the question: “Where do characters come from?”, evoking the concept of the hero that has existed since ancient times – which is a basic element of any narrative. Now, in the 21st century, the figure of the hero is known as the protagonist.

There are different ways of constructing a narrative, however, the filmmaker confessed to having a preference for those narratives driven by the characters. Cuarón used the acclaimed Y tu mama tambien (2001, dir. Alfonso Cuarón) as an example, talking about the peculiarity of three characters main and a narrator who generates different stories within the narrative.

For the construction of a character

The director said that, when talking about characters, we talk about ourselves, emphasizing immediacy and our context as guiding points for the beginning of this process. He added that it is important to have an understanding of human behavior: “The more we understand each other as individuals, the better we can shape a character.” Our philosophy and beliefs create our life attitudes, shaping the decisions that define us, which ultimately generate our actions, what shape us as human beings.

On the other hand, the filmmaker spoke about the voice of the characters, distinguishing the narrative voice from the character’s voices. He suggested that thanks to the elements mentioned above –philosophy, attitude, decisions and action – it is possible to recognize when you have found the right voice. He added that when it comes to the development of all characters, in the end, they will always have some trait, or energy, of the people you meet in your context.

From Imagination to Reality

When the script and the construction of the characters were completed, the filmmaker talked about a trick which he calls “the law of contrast,” because when there is a contrast there is the possibility of a narrative, that is, cause and effect. In addition, he differentiated the meaning of contrast and contradiction. “The characters have to generate congruence with the universe we are creating; it needs to be coherent and have a logical relationship.”

He stressed that identifying the objective is a fundamental element in the construction of characters since it is the dramatic need that will facilitate us to generate conflicts within the narrative. Despite the existence of different ways of narrative construction, the filmmaker mentioned that even those filmmakers like Andréi Tarkovski, who sculpt time, had to be guided by a basic rule: “As a writer, you have to know absolutely everything about your characters” since “there is nothing bigger sin in cinema than to be incongruous.”

In the search for the characters, Cuarón emphasized the importance of conducting a good casting, which allows you to find the energy of the characters in the actors and then generate a bond of trust. “The actor’s work is a work of great vulnerability, they are constantly exposed to the public,” he said, recalling the need to create a friendly environment that allows actors to display their work. Talk and communicate important points to strengthen the bond.

 “Nothing is set in stone” is the philosophy of the Mexican filmmaker, who suggested that if it is necessary to change something within the screenplay, it has to be done, it is important to change whatever that the project demands to be changed.

You can watch the full seminar clicking this link.