The Difference Between a Character and Plot Driven Film

Whether you are writing or directing a film, it’s important to distinguish between what is a plot or a character driven story. A story uses either plot or character to drive its action. We can think about Star Wars in terms of the action defining the plot. The characters are memorable, but the plot drives everything. Understanding the crux of why that is helps you become a better filmmaker.

 

A plot driven story defines what the characters go through and how it changes them. Going back to our Star Wars example, most of the characters in the film could be changed in some way without altering the film. Obviously we still need our heroes, but the script could have changed certain details about the characters and the result would be the same. The single exception to this is Luke Skywalker, but even he does not change the ongoing struggle to end the Empire’s stranglehold on the galaxy.

Any Batman film is going to be a character-driven plot, on the other hand, because the titular character must be in the film. It is an examination of Batman and his struggles, rather than an event already taking place. Another example is something like There Will Be Blood, which can seem almost devoid of plot on the first viewing. This is a highly character-driven film that studies how outside circumstances shape people.

Memorable characters can exist in plot-driven films, just as interesting plot twists can exist in character-driven films. Still, the director’s job is to find and maintain the focus of the film.


 

Bio: The Matthau Company is a production company for film and television owned by Charlie Matthau. For more information about the work of Walter or Charlie, visit the Charlie Matthau Company website.

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