Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Your character contrasts should come from character, not clothes.

One of my favorite podcasts, How Did This Get Made, did an episode this week on TANGO & CASH. Some of you might remember this as the underwhelming 1989 teaming of Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone. I was a little too young to discover this teaming of the titans when it first came out, so as a Lois & Clark viewer who discovered this movie in the mid-90s, I knew this as the movie where Teri Hatcher plays a stripper with a rather odd stage outfit.

This movie is VERY 80s. In fact, we've probably reached the point where its overwhelming 80s-action-ness makes this a campy delight. The idea is that Tango (Stallone) and Cash (Russell) are mismatched cops who have to clear their names after being framed by a crime lord. Tango and Cash are L.A. supercops, with Tango being a rich detective who always wears crisp Armani suits, while Cash looks more like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. This is fitting because Lethal Weapon is one of the earliest examples of the "cop movie where polar opposite partners have to overcome their differences to work together." It was such a staple of the period that I remember Roger Ebert once joking that every police department must have some computer that automatically pairs detectives with their temperamental opposites.

HDTGM points out something very important about TANGO & CASH though - the extent of the conflicting characterization only goes as far as the wardrobe. Temperamentally, there's not a lot to distinguish the characters. They're two guys who don't like each other and have to put that aside, but that's not the same thing as having opposing personalities that clash on a fundamental level. So I'll use that to offer this tip - when writing, make sure that you're not using clothing, physical appearance or backstory as the sole ways of differentiating your characters. There has to be more depth to your characters than just their look. If their histories are different, that should inform their characters in a way that brings those conflicting agendas into the drama.

Basically this is another way of reiterating the old rule of "cover up the character names and see if you can still tell the difference between the characters."

1 comment:

  1. The question we should ask ourselves before we write is which comes first: the characters or the story? Weak or awkward characters drive a weak or awkward story, which kind of hones your point. :)