Supporting Characters | Screenwriting Staffing | Jacob Stuart

by Screenwriting Staffing‘s Founder, Jacob N. Stuart. SS is currently offering 20% off their Premium Membership!

Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Midwest, but there is NO better sports movie in my opinion than Hoosiers. It’s the true David and Goliath story. But there are a lot of “David’s” in the storyline, way beyond a small Indiana school competing for the State Finals.

Let’s take Gene Hackman’s character, Coach Dale, for instance. A once well-established New York basketball coach, who has now been banned from basketball in the state of NY, takes on a team of 6­-7 boys in a narrow-minded school in Indiana, But winning is the least of his worries; he must first prove to the city and his “love” interest, Barbara Hershey, that he’s worthy of Indiana basketball. And while all of those storylines play out perfectly, my favorite relationship isn’t Coach Dale and the team, or Coach Dale and his love interest, but with Dennis Hopper’s character, Shooter.

Wilbur ‘Shooter’ Flatch: You gotta promise me you won’t get kicked outta no more games!
Coach Norman Dale: Scout’s honor.

See, Hopper’s character has two VERY important hurdles to cross in order for his character to succeed. 1) Eighty six the booze on game days so he can be an Assistant Coach. 2) Successfully eliminate booze from his life so his son will respect him (who happens to be on the team) and the entire town where he’s been blacklisted. 

What makes Shooter such an entertaining and important supporting actor? Because his faults are human, and something we can all relate to. Not all of us will take a High School basketball team to the finals. And, no, not all of us have a problem with the bottle. But at some point in our life, all of us will compete for the love of our family, but many “skeletons” along the way will hinder the process. Note: Dennis Hopper was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” at the Oscars for his role in Hoosiers.


Here is a short list of ways to enhance your script by enhancing your Supporting Character(s)

1) Contrast. Have you ever thought someone was more attractive than they really were just because they were standing by someone in the bar who was…well… hideous? Same theory goes with your supporting character, as well. You can set your protagonist apart, making him/her stand out and amplify the traits you give him/her simply by making your supporting character the polar opposite. This is an excellent device used in television all the time. Take ‘Cheers’, the TV Show – another favorite of mine – and compare Sam Malone (the main character) to Dianne Chambers (supporting). Because of their different taste in movies, sex, relationships, friends, and everything else for that matter, it’s easy to identify who the “playboy” is and who the “brain” is. Instead of riddling your script with “dialogue”, having to explain to the audience what kind of “guy” Sam is, it’s much easier to create a supporting character that is the exact opposite.


2) Experiment. When writing your protagonist, you have to be very careful and detailed. This will be the character that drives your story. If this character isn’t lovable, or at least appealing, your movie will FAIL. But with supporting characters you can write “outside the box”. Think about the ‘Dark Knight’. We know Batman is the main character, right? But why did you keep watching the movie over and over again? Because of the Joker. While much of the Joker’s character should be credited to Heath Ledger’s performance, Nolan did a wonderful job creating this character. Nolan doesn’t hold back, and creates a witty, dark, and emotionally unstable supporting character, which can challenge Batman in every way. A lot of writers would be scared to create a character like this, worried this might ruin their script. Quite the contrary. You can’t go “too” wrong with your supporting character. It’s much easier to replace supporting actors rather than the main actor. So experiment. Think outrageous and give your character the most striking and comedic traits known to man!


3) Calm Down. Don’t be afraid if your supporting character begins taking over the story… to an extent. Think about Johnny Depp’s character in the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. The plot (A blacksmith trying to save his love interest from a bunch of savage, now undead pirates) was a masterpiece, and the protagonist (Will Turner, played by Orlando Bloom) was developed brilliantly, but it was Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow) that pushed the way for a sequel. But, still, my favorite example reverts back to “Cheers”, with Dianne and Frasier. Dr. Frasier Crane was introduced in Season 3 to cure Diane (and date her), “proving” that her feelings for Sam were now over, which would allow her to work back in the bar distraction free. Frasier was never meant to be a lead role. But the audience loved him, and the writers capitalized on it, and that’s why we see in later seasons many of the plots revolving around him, like him even getting married and having a child. And, which I’m sure you are all very well-aware of, resulted in his own spin-off, too. So don’t fear a powerful supporting role. That character needs to have just as much depth and importance.


Please Keep In Mind. Don’t let your supporting character completely take over your script. We see this all the time, and it makes the movie uneasy, unbalanced, and confusing. Creating your supporting character should be fun, but don’t get carried away. If your supporting character doesn’t drive the story, try these 3 things:

— Define the protagonist role.

— Illuminate the theme of the story.

— Or, cut the character out all together, it’s NOT needed.

(Writer’s Bio) Jacob N. Stuart is the Founder of  Screenwriting Staffing, an organization that puts screenwriters and screenplays in contact with industry professionals. As the CEO for Screenwriting Staffing, he and his team have produced over 150 screenwriting success stories ranging from scripts sales, options, and paid writing jobs. Jacob is also an award-winning and represented screenwriter. He has had over 15 scripts options &/or produced to screen, airing in over 10 different countries. He hold a degree from The Los Angeles Film School in Screenwriting. Here is a teaser trailer for his upcoming feature film, in which he wrote and directed, An Addicting Picture: WATCH HERE!