What makes a great film? Along with the plot and a successful visual experience, characters are an essential part to making an audience emotionally connect to a story. When we sit down to commit 1 ½ to 2 hours of our time to a movie we would like to be fully engulfed in the journey of the characters; to find ourselves “in the story”. How do filmmakers make characters that pull us in and make us emotionally invest in the plot? 

One way this I done is through technical camera and sound work to “physically” put the audience in the shoes of the characters. Using POV (Point of View) shots enables us to see exactly what the characters are seeing.

A “helpless” point of view shot. Kill Bill

ECU (Long extreme close-ups) of the character make us feel that we’re on the same page in their struggle, thinking the same thoughts along with them and arriving to conclusions as they do. 

An “Anxious” long extreme close-up. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Hearing their thoughts gives us exclusive insight into their personality or hearing what they hear like in What Men Want and Bruce Almighty. [1]

The writer has an equally important role in making a character relatable and affixes certain attributes to them to do so. One is giving them a flaw like the inability to let others in. [2] Unless you are a narcissist, you can relate or at least appreciate the flaws in a character since most of us are flawed in some way. This is shown perfectly through Will in Good Will Hunting

Another is giving them a hard decision to make like the one Batman must make in The Dark Knight between choosing to save Rachel or Harvey Dent. In making hard choices, the character will show their ability to rise up in the face of adversity, which can also lead to the much loved “underdog” story. This is best shown in Frodo’s acceptance of the journey he must take to save Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Another relatable quality a character can have is that of yearning for something more. Like being flawed, wanting something is a very human characteristic and something we can all relate to. Disney does this excellently with characters like The Little Mermaid, Moana and Jasmin in Aladdin (2019).

Jasmine in Aladdin (2019)

By giving the audience ways that they can see themselves within the characters they are watching, we become emotionally invested in what happens to them. Throughout the movie, we empathize with their flaws, cheer them on through their challenges and express ourselves vicariously through their desires.