Out of Character: The Making of Joseph
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What does Joseph want? To be a part of his brothers' lives and reunite with his family. What does Judah, Joseph's older brother, want? He wants the love and positive attention that his father Jacob reserves only for Joseph. What does Jacob want? Jacob wants to show the world how much he loves his favorite son, Joseph. Why does Jacob love Joseph so much more than his other sons? Because Joseph is the spitting image of his favorite wife. He's the first-born son of the woman he waited for all his life to marry.

Once we discovered the "wants" of the main characters, it was simple to figure out what actions they would take to satisfy them. Different characters often have opposing wants to each other, which leads to conflict. How the conflict is resolved is the story, the heart of the movie.

Another important discovery was finding the voice of each individual. Dialogue is action in its purest, simplest form. Think about your own voice for a moment. How do you speak? Do you generally give long, rolling answers to questions, or do you prefer to give short, curt responses? The way we speak says something specific about our nature. Do you like to use soft sounding words, or do you generally use sharp sounding consonants? When writing a character, it's not what a character says that tells us the most about their personality; it's how they say it.

Coming to video this holiday season, Joseph: King of Dreams. TM and © 2000 Dreamworks LLC.

Once we had a deeper understanding of our characters and what made them tick, the scenes had a new spark of life that had been missing all along. The characters were now driving the scenes, instead of vice versa. In time, ideas that were born out of character helped blend sequences so that they flowed into each other instead of feeling disconnected.

There is an unfortunate misconception that plagues many animated productions. Whenever a script isn't working, the usual plan of action is "fix it in the storyboarding process." Oftentimes, this leads to giving the board artists the burden of fixing the holes in the story. From there, the baton gets passed down to editing. "We can move things around in editing," is an overused mantra that gets dumped on the smallest department with the least amount of time. The lead editors on Joseph -- Mike Andrews and Greg Snyder -- often had only a few days to cut music and edit many sequences that were constantly being rewritten even as they dropped in the last few sound effects for the next day's screening. Although these last-minute procedures are part of the production process, a great deal of time (not to mention a film's budget) could be saved by starting out with a tighter, more thought-out script. We've all heard it before: "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage."

The next time I'm on an animated film and run into the inevitable problems that come up in the story process, it's good to know where I might find some answers. In this age where the development of digital technology is growing at a mind-boggling speed, I hope that we don't lose sight of our main objective as filmmakers: creating compelling characters and telling a story in the best way possible. It may be that it'll take more production time up-front in the script development stage but, as experience has proven, it'll save a great deal more down the line.

Joseph: King of Dreams will be available November 7, 2000 in U.S. retail outlets, with other territorities soon following.

Robert Ramirez has directed three feature-length animated films including Joseph: King of Dreams, Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue and Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. He is currently developing a screenplay in the UCLA Master Sequence in Screenriting Program.


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