Most people are shocked to learn that I, a former Miss Congeniality pageant princess, sparkly unicorn of a woman, wrote a hardcore, gritty drug-infused motocross movie. (Surprise!) “Who’s this girl and what the hell does she know about dirt bikes?” This was a constant criticism I got from “bro’s” and the motocross culture. And they were right. I didn’t know a thing about motocross before I started writing BRO’.
What I did know, what I understood in my basic nature, was the desire to be accepted. The basic human need for significance. Everyone, at one point in their lives has wanted to be a part of the popular crowd. When my writing partner and director, Nick Parada first pitched me the story, there was no motocross. It was a story of a guy who wanted to be cool. And who hasn’t wanted that at some point in their lives? (Admit it, you still kind of do.) Everyone wants to feel significant and loved. Our main character just happened to find love and significance in this bro’ subculture. He also needed variety, another basic human need. He was bored with his current path, and desired a way to shake it up.
If you break down nearly any story, from sci-fi to silent film, when you remove all the special effects, costumes, and settings, you get the six basic human needs, the driving force of the character. You know these needs intrinsically. We’ve all got them. The first four are the basic human needs. They’re our lifeblood. The last two are what it takes to live a completely fulfilled life.
The Six Human Needs
We need a foundation. This means we need to have certainty in our relationships. We need to know that our partner will be there when we need them. We need safety and stability. This can also mean the stability of our personal routine. a ritual or organization that keeps you on track. If certainty is taken away, this can put you and your character on a quest to find it.
For example, Anna in the movie Anastasia, was raised an orphan and has lost her certainty of who she is and where she came from. This causes her to go on a beautifully haunting, animated quest to find her certainty. When she ignores the path she’s supposed to take for a “sign,” she finds…
If we never vary our routine, we get bored. That’s why we need certainty’s sister: uncertainty. We need new challenges to keep life interesting, to keep up stimulated and on our toes.
In BRO’, our lead character Johnny was searching for variety, a change from his boring job at the local gym. When he discovers the high-flying, hard partying, money-making world of freestyle motocross, he’s up for the literal adrenaline rush. It’s a stimulating change to the life he had.
We need to feel special and worthy of attention. Sometimes this means stepping into a leadership role or speaking up for someone. This need is what makes the hero rise to the challenge. For example, Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness, was willing to risk it all to get a better job, to make more money, so he could feel more significant in his life and create a better life for his son.
However, some characters, usually the “bad guys” achieve significance negatively. They seek to achieve their goals by any means necessary, unscrupulous or not. They get notoriety and attention, but in a negative way. Take Loki in The Avengers, for instance. He wanted to feel significant and be the supreme ruler of Asgard, so he made a deal with those alien creatures and reigned down hell on New York City to try to achieve his means. (Hulk sure showed him…puny god.)
4. Love + Connection
Every character, every human needs love. We need to feel connected to someone or something. That’s why in nearly every movie on the planet, there is a B-plot that involves love and connection in some way.
For example, even though the B-plot of the movie Erin Brockovich is about her starting a romance with her biker neighbor, the heart of the movie stems from a deep love for her kids and the desire to give her kids a better life, as well as a deep love and connection for the victims of PG&E’s gross negligence.
In order to live fully, you need to be able to develop and expand. This means continuous, lifelong learning. You know the saying, “If you’re not growing your dying.” Why do you think everyone cheers for Rocky? It’s not just because of the “Eye of the Tiger” or the other killer theme songs that make montages awesome. It’s because we connect with his desire to grow, to become the best, to win the competition. In his drive for significance, we root for his growth.
A truly fulfilled life, involves contributing to society. We need to believe that we are here on this amazing planet for a greater purpose than to just survive. Contribution involves helping people, giving to charity, paying it forward.
This is one of the reasons why everyone loves Jim Carry’s turnaround in Liar Liar. He goes from being a cheating, lying lawyer to having a complete conscious transformation into a loving, giving, humble human being, who actually wants to give back and help society…and get his son back, of course.
When you can break down any character into these human needs, everything else you can research. The heart of the story is the basic human needs your characters are trying to fill. All the details —the setting, the costumes, the period, the tricks—that’s the fun part. That’s the research. It’s the fluff to the heart of the story. Write on!