When plotting and writing a movie, the focus is understandably on the protagonist/hero, but it’s important to consider sub-characters as part of the overall structure of your film.
Sub-characters are the primary means of creating obstacles and reversals. Sub-characters give the hero an opportunity to speak his/her heart and intent. They generate conflict so exposition can be delivered in a manner that is part of revealing character.
Watching a movie like Mafia Mama, that takes a high concept and is targeted at audiences looking for sheer escape and entertainment, the first thing one notices is the number of sub-characters in the film. Mild-mannered, empty-nester, Kristen is forced to replace her Grandfather as Mafia boss in Calabria, Italy.
The movie is big, funny, violent, and the ultimate example of a fish-out-of-water. Kristen was never prepared to be the boss of anything, and now with her Grandfather’s death, a mob war has been ignited.
But if you look at the movie, every frame is populated with sub-characters who are in place to help tell Kristen’s story. The sub-characters set up comedy moments, action events, obstacles, and complications. It is her growing relationship with the sub-characters that allow the audience to watch her change, grow and find strength.
The sub-characters in this film can be described as predictable stereotypes, but it is the bending of old mob movie stereotypes where much of the humor is derived.
In looking at the sub-characters, Kristen’s goal is illuminated. Kristen’s transformational arc is fulfilled. Each sub-character is in the film to make her journey to her goal a fun, explosive, exhilarating ride. For all the characters that are part of the film, the story remains focused on Kristen’s goal to the very end.