Filmmaking To The Max: How Subtle Detail Influences Character


(Kyla) #1

Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.

What are you wearing?

(I ask that for the sake of this column, not in an attempt to mimic a gross teenage boy who wears too much Axe.)

You’re probably wearing something you like, right? Something you feel comfortable in? And if you don’t feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, then you’re probably wearing it to put on a show. To look acceptable by society’s standards, or just to look super put-together. (Both are absolute moods.)

Think about what you wear. What does it say about you? What might other people think about you based on your hair, your makeup, your nails, your shoes?

All these things don’t define you, but they all speak to some aspect of who you are. It’s the same with the characters in webseries. It’s those details that help create this world that you’ve set your story in and help develop your characters. Even details in blocking can help determine power dynamics. Your most powerful storytelling should only be amplified and further developed by the choices behind the scenes. You can learn a lot about a character just by looking at them.

Maya Tomala as Melinda Kavinsky

What can you tell about this character? I know her character far too well, but based on the picture and trying to look objectively, I’d say the following:

  • She’s feminine (the skirt/pink in the skirt/heels)
  • She’s in a position of power (the gold/how she’s literally on a high point)
  • She’s definitely not from this time period (curled side ponytail, the outfit in general)
  • She has something someone wants (the keys)
  • She cares greatly about her appearance (outfit, nails painted)

You can get a lot from just a picture. The scene this picture is from served as our first introduction to Melinda. Obviously, the things she says in her first scene help shape her character, but we can’t say in a scene that Melinda’s beautiful and put-together if she doesn’t appear that way. Melinda also serves as a foil to this character:

Certified Human Disaster as Angie Zuccaro

Melinda presents herself as ultra-feminine. She purposefully wears pinks and dresses like a girly-girl so people underestimate her and undermine her, so it’s easier for her to manipulate and trick them. Angie, on the other hand, prefers to weaponize her femininity in a different way. She’s brash and unapologetic, and the red is a specific choice she’s made-- she’s hardly ever seen without it because a) it’s part of her brand and b) she doesn’t want to be underestimated or undermined.

Here’s what happens when they first interact with each other:

The blocking and angles are super intentional here. Melinda’s looking down on Angie-- she doesn’t have a personal vendetta against her, but she just isn’t a fan. Angie, however, stands her ground because she wants something from Melinda. As much as Melinda’s angle implies she has the upper hand, Angie isn’t looking up at her. Melinda believes she’s on higher ground, but Angie believes they’re at the same level. This is different than another time Melinda interacts with people she’s not a fan of:

Jake Vinken (left) and Sean Pettigrew (right) as Nick Lynch and James Reed

Again, Melinda is towering over people sitting, but unlike Angie, Nick and James are looking up at her. They know she’s right. She’s also being far more aggressive, with her hands on the table, than she was with Angie because the power dynamic is clearer here.

Remember the stair picture from earlier? Melinda appears in a very similar scene here:

Though the scene is five episodes later, the gist is the same. Melinda’s manipulating her brother and prying about a girl he’s into. There’s even the same joke about the car keys that runs throughout both scenes. However-- Melinda’s not standing on stairs this time. She’s sitting by the window. She visually doesn’t have the upper hand on Thomas. They’re on equal playing ground-- not because Thomas upped his game, but because they’re both being played.

So now that I’ve spammed you with a million pictures of the wonderful and incomparable Maya Tomala, here are some things to keep in mind as you build your world.


Ben Faulknor (foreground centre) as Benj Wright, Hannah Licop as Julie Campinsi (left), Stephanie Penner as Taylor Rosen (background centre), and Eden Griffin as Jackie Andrews (right)

  • A lot of my characters have specific colours that they wear.
  • In this scene, Benj, who usually wears blues and greys, is in red, which is a stark contrast to his friends clothed in blue. This is intentional-- he’s in a much different place that none of them can grasp, and this is the last time before he decides not to deal with it anymore.
  • Angie wears reds because she’s trying to seem powerful and wanted. The only time she doesn’t have any red is when she has her guard down-- or in one case, wears pink specifically to romance someone.
  • Jackie wears blues because she’s a confident, loyal, trustworthy character. In addition, it is a typically masculine colour (especially was in the time period) and she’s constantly trying to prove herself to be as competent as the guys in her grade.
  • Melinda, again, wears pink specifically to be seen as feminine; meanwhile, Patty wears pink because it is feminine and what’s expected of her-- it also makes her seem passive and demure.


From left to right: Daria Miran as Heather Jackson, Hannah Licop as Julie Campinsi, and this really weird girl who just kind of showed up one day and didn’t leave as Angie Zuccaro

  • Blocking is necessary for movement and to keep things visually interesting, but subtle choices can add movement.
  • For example, in this scene, Heather’s just learned that she’s been totally screwed over. Julie is leaning more towards Angie to create the illusion that Heather is isolated from the two of them, who are going to get through this situation without getting into any trouble.


Jacob Miller as Thomas Kavinsky

  • Angles can denote a lot of things-- I specifically employ highs & lows to display power dynamics.
  • In these scene – the counterpart to Melinda on the stairs – we shot Thomas’ angle from the stairs behind Melinda so we could look down on him just like Melinda is.
  • We also used Melinda to dirty the frame, but we didn’t use Thomas to dirty Melinda’s frame. This was because we wanted to be reminded on Melinda’s presence when we were on Thomas, but not of Thomas’ when we were on Melinda-- aka she matters more.


Harmony Dawn as Vanessa Santos

  • Meet Vanessa!
  • Meet Vanessa’s iconic jean jacket!
  • Vanessa wears this jacket everywhere-- it’s her staple item. However, after she goes through something traumatic and starts on her teen rebel phase, she leaves it behind.
  • When she finally comes to her senses and tries to regain some sense of normalcy, although she has changed a lot, she takes the jean jacket back.


  • You totally share clothes with your friends, right?
  • Okay, this may be a total low-budget thing, but we tried to have characters who were friends share clothing.
  • Melinda and Angie do it the most because they quickly become co-dependent, but Jackie, Vanessa, and Heather have also become the sisterhood of the travelling sparkly shirt

In conclusion: don’t skimp on the subtle details! Your characters should be developed enough to have wardrobe opinions, and you should know your story well enough to block and compose shots according to what’s going on. This stuff can make or break scenes!

(Bri Castellini) #2

I’m wearing a giant plaid button-up shirt, Teva sandles, and two braids, because I’m an absolute Colorado cliche despite living in New York City and to be honest I’m feeling very called out right now.

(Bri Castellini) #3

You’ll be hearing from my lawyers

37 AM

(Kyla) #4

:joy::joy::joy: I actually died laughing when I was watching brains & I realized that alison and angie are like the same person but in different universes (right down to the constantly curled hair)