It’s well known that I grew up in a rural farming community – cut off from pretty much any cultural references due to the constraints of my Amish background. When I left the community as a late teenager, I had to learn how to deal with a variety of life’s challenges: how to deal with complex situations, how to survive in a series of economic and social situations. More importantly I had to learn how to create a personal niche that would leave me solvent financially and emotionally while pursuing a career as a filmmaker without the benefit of film school.

My hardworking parents had taught me the values of hard work and routine, but I was sorely lacking in the other skills which I knew I would need in order to ditch the country bumpkin persona and survive in the big bad city. Emotional issues were deemed a distraction from the work of survival: planting and harvesting.

My solution was to go to the movies. It was at the movies that I learned how to relate with others, how to start and maintain a relationship, and how to deal with economic turmoil. Movies as varied as Ghostbusters, Truly Madly Deeply, Easy Rider and They Shoot Horses Don’t They? served as my emotional education.

I didn’t even know that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was a term until this morning! EQ is the  secret sauce in each of us that makes us different, and is the real ‘why’ of us at each of our cores. Emotional Intelligence is the tool we use to manage behavior, react with other people and make personal decisions that affect our careers and levels of prosperity.

Until EQ became part of popular culture, it was always assumed that people with high Intellectual Intelligence (IQ) would outperform their brothers and sisters with lower IQ’s.

Something very strange happened. Researchers found that people with lower IQ’s often out-performed their brainier rivals because their EQ was far stronger than those blessed with mere brain power. In fact, according to top performers in any field appear to have high EQ’s.

Now here’s a paradox: EQ, being so intangible is almost impossible to measure and even more difficult to know how much you have yourself. EQ tests are ridiculously expensive. While researching this for this article I stumbled across an article by Travis Bradbury highlighting the results of EQ tests carried out on more than a million people in America. He lists a dozen and a half qualities possessed by people with high EQ scores.

From this I jumped to the conclusion that screen characters too must show emotional intelligence. Why? Isn’t one of the reasons we go to the movies is to learn how to become better people? To learn how to deal with awkward social situations? To understand how best to strategise and make a career breaking decision? If true, then screen characters should also possess and display high EQ qualities.

The challenge then is how to create screen characters with high EQ’s. My theory is that when you have created characters with these qualities you will transform your story into something with eye candy that audiences won’t be able to tear away from.

10 Qualities Of People with High EQ

1. They know their emotional side

When I was on the farm I was taught how to paper over my emotions. Stoicism was considered a virtue. What happened to me of course was that an emotion without it’s due recognition went unnoticed and often would bubble up in different ways with associated problems of shyness and anger.

People, and indeed screen characters with high EQ’s handle emotion very differently. for example, I was taught to think that I was simply feeling ‘bad’ – and that it would soon go away after some good hard work. People with high EQ will describe their ‘down’ moments as ‘frustration’ ‘irritation’ or ‘anxious’. Pinpointing these emotions much more specifically also helps you to deal with the issue. And with that become successful.

2. They find other people fascinating

My Amish background glorified introversion. Turning the other cheek was considered a sign of strength. The subtext of this was never ever to question others, especially if they were from the big city.

On the screen, characters with high EQs demonstrate a curiosity of others. And you don’t need to be an extrovert to demonstrate curiosity. As Travis Bradbury says:

This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

On the subject of introverts, they often have more to offer film than extroverts.

3. They know the world is changing 

Change is one of the hallmarks of our life. Embracing and welcoming change is one of the traits of successful people. How people and your screen characters embrace and deal with change is something we will all be interested in learning from.

The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shows a world transitioning from the village to a city social stage. What we learn is how they succeed or fail at recognising this and how it impacts on their lives. In this movie, when the railroad is built (from Chicago) they failed to realise that they can’t keep robbing isolated banks and for the rest of the movie keep saying “Who are these guys?” Those guys were the forces of the next social stage and by failing to recognise the fact that society was changing they perished.

Can you show us how your movie people recognise change and then plan a course of action to deal with it and rise above?

4. They know their strengths and weaknesses

I guess has been my hardest lesson to learn, and I can’t remember which movies taught me this. In my own life I know I have physical strength and stamina thanks to the long hours on the farm. Recognising my own weaknesses and learning how to adjust has been my biggest challenge.

People with high EQ know this instinctively and tread carefully around their weaknesses and play to their strengths.

5. They follow their gut instincts about people

How many times have you gone into a project with someone who just doesn’t feel right? I have many times -and every time I haven’t followed my gut instinct about someone I have ended up burned.

I admire people with high EQ’s – they learn how to read people and judge whether or not a relationship with that person is beneficial or detrimental to their goals and ambitions. Their curiosity of people means there aren’t any mysteries and they understand people’s motivations no matter how carefully concealed.

I wish I was better at this. Can you write a script where I can learn more about this?

6. They don’t easily take offense

Someone with high EQ is not hurt by a wise crack joke. They can take criticism. Why? They know who they are and have learned to accept their positive and negative qualities.

7. They know how important “No” is

I’m talking here about self control. Being able to say NO reduces one’s exposure to burnout  and stress. Being able to say no requires the EQ of knowing your strengths and weaknesses and knowing whether or not you can afford the personal resources to commit to a mates film, or not.

8. They give themselves permission to make mistakes

People with high EQ give themselves permission to make mistakes.

Our office is across the road from Benjamin Franklin’s London home. When Franklin was feted for discovering electricity he said it was because he made 10,000 mistakes. Learning from one’s mistakes and how to distance them constructively is one of the hallmarks of a successful person, and shows they have a high EQ.

9. They neutralize toxic people

Of course in action movies our heroes are expected to neutrlise thir enemies with laser guns and we cheer when they finally do.

In our day-to-day lives we often have to deal with difficult people. A character with high EQ has learned how to approach toxic people by keeping their emotions and feelings firmly under control.

I have learned this the hard way. I’ve allowed my own emotions to start negotiating on my behalf with disastrous effect. Those close to me have a much higher EQ and have shown me how to look at the other person’s point of view, and to find a common ground from which a solution can be found.

Of course too, there are times when one simply has to scratch one’s head, smile to one’s self and use the proverbial grain of salt to protect one’s sanity.

10. They don’t beat themselves up

I add this one last trait -and one most valuable one that I learned from my parents: Stop Beating Yourself Up.

Constant self doubt and negative thinking is something a good number of my colleagues fall into. It is such a complete waste of space.

When you’ve finished your screenplay and no one is giving you good feedback, or when you’ve just had the umpteenth festival rejection it’s natural for your brain to start computing and perceiving rejection as a threat, when in fact all you are doing is allowing yourself to exaggerate the severity of the event.

Here’s what I learned from my parents, and something people with high EQ demonstrate time and time again: Learn to separate thoughts from facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity. That way you can benefit from PMA: Positive Mental Attitude!

Fade out

I ‘m sure there are many more qualities of characters with high EQ than the few I have listed here. Please enter your thoughts into the comments box below. That way we can all learn from each other. If you have any movie references please note them down too – I’d find that most attractive.

See if you can incorporate some of these traits into your screen characters. I will want to watch and learn!



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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