21/100 Making a Miniseries

On my main blog I’ve been working through Chris Brogan’s 100 topics more as a method of amusement and to keep me writing. The rest of the entries have been a bit easier than the current one and the context of the mini-series would only make sense in the LateGaming blog as opposed to CIMOTA.

So here we are.

Within the remit of LateGaming has always been the writing of roleplaying games. I’m resigned to the idea that I’ll never write the Great Irish Novel so I’m not even going to entertain it. Parallel to the writing of RPGs though I have been interested in the writing of stories and by extension the thought that they could be made into screenplays and perhaps into short films or even movies. So we’ll talk about making a miniseries of movies :- this could be a video podcast or anything.

A couple of years ago, unsure that I could string together a full movie, I wrote an outline for three interconnected short films which taken together would weave into a larger story. I had issues with pacing and desperately wanted to avoid the cliche so common to writers of shorts that a film can be interesting if it involves a man walking into a room, sitting down at a table and using witty cinematic dialogue against another occupant of the room (and yeah, we filmed this….badly).

So what do we want to see? We want to see some action, certainly something more than watching two grown men with bad accents fence with words in a nondescript room. Let’s get some interest in there. Make the room interesting. Where are they? Why are they there? Which one owns the place? It means challenging every aspect of it and providing an answer. And when the answer is shit then you can expect the production to suffer as well.

Making a miniseries isn’t really more difficult than making a single production just as it’s probably no more difficult to make a full-length feature than it is to make a ten-minute short. The deciding factor may be money especially if you’ve rented equipment and you’re paying your actors. Time is money and it can work out to be a lot of money. I’m going to assume that you’ve got your own camera (not unreasonable considering the drop in price of semi-pro HD cameras) and you either have the money to pay your actors or they’re doing it for their portfolio. Whatever the reasons: money is not an object.

What are the factors that turn three short movies into a miniseries?

  1. Connected Story
  2. Time Passing
  3. Continuity

We’ll address these one by one:

Connected Story
The most obvious thing is that there must be a metaplot which connects the three episodes. If they’re entirely different then they’re not a miniseries, it’s just three shorts. My recommendation is to have no less than three connections. These can be people, places, objects, vehicles, even environmental conditions.

In our miniseries, we’re going to have the following:

  • One central protagonist – the character is a young girl who will appear in all three shorts. The other characters she encounters will be relatively ephemeral. It’s probably best to keep the same actor if possible otherwise you have to spend time explaining this is the same person.
  • One simple theme – the theme is about her desire for a normal life. As this is a theme, we’re going to have to exercise show, don’t tell and build elements into each short which will illustrate her desire for a normal life. By extension, we’re going to have to show how her normal life has been taken away and how it, in every short, continues to be taken away or eroded.
  • One object – I’ve not thought much about this so for now we’ll make it a pen. It doesn’t have to be anything complex or difficult to find. It doesn’t have to be a sacred amulet or anything but you may have to work to get it in there.

Time Passing
You have to think about how much time passes between each episode. We have to assume some amount of time will have passed. Will the protagonist look older, will there be a change of environment, how will you represent the passing of time to make each short seem like a contained episode. You can show (again, not tell) how the characters have grown in the time passing.

  • The protagonist is introduced to the plot. This will be represented by her being ignorant of the plot. We’re going to establish the normal life that she loses.
  • The protagonist has grown following the events of the first episode. She may be the same ‘age’ but her dress, knowledge and mannerisms should reflect the changes that have taken place.
  • We would hope that in the third short we would have a resolution to affairs. We might have to show the changes that have been made to the character and her difficulty in re-assimilating herself to normal life.

Much like physics, causes have effects. People who are killed stay dead. Things that are destroyed, stay destroyed. If someone loses something, it’s an element of continuity that they have to find it in order to have it later. If they have family earlier, then they should have family later.

  • The pen we mentioned shall re-occur in all three shorts. In the first, she loses it. In the second she does not have it, someone else does. In the third, she regains it.
  • People who die, stay dead. This is going to cause some churn in the actors as some will only be involved for 1-2 episodes rather than all three. Some famous directors have re-used actors, for example, Romero used Joe Pilato in Dawn and Day, and it’s hard to count how often Rene Auberjonois has been in Star Trek.
  • If we introduce something early into the story, we need to flesh it out later. For instance, if in the first short our protagonist is travelling across country to find her aunts, then having that as the reason in the second short is good, unless plot events change this. And if they have, you need to examine whether or not you have shown or told the observer why.

I don’t want to get into it much more than this other than to say that at some point we will probably do something with this. I’m getting too old to be a protagonist these days (how’s that for ageism). It’s the story of a Twenty Third Letter person.

Masters of War

Human Unity, though most pacifist by most standards, does construct weapons for use by natural humans and Experts. They build weapons for their own security and defense as Human Unity has yet to commit a pre-emptive aggressive action. Despite this apparent cultural reticence, they design and manufacture weapons that would terrify and delight 20th century warmongers.

Human Unity employs Brilliant weapons. They provide accuracy and accountability even in the fog of war. Brilliant weapons totally eliminate the possibility of friendly fire and, if coded correctly, can also be prevented from inflicting more than flesh wounds. The reverse, of course, is true that Brilliant rounds can be targetted on a shoot-to-kill code.

Aboard Explorer and Battler craft, the weapons are orders of magnitude larger.

Kinetic Kill Vehicle – A high-vector attack craft armed with heavy armour, numerous point-defence weapons and a single high-yield detonation charge. The KKV is usually controlled by an Expert remotely. An Expert may also be installed within the vehicle.

Very Rapid Fire Coilguns – magnetically accelerated munitions seldom needing a warhead. A Battler may have a hundred coilguns installed in 4-gun batteries. The damage wrought by these clouds of fast-moving shrapnel are enough to shred most craft.

The most dangerous weapon in Human Unity’s arsenal is the Expert and more specifically, the Master Experts. Master Experts are artificial intelligences designed for war – that is, they are designed to win wars. Master Experts are never assigned to Explorer craft because they are the antithesis of everything Human Unity and the Exploratory Service strives for.

A Master Expert is supported by five Experts and all maintain the systems of Battler-class craft. A Battler is commonly double the size of an Explorer though it maintains less than half the crew. The remainder of the space is taken up with armour, weapons supplies and extra engines.

The 23rd Letter – Black Monday

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

The period following the end of the Second World War saw a time of huge change for the world. With peace restored, people felt it was safe to start a family again and the so-called Baby Boom ensued. Necessity had opened the door to the working woman and the signs of economic growth and prosperity were everywhere: jobs, families, houses and of course companies.

It was during this period that the Powers came into existence. During the war, several companies had assisted the government in their research into psychics. With the war over and military spending slashed, some of the brighter minds within the Projects turned to their colleagues in the private sector for work. Many of these companies went back to their original lines of business, but a small number continued their work in psychic research, providing lab-space, equipment and, most importantly, funding for teams of scientists determined to uncover the secrets of the psychic brain.

Many of these teams were shut down: after all, if a business unit cannot make money or shows no sign of being able to make a return, they are often the first to lose out in the annual budget rounds. But a few did well enough, through a combination of luck, brilliance and hard work. It was these few which eventually developed into the Powers of today.

With Government observation at an all time low, individual companies were able to relax safety protocols, test more subjects and in some cases expose entire communities to programs of drugs, psychic manipulation and selective breeding, all in an effort to produce more of what they desired most: power. Those companies who decided to take a more humanist approach to their research were quickly made obsolete, taken over or destroyed by rivals.

Were it not for the Cold War with Russia providing much of the cover, the Projects may have been able to stop the development of the Powers before it was too late. As it was, the governments of the NATO and Warsaw Pact nations were too concerned with each other to worry about what was going on in their own backyards. A blend of ruthlessness, subterfuge, assassination and recruitment kept the Powers safe while they accumulated wealth and knowledge.

In the mid-Eighties, with the Cold War winding down, the Projects finally started to take notice of the Powers and what they were doing, but it was already too late–the Powers were well entrenched, hidden, knowledgeable and above all, powerful. Weaker Project espers investigating suspected Power activity while stronger ones were made exorbitant offers to turn coat. In turn, the Projects gave more leeway to their operatives, living by the old adage of the end justifying the means.

This vicious circle continued until late 1987, specifically October 19th, also known as Black Monday. On that day, a well coordinated team of espers, working for Interra Holdings, used their abilities to bring about the largest one-day crash of world stock markets. Interra profited considerably from the crash and, somewhat unsurprisingly, all of their competitors lost out, some to the point of bankruptcy. Up until this point, the Powers had generally left each other alone, content to work on their own research and with their own teams, and occasionally to work together to common end. Black Monday opened up the floodgates.

Three things happened. Firstly, the larger Powers inflicted retribution on Interra. The Projects (and even the Press) reported astonishment at how quickly things like lack of sleep, paranoia, dyslexia and even the odd psychosis did to the mundane staff at Interra. Combined with a few well placed fires, blocked water mains and so forth and eventually Interra stock became junk. De-listing and bankruptcy followed shortly thereafter. The majority stockholders of the company turned out to be the same esper team who had cornered the market–they and their profits vanished without trace before any Power ever came near.

Secondly, Powers turned on each other. No longer seeing each other as potential allies against the Government, the Powers effectively eliminated each other, through legitimate means such as mergers and acquisitions, alongside shadier ones. This consolidation continued through the Nineties, and with the rise of globalization, the handful of remaining Powers settled into an uneasy acceptance of each other. Their activities became a lot harder to track, but their effects became a lot less prominent, and so the Projects eased off on the manpower dedicated to Power containment.

Thirdly, at around about this time, the first recorded Network cells sprung into existence. Up until this point, espers either worked for the Projects or the Powers–one of the two was considered safe haven. Whether or not Black Monday itself was a direct cause of the creation of the Network is unclear. The escalating violence between Projects and Powers alienated a lot of people, and when Powers turned on each other, people needed a place to go.

From the turn of the millennium, the Powers have evolved into what they are today–legitimate businesses, making lots of money in many countries, but with a hidden and darker purpose.

Human Unity

“In teaching there should be no distinction of classes.” – Confucius, Analects XV. 39

Human Unity is a technocratic utopia made up of 85% of Earth’s previous nations and all but two human-founded colonies.

As such, the vast majority of Human Unity is made up of natural humans and Experts from Africa, Asia and South America – the regions that were mostly ignored during the Conquest Wars. In the end they were forced to follow environmentally sustainable technologies in order to build their civilisation and using the lessons of the past, built upon the still-cooling corpse of the present, they were able to construct a society which abandoned the “Greed is Good” philosophy of Western Europe and North America.

It was not without great difficulty as huge swathes of land were ruined by the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons of the Corporate Syndicates. Oil fields, once a vital resource, were now either barren or irradiated for the next ten thousand years. Even the survivors of these regions had to be sacrificed as they carried the biological plague weapons which were, in the end, the endgame for the Conquest Wars.

Drawing down energy from the sun, tapping into the warmth of the Earth, making good use of their own arms and legs were the foundations of these new societies that would eventually become Human Unity. Nothing was wasted and eventually they found their productivity exceeded their needs and it was then that they looked outwards.

The elimination of economic and material scarcity remains the primary reason for the elimination of social evils in the modern world. There is no conflict between cultures of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ within Human Unity due to an abundance of materials, power and knowledge.

Outside of Human Unity, there are several nations on Earth who have not joined Human Unity for their own reasons. Some may be due to a fierce independence, some for economic or religious reasons. Human Unity remains constant as the global representative of humanity to the outer spheres.

The skeleton-state of the USA has declined membership as it continues to build and re-establish itself in the decades after the Conquest Wars. The USA remains a popular place for the young to visit, some for sentimental reasons, and many stay to help rebuild in the spirit of the frontiersmen who originally forged the nation.

Just north of the Western European Expanses, lie the Scandinavian nations, still bruised but not down from the Conquest War. More and more of their people are flocking to Human Unity and referendums held indicate the will of the people swings more towards joining Human Unity every day.

Human Unity is a culture of thrift. All of the people are well aware of their history and that to sustain human life on Earth, there must be sacrifices and effort.

In a society where material rewards are worse than meaningless, the only real rewards are philosophical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. That is not to say there is a lack of desire – the same emotions of old still beat within the breasts of these modern humans – but the societal norms are such that baser desires are much more despised. Social standing among your millions of peers is relevant as it fuels self-respect and respect for others. The openness of Human Unity means that deceit, greed, jealousy, theft and other ‘material crimes’ are punished thoroughly.

Human Unity has a general pacifist attitude. Having witnessed and recovered from the horrors of war, they abhor the concept and the practice of war though they recognise it has its uses especially in the face of a tyrant. As a result, service in the military is a necessary (and mandatory) chore and only a few involve themselves sufficiently in it to make a career. The use of Experts, in armed conflicts is to be expected and these Experts are considered to be very different to any other.

Human Unity is also a culture of invention. In both science and the arts, the people are encouraged to excel provide for the betterment of all. Without material promise, art is created for the sake of art, science for how it would make a positive impact on society. It is this desire for innovation, this curiosity regarding the unknown, which fuels the Exploratory Service.

In the wake of Alien Contact, Human Unity found itself well-prepared for a change in paradigm. Western religion, the last bastion of a primitive people, was almost completely thrown away and the vast majority now embrace Philosophy or Humanism as a creed. There was a new order to the universe which was embraced by the people after a short period of civil unrest which culminated in the Credo War.

Human Unity leaves the governing of the society to the people and Experts best suited to it. The Experts handle the decisions of law and order and natural humans act as a second court. The government-court system is only invoked when there is a ‘national’ issue or when there is a civil issue.

Civil issues are raised when a complaint is made that someone in the society is infringing the rights of others in the society. In many cases the decisions of the Experts are sufficient and need not be referred to the second court.

National issues usually involve the entire voting population. This is, by default, every natural human individual of 15 years or older and all Experts. Voting is not private.

Desruptive Elements, on the other hand, seldom reach the people and actions are wholly decided by the Experts.

RQ: Fantasy Games

Since I joined the group, we’ve been playing either Delta Green (check for kinnygraham’s Actual Play on rpg.net) or Gaslight Cthulhu. Michael’s RuneQuest represents the first game where we haven’t had guns and we are not playing characters who are completely in the dark.

We’re playing inhabitants of a world where Magic and the Gods are real. We accept the truths we see. Visions and dreams have meaning and while the appearance of a half-man-half-goat brandishing a sword might shock the delicate sensibilities of a Victorian gentleman or a Air Force Deserter, to a Templar of the Sun Dome it’s just something that needs killed and burned.

It’s a very different experience. We must play as if we are confident in the world, we do not express surprise at the Morokanth and we should be well-informed about the behaviours of the rare but dangerous dinosaurs that roam the plains.

They use the same system but the method of play is exceedingly different.

RQ: Something bad at Black Rock

Anaxippos removed his golden breastplate and greaves and started to unpack his kitbag. He opened the cap of the spiced oily lotion he had prepared and began kneading it into his tired limbs. Even from another building he could hear the raucous laughter of the men as they settled in for the night. Hesiod’s laugh echoed off the walls of the peaks as they relieved themselves and made crude comments about the womenfolk of the village. Soon they would be asleep, Hesiod with his leather cap reversed and pulled down over his eyes, Zakary curled up into a foetal position clutching his backpack. Del, fearful of the night, would be huddled close to his friend, Turtle, for warmth and comfort.

He arranged his pack as a pillow and stretched out on the cloth pallet which served as the smallest boundary between him and the smoothed rock floor. Countless generations had worn this floor smooth as they walked and sat and slept upon it and for a moment, Anaxippos felt he could hear the hustle and bustle of bygone generations before he slid into darkness.

He woke to hear the creak of the door. Silhouetted in the red light of the moon stood a young child clutching a crudely hewn wooden figurine. Anaxippos reached out to rise but felt his legs pinned. The child stepped forward and as fear gripped him, he summoned the spirit memory given to him by Sahlan back in Pavis. The tip of his spear began to glow with the light of Yelmalio and the child started.

The light of Yelmalio shone and dismissed the gruesome luminscence of the Lunar’s moon but Anaxippos saw the flesh of the child was squirming as if tentacles writhed beneath. The eyes, blackened sockets, struck him cold and then it spoke.

“Save us…”

Anaxippos woke alone. There was no child, the door was closed. But the tip of his spear glowed bright. He shivered and knew the chill he felt would not leave him until morning.

Meanwhile, not far away in the darkness, a ochre-stained baboon looked balefully at the peak and muttered to himself in Firespeech, “Light me….brothers”

Explorer ISD

The Internal Security Department manages all aspects of security aboard an Explorer. In a 24 hour period, a security officer is expected to juggle his duties between leisure time, passive duty and active duty.

While on Passive Duty, the security officer is on standby, expected to be available for duty quickly. They will constantly receive the latest security feeds from the onboard Experts but are not expected to act on them unless there is an Emergency or Disruptive Element.

Active Duty, requires the security officer to walk the halls as well as actively monitor and respond to any security issues which may arise.

Emergencies will bring all of the security officers on board to Active Duty and require that all staff attend their stations or remain in their quarters for the duration unless instructed otherwise. Coordination of the movements of security personnel is managed by the Security Expert in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

Disruptive Elements also bring all security officers to Active Duty. After that, the coordination is down to the Executive Staff as all Experts on board will be deployed to contain the Element. Due to the nature of Disruptive Elements, there can be no SOP, but in the absence of guidance, Emergency SOP would be followed.

An Explorer craft typically carries 30 security personnel, consisting of 25 Security Officers and 5 support staff. There are commonly five 5-man Security teams (known as “Fives”) in operation though the deployment will depend on the preferences of the Security Expert.

The Support Staff consists of three Systems Security Officers and two Tactical Staff.

The Systems Security Officers are charged with maintaining the security of internal systems rather than the physical security of the halls, rooms and crawlspaces.

Tactical Staff are usually seasoned veterans, they take care of the training and wellbeing of the Fives acting in an NCO role answerable only to the Security Expert and Command Executive.

The role of Security Officer is physically demanding as it is required that they be in peak condition in order to be competitive with the standards set by Explorer-class crews (who in their own roles are expected to be in tip-top shape). They are expected to be the lead in defensive actions, combat-rescue and investigations. Security Officers are all well-trained, combat-hardened and are picked from the cream of all Explorer applicants. They are given all the best training in evaluation skills because they will likely be the individuals to decide whether a situation is friendly, hostile or disruptive.

Standard uniform is no different to the fatigues of other staff save for departmental colours and insignia. Manufactured from Active Cloth, the only differences with Security Officers are and additional suite of electronics woven into the systems which permit the SO to communicate with all designated staff and, to a degree, direct them. Active Cloth is a matrix of nanotubes and active electronics woken throughout the cloth, powered by the movement of the human body as well as able to obtain power from solar radiation. If all staff are wearing Active Cloth then all will be escalated to the same threat level as the SO which will automatically engage health monitors, adaptive camouflage, electronic countermeasures, temperature regulation and threat detection. The SO will feed all of this information to the Security Expert or, if out of contact, will make educated decisions based on the information.

Security Officers are armed with Brilliant weapons – homing, intelligent, stabilised, self-powered projectiles. These are aimed and fired and post-firing, controlled using a HUD display projected on the retina of the SO. An individual Brilliant projectile may be used as an armour-piercing slug, an anti-personnel flechette or an explosive depending on the deployment. While the use of Brilliant projectiles is limited in alien environments, the chances of friendly fire are down to an infinitesimally small percentage.

Explorer vessels do not commonly carry higher armament than this for individuals. The Explorer mission is not a military mission and higher level threats are expected to be noticed before they get close to personnel, permitting the Explorer vessel armament to take it to pieces first.

Though they are trained in all aspects of security, including boarding actions – they are dedicated to the security and integrity of Explorer vessels which is a massive undertaking with such a small staff and this dedication, along with Human Unity’s non-aggression policies mean they do not publicise or promote boarding actions except as a last resort.


I think it has everything to do with being a parent.

I’ve never been a fan of Godzilla movies but I do like action/horror/disaster movies as a whole. Cloverfield is excellently executed and it left my head filled with “what would I do” thoughts (which all good horror/disaster movies do). As a parent you worry about more than just yourself and that’s what M. Night Shyamalan touched on with Signs. When you’re a parent, it’s more than just you in the horror.

The presentation of camcorder footage worked for Blair Witch and, to be honest, works even better for Cloverfield though the cameraman obviously has some sort of disorder because most people would ditch the camera early on. Even if recording it from the point of view of seeing “how it all went down”.

I can’t tell you much about the content itself without introducing too many spoilers. The shaky handheld footage does get irritating at times when you just want to get a bloody good look at something.

To be honest, if you’re old enough, go and see this movie. I don’t know if it needs to be seen in a cinema at all – I’m pretty hacked off with the bullshit about the “cinema experience”. Watching cinema in Northern Ireland consists of listening to slightly muffled sound, watching a screen that proudly displays the human detritus of heavy petting sessions in the projection room and listening to the beeps of mobile phones, the rustling of packets, the slurping of smoothies, having to uproot yourself because some idiot can’t get to his seat “from the other side” and sitting in a seat that is solely designed to stop you falling asleep.

Despite all of that, Cloverfield is a great film. It makes me shiver in anticipation for J.J.Abrams version of Star Trek (now delayed for a Summer 2009 release) and look forward to a possible sequel to Cloverfield.

Interestingly, most people don’t stay to the end of the credits. They miss out.


From IMDB:

A genetic anomaly allows a young man to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers this gift has existed for centuries and finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years between “Jumpers” and those who have sworn to kill them.

I enjoyed this movie. Hayden Christensen was pretty good though I think they could have kept Max Thieriot as the protagonist even though it might have made the film either more kiddie-friendly or perhaps more dark, who knows.

There were a lot of loose ends, lots of things that went unexplained – like how this is all a secret when there are 5 year olds teleporting around – Marvel went with the puberty thing because, let’s face it, teens undergoing puberty are already alienated from society.

One tiresome detail though was the war that has been raging for centuries. Of course, now Jumpers are the REAL reason for the Crusades, the witch hunts, the burning of the Warsaw Ghetto, the reason for concentration camps, Stalin’s purges, the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the Great Fire of London. I’m exaggerating here but if you ignore the “paladins” thing and just assume they’re just the next logical extension of HomeLand Security, things go a lot better.

The real “deal killer” for me was sadly Samuel L. Jackson. He’s gone the way of Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert de Niro and every other Hollywood actor who now completely believes his own hype. Apart from the ridiculous hair dye job, he’s a crazy insane preacher who uses a signature hunting knife to viscerally gut people. And this is a 12A? Load of bollocks really. They should have made more use of Diane Lane rather than a few cameo pieces. I think she’d make an excellent head honcho and an even better foil for our hero.

That said, deal-killer or not, it’s not a bad film. I think they have expended a lot of their juice in the first film and if it were me I’d already have Jumper 2 ready for casting.

Promoting your book via blogging…

When Patry Francis was first diagnosed with colon cancer, she didn’t want anyone to know. “I wanted to be able to have lunch with people and not have them wonder if I was going to drop dead on the spot,” says Francis, the 52-year-old author of The Liar’s Diary, a sexy whodunit about self-deception, murder and motherhood out today in paperback. Francis, who lives in Cape Cod with her husband of 25 years and is in close contact with her four adult children, found a different refuge for her own dark places: simplywait.blogspot.com.

Cohen is just one of about 300 writers – including Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, and Neil Gaiman, the scribe behind Stardust – who plan to promote The Liar’s Diary on their own blogs today online. Because Francis is unable to do a conventional book tour to promote the book, her new friends and fellow authors will be doing it for her online. While some will simply write about The Liar’s Diary and their friendship with Francis, others, such as Cohen, will also write about cancer, sickness and a healthy dose of publishing-world dish.

And here’s the link to the story.

We’re Space Marines, We’re Glorious…

I’m going to be writing a little more about Human Unity today and over the weekend concentrating on the space military.

On Wednesday night, our gaming group chatted about old comics before we got stuck into DG. We indulged in nostalgia while stuffing our faces with Bhunas and Jalfrezis that were a lot hotter than usual but absolutely delicious (from The Khyber). We remembered 2000AD (yes, I know), Eagle, Starlord, Action and bits and pieces of other stuff. We marvelled at some of the stories and how they were printed uncensored for the time.

Anyway, it was an interesting diversion. My character got killed that night by a goat-footed invisible thing with many mouths.