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.

About matt

Gamer. Writer. Dad. Serial Ex-husband. Creator of The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO, ZOMBI, Testament, Creed. Slightly megalomaniac
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2 Responses to 21/100 Making a Miniseries

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