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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Assembling the Ensemble

I mentioned in my last post that I'm getting the feeling the producers are viewing this film as more of an ensemble piece than I had originally expected. Not sure, but that's the direction it seems to be moving in. I actually posed this question to them yesterday, and will see how they react.

Regardless, however, I'm curious what all of your thoughts are on ensemble films. I've never really written one before, so I'm not really sure how to go about it fully.

First of all, what are some of your favorite ensemble films? What do you like about them? How about ones you dislike and why? What would you consider the defining characteristics of such a film? How would you define an ensemble film, and why would one work better or worse? What is the difference, in your view, between an ensemble film and just a film with a lot of characters? What unique challenges do you think such a screenplay poses?

I've already formed some opinions on these topics myself, and have also done some poking around on the 'net for some good articles and blog posts. But I'd still like to hear your opinions on this as well. Let me know! Thanks.

Oh, and by the way, welcome to all those who are popping over here via AbsoluteWrite. I hope you'll stick around, and come back frequently!

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Blogger Emily Blake said...

Reservoir Dogs.

I think what makes that film really work is that each person has the same basic problem - betrayal. It's what the story is about at large and it's what each person is afraid of and eventually falls to in one way or another. So it ties them all together. They are individual people but with the same basic problem thematically.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I'm gonna go off of what Emily said but use the dreaded T word: Theme.

Reservior Dogs, Magnolia, Crash...even Pulp Fiction and to a certain extent Go, I'd argue that ultimately what holds them together is a theme--or at the very least a tone.

That being the case (and by case, I of course mean my opinion), I'd think hard on what the story is exploring thematically. Even if you have to go somewhat generic (greed? family? how nature and civilization interact?), if each character's experiences are funneled through a particular thematic viewpoint or question, it will help greatly to tie everything together.

8:22 PM  
Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Emily Blake is so smart and talented and she makes such great points; it's hard to follow that opening act -- but I'll try.

One ensamble film that stick out in my mind is "Love Actually." Several characters in it are GREAT, others bored the shit out me.

I think that's the biggest drawback of an ensamble film, several storylines aren't going work, and your audience is going to want to know more about several characters and less about others.

My advice to you, FunJoel, is to go ahead and write all the characters who come to your head, then get some feedback from your trusted readers and see which ones they respond to, then pair back and focus more screentime on the one's your readers actually liked.

"Independce Day" was a movie with a lot of characters, but it was no ensamble film. Ensamble films TRY to flesh out a bunch of characters, they are "character driven" movies. Whereas movies with a bunch of charcters, yet with a select few that are focued on tend to be "plot driven."

Hope this helps. I like the thoughts that red goop in your head is kickin' out these days. Rockin' post. Keep up the good work.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

9:00 PM  
Blogger Grubber said...

I agree with all the above and it is exactly what I am wrestling with at present as the feature script I am writing on my own is an ensemble piece.

Not by choice but that is what the story demanded and since it is one of my first, it is bloody hard. Trying to find several unique voices, different arcs, etc. whilst all aiming for the same overall goal(Save the Cheerleader so to speak :) ).

I read most of those screenplays mentioned(especially loved RD), but for big action will also add Armeggeddon in there to have a read of and see how they did it. I know , I know MB and all that, but hey, it was successful. Also Alien, Sneakers and the Matrix scripts were helpful.

Best of luck!

2:13 AM  
Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Two more ensemble films:

Hannah and Her Sisters
Beautiful Girls

Both have one character that sort of plays the lead, but aren't really. In HAHS, the action spins around Hannah - her husband, ex-husband, and two sisters are actively trying to find their place in life and have big arcs. But Hannah's character has very little arc. In BG, the Timothy Hutton character returns to his hometown and is used as the access character for the audience, but it doesn't feel like his film per se. It's men dealing with the women in their lives.

Other ensemble films - Fandango, Singles, Parenthood, Grand Canyon.

Fandango, a group of guys have one last road trip before starting off on their adult lives. Singles, young adults in Seattle struggle with becoming adults. Parenthood, a family of parents deal with young children, teenagers and grown children issues. Grand Canyon, some random events in LA bring together a group of people that would not normally associate with each other.

Seems like ensemble films fall into a few categories -

--An event brings a group of disparate people together, question becomes how do they relate, what comes out from their interactions with each other?

--A group of characters at the same stage of life prepare to make the jump to the next stage (Singles, Fandango), i.e. how does each character handle the transition?

--One person affects many people and action spins around them.

--A multi-generational view of how characters handle a particular role/situation in love, i.e. how love is expressed/lost/won in Love Actually, how different characters parent in Parenthood.

I love ensemble films. Tricky to write, I think. Good luck!!

3:37 AM  
Blogger Julie O. said...

I was gonna mention LOVE, ACTUALLY, too. You might also have a look at THE BREAKFAST CLUB and some of the other Hughes/brat pack films from those days.

I definitely feel the ones that work stick closest to the theme and/or central question. Every character represents a facet or possible answer.

Congrats and good luck!

3:38 AM  
Blogger Christina Shaver said...

I'm writing a wicked ensemble piece right now too. Re-writing. And wicked as in, it's nuts to write! So my hat's off to you. I know what you're going through.

4:37 AM  
Blogger Emily Blake said...

Oh, E.C. I am blushing now.

Oh man, Parenthood is a prime example. There's the theme, right there in the title and the film never wavers from it.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

I was all jazzed to leave a comment but I've found everyone's already said everything.

But no one mentioned Diner! So at least I can do that... I don't think anyone mentioned The Best Years of Our Lives...

But yeah, clearly when you look at a half-dozen or more ensemble films, what makes them what they are is the shared theme explored in different ways from different perspectives. Also, they usually run long...

6:31 PM  

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