Film Courage: This question comes in from Stian Kallhovd (forgive me for saying the name incorrectly) “I’ve sometimes wondered whether I should write TV series in addition to features, but so far it seems to me that the stories I want to tell are better told through films. Can Mr. Russell give an example of why a story would be better told as a TV series?
Peter Russell, screenwriter and script doctor: Well if you love movies (and so many people do), I know a lot of people who grew up loving movies are kind of appalled that television has taken over.
Think of it this way, you can tell any movie as a TV miniseries. You can take the movie that you’ve been writing over the last four or five years and you can turn it into a television miniseries more easily than you can turn it into a TV series. So think of it that way. Now I’ve spent several years learning genres: mystery thriller, crime thriller, horror, all of these genres and I sort of master the deep understanding of each one of those genres and every one of those genres is very different and they all have these cool tools that I learned to help movie people. Well guess what? It turns out when I turn my attention to television, all the rules of movie thrillers apply to the crime drama that I’m selling as a serial right now Ray Donovan meets True Detective. All of those cool structural tools that work in SEVEN, that work in all these classic movies, it turns out those secrets transfer right over to television.
So just know that everything you’ve learned about movies works in TV. But the easiest transition is to take your movie idea and turn it into a miniseries. Why? Which for some of the reasons we talked about earlier which is miniseries are like long movies because the characters have an arc. They start with a wound and they eventually heal or not.
If you’re writing movies and you love movies, make the transition to television by writing a miniseries, where you can simply stretch your idea into a longer form. Forget the structure so much, but those cool tools (which by the way I have on my website PeterRussellScriptDoctor.com – I go into each genre of movies) has a set of hidden structures and tools in it. Just take those hidden structures and tools and apply them to your television show in the same genre.
Writing a comedy? Apply the movie comedic rules to your sitcom. Writing a romantic comedy, same thing. Love story, same thing. Adventure romance, same thing. Write a miniseries, it’s a bridge form. It will help you learn why television has two big differences than movies. One is that the characters don’t really change in television and the other is you can tell more than you can in a movie where you want to show everything (so there’s just more dialogue).
But those are the two big differences, everything else can be the same. Especially in a miniseries. It’s a great bridge for you to learn this new structure. And you’ll just have a better chance of getting your story bought. I didn’t say great chance! I said better chance because I think we’re up to 550 scripted television shows now in the U.S. A few years ago there were 200. And I believe that’s going to continue. I think in 10 years television is going to be five times as big as it is right now.
So if you want your work to sell learn the new forms by bridging your way to TV by using your movie as a miniseries.
Film Courage: Were miniseries in fashion so-to-speak previously?
Peter: They were in the 70’s. I know there were big miniseries in the 70’s like THE THORN BIRDS. There was another show called SHOGUN. These were big event television so they’d be on one night for three or four nights, five nights sometimes. But then there was a period where they weren’t fashionable. But they’ve gotten very fashionable again.
Ryan Murphy, all these guys that write these fantastic shows. The OJ Simpson trial [THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON]. TRUST which is a great one that Danny Boyle just did about the Getty family, brilliant miniseries.
And THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE they are where I think a lot of movie makers are going in television because it’s a more commodious form, it’s the easiest way to transition from film to television.And I think the miniseries also kind of satisfies our desire for seeing a movie which is I want to see somebody change, I want to see a complete story right? When…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
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