But it also jolts the sensibilities. Wasn’t Crash so impressive precisely because it was so compact and cinematic?
For me personally, the news highlights one of those semi-conscious doubts I keep having whenever I work on my multi-protagonist script: Is it really OK to write a screenplay that feels like a TV episode?
So how does a multi-protagonist film differ from a blown-up version of a TV episode? Here are some of the differences:
- Visual storytelling - TV generally relies far more heavily on dialogue (the screen’s just that much smaller …). In a multi-protagonist film, precisely because of the number of different storylines, the audience needs to see very quickly what’s going on (even if the connections with other storylines may only become clear in retrospect).
- Character arcs - In a TV series you have much more screen time to show a character changing. In a film everything has to be squashed into a very limited number of scenes. Dilemma’s and choices need to be that much starker.
- Climax/resolution - A film is a one-off, stand-alone story. It immediately creates (unconscious) expectations of some kind of resolution. You can’t cheat the audience, there has to be some kind of “conclusion.” A TV episode often works towards a cliff-hanger (to be continued …); the resolution can be postponed far longer.
All of these elements (and more) are part of what makes Crash stand out as a film.
On the other hand, the fact that it appears to make economic sense to use this film as the basis for a TV series, shows that the boundaries between TV and cinema are fading.
More and more people watch movies at home, and TV screens are growing bigger and better all the time. Plus nowadays a lot of visual and narrative innovation happens first on TV.
Perhaps we’re witnessing an interesting new form of crossover?
My personal lesson from this intriguing little news item: Stay focused on the characters. In the end they are the ones who determine what’s the most appropriate arena and narrative structure for their story.