Sunday, December 21, 2008

Plot differences between Movies and TV

In writing about this subject, I'm sticking my neck out - because I don't understand it. Not that I can't recognise a movie plot when I see one or a plot for a television program. But to define the difference is another matter entirely.

The first full-length movie screenplay that I wrote turned out, according to people who understand these things far better than I, to have a TV-type plot. Perhaps it was because the journeys of the central characters were not great enough.

Certainly, the central characters of a television series will tend to be confronted with challenges, which they hopefully overcome, and move on afterwards incrementally changed. Over a series of episodes those incremental changes might add up to something significant. But compared to the character arc of a movie, the change is small.

Perhaps this is why detective stories translate so often into television rather than film. Because the detective solves a crime external to her/him. Two exceptions to this are the movies Gorky Park and Insomnia. In each of these, solving the crime is a small part of the story. The big picture is a detective at a moment of life change. The very core of their belief and identity is being challenged. They will not be the same person at the end - if they do survive at all. And if they don't survive, their destruction will have been caused by their own character implosion.

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