Monday, July 15, 2013

The Extras (a TV series concept)

Or: The Other People, or The People You Don't Notice, or Everyone Else, or something like that.

Take an action movie, car chases, explosions, gunfights, the works.  The plot spans a given area and a given time.  Say it takes place over a few days in one city.

Each episode of the TV series follows one person in that place during that time.

So maybe at some point the good guys had to get away in a real rush and because it was a matter of life and death and whatnot they didn't think too much of stealing the car that had been left idling outside the flower shop.

So one episode would follow the person that car belongs to who is determined after a series of mishaps and mistakes that this date with zir girlfriend will be perfect, the car was left idling because person was falling behind schedule and ze was hoping to run in, grab girlfriend's favorite flowers, and run out.

Pulling off the perfect date becomes more difficult when the heroes steal zir car.  And that would be one episode.

Each episode follows a different person, very rarely would it be a person who would even qualify as a named character in the "action movie" it's designed around.  Many times someone who wouldn't even appear on screen (the explosions, shoot outs, and car chases are going to have effects upon people not near them.)

I had this idea ages ago, a conversation with lonespark is what brought it to mind today.

("Movies" tag because I don't have, or really have the need for, a "TV Series" one.)


  1. Deird had a post about this relating to Terminator, talking about Sarah Connor starting as a bystander/civilian and becoming a protagonist/hero.

    And in another genre, the beginning of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle lampshades the racist assumptions so often tied to the division between heroes and extras.

    And now that I've said that, holy frak do I hate the "a bunch of 'Third World' people used as scenery" trope in so many action movies lately. A lot of Bruce Banner's characterization in The Incredible Hulk and some in The Avengers involves this, and UGH.

  2. Can one episode follow the cops whose car gets smashed when the hero and villains are chasing/fighting each other. I see the cops: having to explain what happened to the car (and all of the equipment in it), answering questions about what they were doing when the car was trashed, filling out all of the beiberillion forms associated with damaged equipment and requisitions for replacement equipment, explaining to the press what happened downtown today that caused beiberillion dollars worth of damage to both public and private property, and so on.

    I just feel so bad for the cops in these movies.


  3. The difficulty I see here is that you don't have recurring characters. The guy whose car was stolen has no particular contact with the woman whose fruit cart was wrecked.

    The core idea of the aftermath of an event is definitely viable (see Forbrydelsen/The Killing) but I'm trying to work out how to get a series cast into it.

    City workers of some sort?

  4. That's a good point, but maybe all the unconnected people could meet at a city office where they come to file reports, and the characters there could be recurring. Plus it's TV magic; some folks could have terrible luck and have it happen a lot, some could fall in love or emnity or try to get revenge...

    1. Frame story in the office? Makes sense.

      Then a season-long plot can be happening in the frame story; perhaps Stolen Car Guy dumps his prospective girlfriend because of the way she laid into him for being late and falls for Fruit Cart Woman instead.

    2. I like it! Let's shop this pilot around!

  5. The idea doesn't really lend itself to a traditional cast. Each story is focused on one person, and there's naturally going to be overlap and intertwining (though if it becomes "Vantage Point: The Series" that's taking things too far) so the same faces will appear in multiple episodes, but not in a traditional main character kind of way.

    One thing that could be done is to structure each season around one thread of events centered around one person. The focus would mean that the person who is the main character of one episode would show up as a background or supporting character in other episodes, and it would give a natural thing to do for the season ending episode. You've got this one character who you've seen in every single episode of the season, often times playing important roles, but you're only left with bits and pieces of their story, the season ends with their story.

    Or not. Not is always an option.

  6. Hey Chris, this is Amarie. ^ ^

    This is a fascinating look at the "Other" characters in action/hero movies. But I will say it would be kind think about all those cars being stolen, stores being blown up, and flower carts being dismantled. I say that because it leaves a big, big mess for the "Other" character to deal with, yes? If your car is stolen, you have to buy a new car. If your store is blown up, you have to repair it or rent out another space for a new store. If your flower cart is dismantled, then you have to fix it up and possibly buy or grow new flowers.

    Money, time, and more money...that the character may not have.

    1. Hi. Thanks for coming over.

      It would depend very much on the tone. If it were a deconstruction of action movies it would be very depressing and about how everyone's lives were ruined by the stupid heroes and villains.

      On the other hand if it were something more upbeat... there are shows where there's never a bad ending that are successful. Unrealistic, but successful. It could be about how the person with the flower cart started a crowd funded campaign to restart the business and the person whose car is stolen ends up having the perfect date and their insurance was worth more than their car.

    2. Also, for what it's worth, when an ice cream place burned down in my town there was no question as to whether or not the story would end there. The customers were loyal, everyone loved it, and now the replacement building is in use and looks exactly like the original save for the fact that, as the coat of paint is fresher, it's cleaner.

      Sometimes having your business completely destroyed just means missing a season and then getting a giant crowd of customers who have been waiting a long damn time to buy from you.

    3. Awww yeah, happy stories. Sometimes good wins. hard.

  7. Yeah, that's very true. I think the show could only avoid being horribly depressing by existing in a wacky alternate universe. Like I think they handled it ok in Harold and Kumar because it mostly takes place in Madcap Adventureland, but YMMV.

    Also the flower cart thing reminds me of AtLA/LoK: "Not my cabbages!" and then, many years later, "Not my CabbageCorp!"

  8. But then, to a certain extent, most of us do live in the B and C plots. Like right now I'm living in a horrific dystopia destroying human rights, according to the national news, but I can still engage in wacky hijinks, love stories, etc. For example:

    - Lose pocketbook on subway, waffle about cancelling credit cards, wacky hijinks taking kids across city to lost and found where transit employees have to check like 8 places before finally getting it back...

    - Solicit advice from friends about revealing feelings to Cute Boy, receive hilarious advice, successfully use FaceBook to reveal said feelings (where success is defined by leaving the room and literally hiding under pillows between replies), WIN AT LIFE.

    - Discover that my son is very good at cleaning and organizing efficiently when I resort to NAKED BRIBERY WITH COLD, HARD CASH.


  9. There's also the fact that sometimes the extraordinary plot element does change the trajectory of the bystander/collateral damage person's life, and those stories are worth telling.

  10. Also, random exchange at the city's largest insurance company:

    "The shareholders are NOT going to be happy."

    "Fuck the shareholders, I work for the customers."

  11. Fiction generally operates by different rules than reality, anyway - dramas by rule of drama, comedies by rule of funny, adventure stories by, er, rule of adventure - so an upbeat version might not be realistic, but its not necessarily any less realistic than a horribly tragic version.

  12. Amarie again!

    *holds hand up for vote* Yep, I agree with everyone here. Unrealistic, but happy endings galore. We want to be amused more than we want to be depressed, yes? ^ ^

    And Chris, that random exchange is Awesome Sauce. +1? :)

  13. I'm now thinking that there should be two people who have their cars stolen at the flower shop.

    At first their stories should seem almost identical except that one has car stolen at gunpoint (by villain), one has car stolen because left idling (by heroes). (Stolen by heroes, not left idling by heroes.)

    But as you follow their stories you realize that they're in completely different relationships (idling guy is in a good relationship wants things to be perfect for once just because, gunpoint guy follows Firedrake's suggested path because his girlfriend is controlling.)

    And gunpoint guy unknowingly begins the salvation of flower cart woman (not the fruit cart woman that he ends up with) by, after running after his stolen car, picking nice flowers out of the wreckage of the flower cart (he never made it into the store) and trying to buy them in a hurry to the shock of flower cart woman.

    "How much?"

    "Are you serious?"

    "Yes. And in a serious hurry. I'll pay you double, triple, whatever." *beat* "Name your price."

    He buys the flowers and runs off, completely oblivious to the fact that people behind him have started buying from flower cart woman at highly inflated prices, and preordering when her stock runs dry, thus giving her the capital necessary to get a new cart. Her cart isn't insured, you see.

    Fruit Cart Woman's cart is insured which is how she meets car-stolen-at-gunpoint guy at what is the end of his story and the middle of hers (because she still needs to do a lot before she's back to normal where his story is of getting out of a controlling relationship and then going out on a limb at the insurance office to start a new one.)

    So there's a short snippet of action movie (a chase turns into a car chase that destroys a couple of street vendor's carts) that gets you four episodes of the show:

    Setting up the perfect date in spite of your car getting stolen during the setting up process.

    Rebuilding your business via insurance funds (and associated bureaucracy) after a car chase runs it over.

    Realizing a relationship is toxic and exiting it after the tipping point of being treated like shit due to matters outside your control (villain with gun picks your car to steal.)

    Rebuilding a business via crowd-funding in the form of, "Give me way more money than it's worth and I'll give you a slightly run over flower," after random passer-by sparks the idea.

    And the four stories contain two mirror images because I doubled the "business gets run over" and "car stolen at flower shop" ideas. Done right the doubled ideas would be completely different. ("The policy clearly covers auto accidents, the explosions were two blocks away and have nothing to do with my claim," is very different from, "I'm not asking you to overpay for a flower, I'm asking you to remember all of the times I've helped you pick out good flowers and give me some money to get back on my feet and I'll give you a flower, free of charge, in thanks.")

    1. That' It should be its own post. And if you can actually write the stories, you could make a cool book. Or graphic novel, or comic series or whatever.

      I know that might be devilishly difficult...

      Alternately, you could put up the story skeleton for the episodes and maybe other people could flesh them out, if you wanted to give permission for that... whether as a fun pastime or the inaugural Stealing Commas ebook or something else...