Writing 24 Minutes

Back in 2004, when I was still a fan of the TV series 24, the idea crossed my mind to make something similar, where each episode would be done in real time, with lots of characters and convoluted storylines, and in which each episode built up to some sort of crazy cliff hanger – but each episode would just be 60 seconds in length.  At the time, I was held back by the fact that I didn’t know how I’d accomplish the split screen effect that seemed key to 24‘s style of storytelling.

Fast forward to 2009 and not only had consumer video editing technology (and my understanding of it) increased to overcome that problem, but also I found I was surrounded by a key group of people who would lock into the project and help to make it a reality.  So while I was leading a team of staff and students on a Media Safari outreach to Kyrgyzstan, I managed to squeeze in time to write the script for what is now known as 24 Minutes.

It was actually one of the easiest things I have ever written, perhaps for the very reason that it looks complicated:  there was lots going on, with lots of characters and interplay, but every 60 seconds I had to get them to some sort of cliff hanger!  I found that that forced my hand not just with pacing but actually plotting the story.  There was no space to waste time – I had to keep that story moving forward.

Many times I found the format of the tale re-shaping the plot.  For example, I originally had no plans to make “Zhuan” a main character.  She was simply going to be around for the beginning to create an obstacle for Bobby.  But when I got to a point in the story where Bobby was locked in a closet, JR was running up a hill like a madman, the Boss was being purposely distracted from things, Ronnie was wrapped up in his own problems, and Hallie was still being kept dramatically ambiguous, I suddenly needed another character to move the plot forward.  And so all of a sudden, Zhuan discovered a very telling note on the floor!  (See Episode Seven)

The challenge of course was trying to make the characters into people you could identify with in the midst of all the busy-ness.  In fact, at one point, I realized that JR’s character, though funny, had absolutely no character arc of any kind.  He was just running around trying to do things.  Since we already had enough guys doing that (ie the Boss, Hallie), I decided he needed something a little more.  And so one quick re-write later, and we have JR’s whole thing of struggling with his insecurity and trying to do a good job.

24 Minutes is available in its entirety on the Films page now, and coming soon will be a host of bonus material, including a behind-the-scenes documentary, outtakes, extended scenes, and most excitingly, a Bonus Episode!


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