The Art of Ideation: Movie vs TV

A Television set next to a movie camera

When it comes to storytelling, the medium you select plays a pivotal role in shaping the narrative. Will you turn your idea into a feature screenplay or develop it into a television series? This is an idea you should ask yourself early on as it could affect how your story unfolds. The distinction between a good idea for a feature-length screenplay and one better suited for a television series lies in the unique dynamics each format offers. In this article I’ll dive into the divergent aspects of these two mediums. You find that television derives its strength from its characters while features tend to find strength in their specific narrative.

The Focus of a Movie

Feature-length screenplays have the advantage of presenting a concise and focused narrative within a limited timeframe. A good movie idea typically revolves around a central concept or event which usually fuels a single protagonist's journey. The condensed nature of movies demands a streamlined plot that emphasizes a single, overarching story and character arc. However, if you fail to perfectly execute this story, your entire movie is more than likely to suffer.

Expansive Storytelling in Television

Television series provide the ideal canvas for expansive storytelling. Unlike movies, TV series allow for more nuanced character development, intricate and interwoven plotlines, and the exploration of various subplots. This format offers the opportunity to delve deep into the lives of characters and build rich relationships that evolve and develop over time. Movies do not allow for this extra development because they have to stay focused on a singular conflict and character.

Character Arcs and Emotional Investment

One of the key advantages of creating a television series is the ability to develop multi-dimensional characters that audiences are able to form deep connections with. Audiences grow overtime with television characters. This is something that does not happen when creating a feature film. When writing a feature screenplay, you have approximately two hours to make the audience care. They only get to watch your character change over the course of a relatively short arc. Maybe your protagonist will move from uncaring to caring or arrogant to humble. In features, characters serve the story, whereas in TV, the story serves the characters.

Related: How to Create Three-Dimensional Characters 

Ensemble Casts and Subplots

As you form your idea, do you find yourself creating an ensemble of characters or a single protagonist? This will be a major factor when considering which medium to pursue. Unlike movies that often revolve around a single protagonist, television series can accommodate larger ensemble casts. Each character within a well-balanced ensemble brings a unique perspective that adds depth and complexity to the story. Furthermore, because you have a diverse cast of characters in television, subplots can flourish and complement the central narrative. In a feature script you may be able to accommodate a single subplot.


Another sure sign you may be developing a television series is if you find yourself creating an expansive world that plays a pivotal role in the story you plan on telling. While movies can create expansive worlds (Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc), this is usually only accomplished in franchise films. Therefore, as a young screenwriter you should never count on having more than one movie to tell your story. If those 4 alien species and 7 planets are essential to your story, you may want to consider making a television series.

In conclusion, while a good idea for a feature-length movie demands a focused narrative, a television series thrives on character-driven storytelling, offering the opportunity for intricate character development, ensemble casts, and expansive world-building. The importance of characters in television cannot be overstated, as they form the backbone of these long-form narratives, driving emotional investment and audience engagement. Crafting an idea with a deep understanding of the unique dynamics of television series will set the stage for a compelling and successful journey through multiple seasons of storytelling brilliance. On the other hand, if you come up with a focused story that centers on a single character and their journey, you will likely want to develop this into a feature screenplay implementing a classic three-act structure to efficiently tell your story.

More: Best Hollywood Screenplays to Study 

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