Posted in Film, Writing

How to Write Novels with Big Ensembles


Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review — Seven Samurai

The Criterion Collection is a gold mine for movie lovers. It’s not just great movies on DVD; this is serious business, with extraordinary films featuring stunning high-definition transfers and endless supplements that shine all sorts of new light on the filmmakers, actors, and the movie’s overall impact on cinema and pop culture. Criterion started releasing DVDs in 1998 and has currently over 500 titles in print. Many of the early titles from 1998 have even been re-issued with two-disc editions, and the last few years, Criterion has also gone Blu-Ray with a multitude of its titles.

Seven Samurai is one of the greatest and most famous Japanese films ever made, directed by the great Akira Kurosawa and released in 1954. The second film released on DVD by the Criterion Collection back in 1998, the film received a glowing three-disc edition update release in 2006, and then in 2010 received a gorgeous high-definition transfer on a Blu-Ray three-disc DVD edition. The three-hour-and-twenty-seven-minute feature would be the longest of Kurosawa’s career.

The black-and-white masterpiece grabs you from the opening images and never lets you go. Most movies three hours or longer has long lulls that test a viewer’s patience, but not Seven Samurai. The film, which follows a group of seven trained and masterful samurai who defend the farmers in a small village from a gang of bandits, would become one of the most influential films ever made.

The central plot element would go on to be used in numerous Hollywood productions, including Ocean’s Eleven and the western remake of Seven Samurai, the Magnificent Seven. It’s a story that simply works, with an especially exciting final hour and a closing shot that is one of the most emotionally devastating in cinema history.

The Blu-Ray of Seven Samurai is filled with terrific DVD extras. Released on October 19, 2010, the three-hour-plus film comes with two feature-length audio commentaries, three feature-length documentaries, theatrical trailers, teaser, gallery of rare posters, and more.

One commentary features a group of film scholars who discuss the film throughout its entirety, and one of the great documentaries looks at the samurai traditions and films that helped shaped this one. The original one-disc 1998 release had only one of the two audio commentaries, and picture and sound quality that were not up to snuff. Today the Blu-Ray edition is the one to give to any Seven Samurai fan, as it will forever be the definitive version of one of the greatest pictures of all time.

Watching Like a Writer

My takeaway from Seven Samurai is to try to think of a story that would involve a large group of people all on some kind of quest. In all the stories and novels I’ve written, there is typically only one central character, but I did write a YA horror trilogy starting with The Vampire Underground that featured a big ensemble of characters all with one goal in mind. I love the idea of tackling another work that features a huge cast of characters.


Imagine you had to write a story or novel about an ensemble of seven characters. What would the logline be? What would bring the characters together?

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