The Micro Storytelling Challenge: MENACE Creators Share Their Tips

by Onicia Muller (@OniciaMuller)

While working on a feature film, Flavia Borges found the writing process to be very lonely. So, she searched for collaborators to help create MENACE, an intersectional feminist micro-series.

MENACE is a 13-episode micro-series that will premiere in fall 2017 on Instagram. After a rollback of women’s rights triggers increased violence in the near future, a male pride group sends a wave of femicide throughout the country. In this rebellious dark comedy, three single women reluctantly band together, seeking safety in a small apartment.

To get things started, Flavia contacted Devon Carson, who she met at an event at for local filmmakers. Although Devon didn’t have as much writing experience, Flavia knew Devon was a talented director. “She just has this amazing talent of pulling amazing performances out of actors. She’s an amazing director.”

Flavia invited Sarah Alò to join because of Sarah’s sketch, Love at First Catcall. “That really caught my attention because you don’t see that kind of content produced very often,” said Flavia.

MENACE — Trailer from Frutti Hat Films on Vimeo.

The women determined their project would be produced and submitted to festivals, no matter what.

“I just tend to write and write and never think that something is good enough to put together. …[Deciding that at the start is] enough to make you do it. You’re accountable to yourself but also much more when others are working on it as a team with you,” confessed Sarah.

To produce a quality series that was male-gaze free, Flavia, Sarah, and Devon spent time researching their audience, hosting a reading, and keeping a low word count.

“We spent a lot of time during brainstorming and outlining before we got to the actual script. …We did note cards and also worked with Celtx. We had we had two kinds of visual boards. We had one with images of things that we were feeling and what we wanted the show to be,” said Flavia.

“We created this really interesting world and set of characters that otherwise would not have existed. I think that’s what’s really beautiful about this project; it challenges your own sense of what it is to be a woman,” said Sarah.

They also used word clouds to determine the show and episode themes. For writing, they used Celtx’s TV script format.

The idea to distribute on Instagram came from a female-only focus group conducted early in their writing process. Going where their future audience was most active resulted in the 1-minute episode limit.

“Generally, one page represents one minute on the screen. With micro format, that’s not necessarily the case — it’s often not the case, actually. We [had] to constantly time as we were writing. We had to read it out loud several times — even in the very early drafts,” said Flavia.

Sarah recalled that when Flavia suggested the one-minute format, “I was the one who thought this is going to be too hard. It seems impossible to me. …[But] you see so many web series or sketch videos on the internet that are three minutes long. I just always found myself thinking, ‘That could have been shorter.’ …Every time I thought, ‘There is no way we could cut another line.’ But when we got to shooting, I would think actually we could have cut a few more lines. [Cutting] doesn’t always hurt your writing; it can actually make it better.”

MENACE’s storytelling tactics involved props, overlays, and sound effects. “My character is a recent victim of domestic abuse. We wanted to get it across that she was married, but it was difficult to do that when we don’t have any flashbacks sequences. …If she was gone from her husband, she wouldn’t be wearing a ring. So, one text from someone named ‘hubby’ would give that away,” said Sarah.

Using overlays for text messages is a great way to convey information and condense conversations quickly. Strategic prop placement helps convey backstory. Sarah added, “My character has a mattress that’s just kind of like on the floor. It doesn’t look like a very lived-in situation. She’s got a suitcase spilled open.”

For sound, they added a podcast to help establish a sense of the outside world. “After we were done with the first official full script draft, we had a reading. …It was revealed to us that [audiences] couldn’t get a good sense of the outside world. …We had to create something to make that element stronger,” said Sarah.

Follow the show to learn more about how these innovative women made their new format work. MENACE will premiere in fall 2017 on Instagram.

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Created on St Maarten. Based in Chicago. Onicia writes, says funny things, and enjoys hanging with creative minds. You can read her weekly column, Just Be Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender or on her blog. She pays her bills as a creative project manager. Find her online at OniciaMuller.com or @OniciaMuller

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