Creating a story with more than one protagonist can be difficult. The story can become crowded and there may not be enough time to cover each character fully.

Story development in progress There is also a well rooted tradition of having only one lead. After all the Greeks developed the word protagonist 2,400 years ago while the French only came up with ensemble in 1750. Still, creating an ensemble cast is not impossible and done right it can lead to great stories.

Connect Ensemble Casts by Theme

An ensemble involves a group of characters adding up to one effect or theme. All the characters have to be connected by one story. They can be connected by location, or by an event, but a connection must be there. The different characters may never meet, but they will all deal with different aspects of the same problem.

Using a new example, Stagecoach (1939) is an excellent example of an ensemble story. There is no one star but rather multiple characters connected by their stagecoach ride through Apache lands. A common theme throughout the movie is that judging people by their appearances often leads to misguided assumptions. However, in this movie it is society that does the judging – sometimes wrongly.

The movie’s ensemble cast is all introduced within the first 10 minutes and the rest of the movie is spent exploring the prejudices and misguided judgments of the characters. The movie remains a classic and Thomas Mitchell who plays the town drunk, Doc Boone, won an Oscar for his performance.

Connecting Ensembles by Event or Location

Creating a theme to connect an ensemble is generally more complicated than connecting the ensemble by event or location. Doing the latter is fairly straightforward and examples are easy to find.

The Oscar nominated film Nashville is a good example of an ensemble connect by place and event. M.A.S.H connects its ensemble by location – the front line of the Korean War. The movie A Wedding brings its characters together through its story’s namesake. Short Cuts brings 22 characters together through a place, Los Angeles, and an event – an earthquake.

The characters can all part of a central story where they interact regularly. For example the men stuck in a jury room in Twelve Angry Men.

Another option is a threaded story like Earthquake and Short Cuts mentioned above. In these stories many of the characters are never in the same room – yet they are tied together by a theme, location, or event.

Ensemble Characters Must Make an Impression

A story with an ensemble cast has to make each character interesting in a short time frame. A movie with one protagonist can take its time developing the one character; this is not a luxury an ensemble cast has.

Thus it is important that the less time a character has on screen the more distinctive he or she has to be. In an ensemble story, no two characters should be alike. It could confuse the audience and would make the story less interesting. Each character should be memorable and unique.