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EDITIONS
Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Series 7's deadly reality
Jeff in hospital
Grim reality: Cameras follow the contestants everywhere
With reality TV shows reaching saturation point, Series 7: The Contenders couldn't have been better timed.

Essentially a Big Brother or Survivor with guns, it bears all the classic hallmarks of a reality show: dramatic voiceovers, repetitive trailers, and wobbly cameras.

But amid all the explicit violence runs a rich vein of black humour.

Dawn with gun
Pregnant Dawn (Brooke Smith) hunts down her next victim
Six ordinary people are chosen at random to take part in a reality TV show where the mission is to kill or be killed.

Reigning champion Dawn (Brooke Smith) is eight months pregnant and determined to win for the sake of her unborn child.

But things don't go to plan when she has to kill Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), an ex-lover dying of cancer.

Daniel Minahan, the writer and director of Series 7, explains the inspiration behind his reality TV spoof, which opens in the UK on Friday 1 June.


What is a "Series 7"?

It's a marathon of episodes from the 7th season of a television show called The Contenders. We came to the title Series 7 after much deliberation. I liked it immediately: it sets a tone that's menacing, sexy, mysterious. What came before? What happens next? Stay tuned.

It was a combination of the TV format and feature film screenwriting, a hybrid of two very different disciplines.

How did this hybrid come about?

Hypodermic scene
The contenders don't just use guns
Before writing this script, I worked for several years producing segments for tabloid newsmagazine shows. I always felt like a spy in that job. When I left a job producing spots for a network newsmagazine, I was brimming with ideas and ready to send it up.

Was it always conceived as a movie?

Yeah. While developing another movie for two years at a studio, I kept threatening to get a video camera and shoot Series 7 on tape - and then all of a sudden people started making features on digital video.

I even tried with a television show runner to develop it as a real TV show for a network which shall remain nameless.

The last notes that came back from the network included the request, "Can you make it more like Ally McBeal?" That's when I decided to go back to the idea of making it as a movie.

When and where did you shoot Series 7, and under what conditions?

We shot in November and December of 1999 in Danbury, Connecticut - my hometown. I set it there (fictionalized as Newbury, Connecticut) because it's a place I know well, maybe it was also a kind of revenge fantasy.

We kept it pretty low-key when we came to town because we didn't want people to react to the subject matter of the film; this could easily be misunderstood as an exploitation movie.

What was the maximum number of takes - one or two?

Cameraman with Dawn
The camera crews are in the thick of the action
It wasn't quite the Ed Wood school, but we tried to keep it to a minimum. The great thing is that because of the nature of what we were doing, mistakes were okay. Weird things would happen that we could work with, that I could keep. But it's still storytelling, so we had to find the most economical, best way to tell the story.

Was there a lot of improvisation on the part of the cast?

Well, it was very tightly scripted. But I rehearsed the most difficult and tricky scenes with the principals a couple of times - and in the process, I rewrote and pared down a lot. The goal was to make it seem as natural as possible.

Was there a point in post-production when you got wind of Survivor?

I'm glad that we went into production before we had seen any of Survivor. Otherwise, it would have felt like an Airplane! sendup. We would have felt like we had to respond to it somehow.

Series 7 is a bridge between between your past work in television documentaries, and your present career as a film-maker. What do you want to do next?

I want to get this thing on TV! I plan to expand The Contenders into a mini-series - to shoot three more episodes - and get it on television.

When we started Series 7 the idea of a television show where people kill each other was a pretty wild concept, but today it doesn't seem that far-fetched.


In DepthIN DEPTH
BBC News Online's reality TV sectionReality bites
Keep an eye on the reality TV phenomenon
See also:

30 May 01 | Entertainment
29 May 01 | Entertainment
24 May 01 | Entertainment
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