When a film or TV show relies on an ensemble cast there are obvious risks involved. Tempers, conflicting personalities, egos and hurt feelings can all get in the way of an ensembles’ possible success. However, when executed properly, ensembles are like beautiful puzzles completed with the final piece put in place. Many great TV shows and films like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bridesmaids and many more have been able to perfect the art of the ensemble. These works are able to provide brilliant ensemble performances by working with inherent traits of balance, individualism, cohesiveness and chemistry to keep it all together.
A great ensemble must have balance within the group. Each individual must have their “moment” and time to shine while also contributing to the overall goals of the group. If one person dominates any one portion of the group whether through making decisions, holding power over the others or simply not respecting the opinions of the others, the group can’t successfully function as an ensemble. The large personalties must have counter-weight. One character cannot be both the funniest and the most powerful and the smartest. An ensemble needs balance for each character to feel comfortable with their individual role.
Members of an ensemble must also have their individual role to play in accomplishing the goal of the team. This allows each member to feel they are making a meaningful contribution to the group without being overshadowed by the group as a whole. For example, at the end of Joss Whedon’s first Avengers movie, each character plays their individual role in the final scene to eliminate the Chitauri from Earth. If any one of them couldn’t accomplish their part, the entire group would fail. Too many of the same types of characters and some will appear excessive in the group dynamic. Individualism is important in the overall cohesiveness of the ensemble.
An ensemble must make a TV show or film feel cohesive. For example, Love, Actually has a large ensemble cast each with their own storylines. Some plot lines in the film overlap with each other but many are separate. Yet, the film as a whole feels like a cohesive unit. Much of this cohesiveness comes from characters having a common goal. In Love, Actually they all want to have love even though they have various plot lines to get there. This commonality is what binds the starkly different personalities and strengths into one cohesive ensemble group thus a cohesive work.
Ensemble chemistry can be hard to explain but so easy to see when it’s not there. The ability for an ensemble to have chemistry is related to their ability to trust one another and be secure in their individual role in the ensemble. When characters have their own moments of importance in a work, chemistry within the group can be created. For example, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, each member of the Avengers has their quip and individual dialogue moments throughout the film. While ultimately, I think the cohesiveness of this film needed work, the overall chemistry of the team is undeniable. They trust one another and are sure about their importance to the group as a whole.
When each piece of the machine is running properly, ensembles are fun pieces of entertainment to enjoy. They bring a sense of togetherness and loyalty to the audience not felt by other solo works of art. Great ensembles of pop culture are needed to remind us we can’t do it all alone and furthermore we don’t have to.