Episode Length, Animation and More

The future of Netflix is animated, in case you haven’t been paying attention. From Tomb Raider and Kong: Skull Island to Resident Evil, Final Fantasy and Assassin’s Creed, if Netflix gets its hands on well-known IP, you can bet it’ll get the animated treatment at some point, just like two of the world’s biggest franchises — Fast & Furious: Spy Races and Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.

One of Netflix’s highest-profile animated projects is a Splinter Cell series, based on the popular Tom Clancy video game from Ubisoft. The show was announced last summer with John Wick creator Derek Kolstad writing the script, and in a new interview with Collider tied to the upcoming release of Kolstad’s latest action movie Nobody, the scribe shed some light on his plans for Sam Fisher, the former U.S. Navy SEAL who’s recruited by the NSA to work for agency’s mysterious Third Echelon division.

“The first [season] is officially greenlit, and it’ll be eight episodes. And the bible for that I’m finishing up and sending off,” said Kolstad, who has been juggling multiple projects for the past couple years, several of which are just coming to a head now in a coincidence of timing that could spell disaster for some writers, but only serves to motivate this one.

“I have all these Post-It notes all over the place and stuff to read. I think most of writing is emails, treatments, pitches, phone calls, [more] emails, and when you finally get the chance to write, you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck. This is what I’m doing for a living, right?’ Everything is kind of coming to a head. Look at The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. You spend so much time in the room breaking the story that by the time Malcolm releases you to write the script, you’ve got about a week. And it’s a kind of joy, but hard… all the heavy lifting is done, and now you get to write. And I would say the bible and the format, that’s heavy lifting. Once it’s in, off we go.”

Image via Ubisoft

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Right now, Splinter Cell has only been picked up for eight episodes, but Kolstad confirmed that the plan is to most likely produce 16 episodes, and he’s aiming for episodes that run between 20 to 30 minutes — significantly shorter than Amazon’s episodes for its new animated series Invincible.

“I like the idea of 20-30 minute episodes. I like the idea of following two different timelines, and being introduced to a character both upon inception and where he is now… [because] it just leaves the audience wanting more. It’ll be 12:40 at night and you’re like, ‘Ugh, I kind of want to watch another one. Oh, 24 minutes? Cool.’ I just want to render it down to simplicity. And I know I’m a writer, and I’m supposed to say, ‘you should really read my dialogue,’ but I like the unspoken narrative. And [with] animation, it’s incredibly powerful when you can do a sequence of events and just have music. And it’s all character moments. And so Splinter Cell has been a joy in that regard,” Kolstad explained before referencing the Thief video game series that launched in 1998.

“Those are some of my favorite games, as it leaned into the covert, the stealth of it all. And yet when you got a kill, it was more satisfying than Commando with a bulletproof hedge. I would much rather do something where you kind of feel like, ‘Oh, he’s about to get caught.’ And you realize no, that’s part of his… the brinkmanship. The chess game he’s playing and these various things. And because of these guys and what they’ve done in the past with seamless sizzle reels, it really comes down to the light and dark of it all. It’s glorious, man.”

The Splinter Cell series offers the chance to do some really cool animation, and while Netflix has yet to announce the animation studio behind the show, Kolstad promised that announcement would be “coming out soon.”

“Animation is fucking cool, dude. You send in a script and they make it. It isn’t a matter of casting this, this, this, or that. It’s like, ‘What do you want to do, Derek?’ ‘I think this would be cool.’ ‘That would be cool!’ We start it. Now, it takes forever because it’s animation, but still, that kind of playtime is fun,” said Kolstad, who has liked what he’s seen from the animation team thus far. “They came to me with the animatics going, ‘Hey, this is what we want to do.’ I’m like, ‘That’s cool, let’s play.’

Image via Ubisoft

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As for when fans might be able to feast their eyes on the animated Splinter Cell series, Kolstad indicated that 2021 seems out of the question.

“Probably two years. Probably, no, about 18 months. These things, from inception to execution, are 18 months to two years. My job will be done in probably six months with the other writers. And yet you’re always on standby to go, like, ‘This isn’t working. This line sucks. The actor wants to do something cool.’ But I also believe that, especially in animation, if they can have all the episodes in hand going into it, I make their job easier, too.”

Current plans call for a contained storyline, though Kolstad certainly wouldn’t say no to doing future seasons of Splinter Cell if it made creative sense.

“Every season is going to be self-contained, outside of the evolution of the main character. I like having one big, bad, one overarching story and one background story, with the A/B of it all, and yet, I look at everything I do — well, almost everything — especially in film and TV, as the best Westerns. He rides off into the sunset because he’s going to do the same fucking thing the next town over until he dies doing it. And with these characters that we get to have fun with, you want to see what their next step is. I remember back in the day, you see a sequel for something, you’re like, ‘Ugh, really?’ And then you see it and you’re like, ‘Kind of think that’s better than the last one. They took a little bit of a U-turn.’ And I think that kind of stuff is fun.

The show certainly sounds like it’ll be worth the wait, and we’ll have plenty of Kolstad-scripted mayhem to enjoy in the interim between Nobody, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a Hitman TV series and the John Wick spinoff The Continental.

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