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JeffLowell
12-24-2015, 02:12 PM
Just got through a stack of scripts for a fellowship I'm judging. All of these writers are already in the WGA - these are mid-level TV writers, not amateurs. (But they're also all looking for jobs, so it's not like they're currently successful writers.)

A high percentage of scripts started with some version of this:

Voice over by protagonist, talking about their past.

Flashbacks to earlier scenes.

This continuing for at least a third of the script before the story remotely starts.

In my opinion, if you're going to do a premise pilot, figure out a way to do it without doing any of those things. First off, you're asking people to start out by reading what your show isn't - unless it's Wonder Years, which is a nostalgic look back at childhood, the first ten minutes of your show is not representative of what's to come.

Figure out a way to start the story of the pilot off right off the bat, and whatever backstory you think is necessary (and I bet it's a lot less than people think), sprinkle that in extremely artfully.

DangoForth
12-24-2015, 03:54 PM
Thanks for sharing, Jeff. I'm toying with a web series and this is great advice there, as well!

JoeBanks
12-25-2015, 08:52 PM
Thanks for the info (none of my pilots do this, yay)

docgonzo
12-26-2015, 03:02 AM
Jeff, what are your thoughts on the flash forward opening, where a pilot shows a snippet of the end and flashes back to "48 hours ago" or whatever? I know it's done a lot, thanks to Breaking Bad, but am wondering if it's still a good approach if done right.

jimjimgrande
12-27-2015, 09:12 PM
perhaps all the V.O. is imitative of Mr Robot.

Mpimentel
12-27-2015, 09:33 PM
Flashbacks to earlier scenes.


Jeff, is it a flashback when you start the first 5 mins say in 1995 and then go "present day" after if it's done?

Sorta putting A to show why B...

I do have one script that starts like this, and I did it because the first 15 mins (after this scene) is setting up what the normal world is, and it is pretty normal, boring even, so I wanted to capture the viewer first, in a way that they would wanna keep watching now that they saw what they saw...

No?

Mpimentel
12-27-2015, 09:35 PM
Jeff, what are your thoughts on the flash forward opening, where a pilot shows a snippet of the end and flashes back to "48 hours ago" or whatever? I know it's done a lot, thanks to Breaking Bad, but am wondering if it's still a good approach if done right.

watching Fight club right this second as I read this, and it does the same. Starts in the end of the movie then takes you to how he got there...

I think it works, for me. But I'm no expert... But as a viewer, it works for me, if the scene you are showing me is compelling enough to want to find out how they got there, then it works.

JeffLowell
12-28-2015, 07:43 AM
Jeff, what are your thoughts on the flash forward opening, where a pilot shows a snippet of the end and flashes back to "48 hours ago" or whatever? I know it's done a lot, thanks to Breaking Bad, but am wondering if it's still a good approach if done right.

That's done not just in TV - how many movies start now with some action scene where we won't understand what's going on until later in the movie? I'm sure I'm guilty of it myself.

It's understandable - those first few pages are precious real estate, why not have something big and exciting to kick it off...

I guess it's better to do something that's overdone and interesting, rather than overdone and boring. ;)

JeffLowell
12-28-2015, 07:49 AM
Jeff, is it a flashback when you start the first 5 mins say in 1995 and then go "present day" after if it's done?

I'm more talking about a present day narrator describing their childhood as we see it happen on screen.

But the danger of that way or the way you describe is that you're spending the first five minutes with your characters in a situation we'll never see them again.

I'm not saying it never works. Again, like all these things, I'm guilty of it myself. I'm just saying I'm seeing it a lot, so if you do it, be aware that it seems to be a trend.

ProfessorChomp
12-28-2015, 11:27 AM
I'm writing a pilot for SyFy right now adapting a book series where the characters start out 75 years old, then get young again after a procedure (in the pilot). The network doesn't want the crucial first act to be all old people. My workaround is to introduce them young (to show our hot leads) and establish the origins of the central world conflict, then jump ahead 50 years to the "present" to their old selves (who will get young again 2 acts later and be thrust into that evolved conflict). Seems jumpy, but I get why they don't want to see just elderly actors for the important first act. I'm not into memory flashbacks (and neither are they) so this turned out to be a fix that everyone's happy with.

bruinwriter
12-28-2015, 11:40 AM
Great discussion, thanks for sharing, Jeff! I was struggling with my own starting point/exposition dumps recently. To help myself find the right starting point I wrote my bible first, and created a detailed backstory. I found this method cathartic, and it sort of allowed me to get it all out of the way, so I didn't feel so compelled to add it into the pilot itself.

So far it's helping. In the pilot, I'm letting the backstory unfold in small doses spread through the episode. My goal is to let the audience do most of the heavy lifting, giving them more intellectual credit than most pilots do. So far, so good (I hope).

Good luck all!

tinlizzie
12-29-2015, 06:09 PM
Hey ProfessorChomp, that sounds an awful lot like Ghost Brigades!?! Loved the books, looking forward to the series.

ProfessorChomp
12-30-2015, 11:53 AM
Hey ProfessorChomp, that sounds an awful lot like Ghost Brigades!?! Loved the books, looking forward to the series.

Thanks! I loved the books too, so I'm really excited to be doing it.

tinlizzie
12-30-2015, 12:06 PM
I'm sure you'll do an amazing job! Congrats and good luck!

TheKeenGuy
01-02-2016, 08:59 PM
Thanks for the tip, Jeff. I was on the fence about an opening VO/flashback in my pilot, and out it goes.

TMCan
01-03-2016, 03:59 PM
Wow this is an interesting thread. It is making me rethink the use of VO in my pilot. I feel it is integral to the story telling, but now I should keep my mind open.

KitesAreFun
01-07-2016, 08:09 AM
Thanks for sharing, Jeff. This is a pretty common thing, as you know. I recently wrote a TV pilot that starts with a one-page pre-credit sequence that's a sort of abstract flashback. Maybe I'll rework it the next time that I do another draft.

surftatboy
02-02-2016, 02:25 PM
Odd any mid-levels would be resorting to 101 tactics (if it really is excited that clumsily). On paper I hate the concept of breaking the 4th wall the way House of Cards does, however, they make it work.

Summation: whatever works, works. I'm not convinced this revelation is a reason to blindly toss out your intros [re: the above posters]. Only you know if your pilot is working that way. Well, you and your producerÖ

I do agree that you need a lot less setup than you think. The trick is to stop cutting the fat before you hit bone.

Terri
10-31-2016, 10:01 PM
Jeff, what are your thoughts on the flash forward opening, where a pilot shows a snippet of the end and flashes back to "48 hours ago" or whatever? I know it's done a lot, thanks to Breaking Bad, but am wondering if it's still a good approach if done right.

How to Get Away With Murder seems to do this... across a number of episodes, where Analise's house burns down. A mystery man is dead. We don't know what caused the fire or what's going on, but...

I think they're doing a pretty good job showing it unfold. It does keep you watching.

Levenger
12-16-2016, 07:12 AM
Thank god my pilot starts with a woman turning off her alarm clock and going for a run...all before hubby even wakes up!

finalact4
12-16-2016, 05:14 PM
I opened a pilot I wrote this year as a flashback three hundred years ago (but still in our future) and shot in black and white with very select imagery in the color red-- for example, a little girl's RED ribbon in her hair and a specific shot of RED BLOOD-TEARS.

It was a franchise design decision. Each episode's teaser is set in The Year of the Plague (2149) which explains how humanity was decimated to near extinction. Each teaser explores the mistakes of the past and establishes the theme of the episode in the future. And buried in the past narrative is a huge secret that we build to that has an impact which is revealed later in the series.

The idea is to unfold two timelines at once. "The Year of the Plague" which causes the downfall and decimation of humanity, and the first season which is "The Year of the Healer," (2463) where the first rebellion in the New Republic's history finally begins at the end of the first season.

The black and white vs color esthetic is a way to distinguish the two worlds (timelines of the story).

After the teaser, we jump forward three hundred years to "current time" where the episode plays out and we see how the past has informed the future. It explores themes and struggles of whether man is destined to destroy itself and his world or will he learn from the past and save humanity.

So, for my pilot, the flashback is an important tool as it is built into the franchise and narrative itself.

I'll have to rewrite it, I know that, because the Black List review had this to say:

One Weakness (which is the biggest one):
Whilst we are certainly in a golden age of television, the budget required to pull of even a third of this pilot would be nothing short of the most monumental undertaking in network history (and from a business stand point - very unlikely as itís original I.P).:eek:

and...

TV series potential:
In its current incarnation, prospects for a sale are unlikely. Itís not that the idea isnít strong enough, itís simply to do with the sheer size and cost. It goes from a fun idea to commercial suicide, and most producers will likely view this as a solid and creative writing sample as opposed to something theyíd ever actually undertake. The writing is strong, and some of the concepts in here are HUGELY imaginative and marketable (eg. what kid wouldnít want a moodipet plush?). There hasnít been a rugged, Indiana-Jones like adventure hero such as Novak on tv screens for a long time, and this is another huge asset to the work, but further development will be essential before sending out. The scale is just unmanageable as it is, even for tv.

Ambitious? Yes. A little embarrassing, well, yeah. Needless to say I've some work to do on it. I know that. It's clear that they've figured out that I'm a big budget feature writer...:D I'm planning on writing a book proposal in the future. Hell, why not.

Thanks, Jeff Lowell, for starting this thread and opening a very interesting discussion that provides a lot of good insight, as writers, we need to be considering when we make the choices we make for our TV projects.

These are the kind of discussions I look forward to.

docgonzo
12-19-2016, 05:35 PM
Thank god my pilot starts with a woman turning off her alarm clock and going for a run...all before hubby even wakes up!

LOL