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Old 12-24-2015, 03:12 PM   #1
JeffLowell
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Default Thoughts on reading spec pilots

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.
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Old 12-24-2015, 04:54 PM   #2
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

Thanks for sharing, Jeff. I'm toying with a web series and this is great advice there, as well!
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Old 12-25-2015, 09:52 PM   #3
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

Thanks for the info (none of my pilots do this, yay)
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Old 12-26-2015, 04:02 AM   #4
docgonzo
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

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.
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:12 PM   #5
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

perhaps all the V.O. is imitative of Mr Robot.
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:33 PM   #6
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
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?
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:35 PM   #7
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

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Originally Posted by docgonzo View Post
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.
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:43 AM   #8
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

Quote:
Originally Posted by docgonzo View Post
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.
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:49 AM   #9
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

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Originally Posted by Mpimentel View Post
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.
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Old 12-28-2015, 12:27 PM   #10
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Default Re: Thoughts on reading spec pilots

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.
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