Break It Down

Whenever I drag myself out for a run, the Dog usually accompanies me. Taking the Dog means having her on the lead, factoring in stops for toileting and meeting other dogs, and waiting for traffic. When it’s a hard run, I welcome each and every excuse to stop. But when it’s a run where I’m in the zone and I do not want to stop, I grit my teeth and wait on the bitch as she wees and poos and smells other dogs’ bottoms.

Sometimes things have to happen in their own way, no matter how much I want to beat my last time.

I’ve been gritting my teeth a bit with the television pilot lately. I’ve written a couple of pilots before but those were for half-hour shows; this puppy’s an hour-long drama.

I’ve read a heap of hour-long pilots*. I’ve got Jill Golick, John August, John Rogers, and Lisa Klink on my RSS feeds. I’ve been perusing my West Wing, Shield, Law & Order and Sports Night DVDs. (Yes, Sports Night is half-hourly but it’s so freakin’ good!)

Unlike a feature script where I can leap in – within reason and/or time constraints – keyboard blazing tight groups of sluglines and cut-to’s, a television script is much more rigidly structured. For starters, there are ad breaks to take into account. And there’s the (currently imaginary) budget to consider – no CUT-TO’s to the Iraq occupation or Victorian London for this show. And I have to establish some sort of feel or style or look – or all of those preceding words – to reinforce the show and concept as being unique and individual.

Right now, feature scripts are looking easy-peasy: I only need to keep the audience nailed to their seats for ninety-plus minutes and then they’re free to go.

The pilot has forty-five or so minutes with which to engage/enthrall/hook/addict the viewer and make them look forward to next week’s episode.

I can see the ep doing that – but only in my mind’s eye. In order to get it Out There, I have to write it all up – and to do that, I have to break down the ep:

  • thumbnails: intro the team; establish their work;
  • synopsis: meet the team; they save the world; it’s all in a day’s work;
  • breakdown: the TEAM LEADER is about to retire; his NEMESIS breaks out of maximum security prison; the game is afoot!
  • character descriptions: the Team Leader is square-jawed but has an in-grown toenail; his Nemesis looks pudgy but is all muscle, baby!; they have a history….

Long-suffering-time readers will know how much summarising Turns. Me. On.

Having written many, many pages of notes like “HERO’s only childhood memory is of when his mother dressed he and his dog, Bingo, in matching sailor suits” and “NEMESIS destroys SIDEKICK in best-of-three pinochle”, I must confess: I’m beginning to see the attraction of index cards.

They just seem so… unromantic.

*  Big ups to Mr Lee for his stash.

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2 Replies to “Break It Down”

  1. True, nothing vaguely romantic about index cards, unless you manage to get antique Victorian ones and can do a fair approximation of copper-plate handwriting. But, when you lay them all out on the table, the do allow you to survey your domain and shift a few things around. I did that with my last screenplay and it worked a treat for the structure.

  2. i have heard that about index cards – your story at a glance. recent posts over at Mr Rogers‘ show the absolute necessity of index cards with a television show.

    i suspect the root cause of my resistance is my demand to be unique – an individual. just like everyone else.

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