While everyone clamors to perfect their Scriptshadow 250 entries, a bold group of screenwriting gummy bears choose to place their letter spaghetti in front of the interconnected computer sphere in hopes of rainbow transformation. May we wish them a transition to a higher state of being.
Title: To Boldly Go
Logline: In 1964, writer Gene Roddenberry struggles to get his vision on television – a show called “Star Trek”.
Why you should read: Three reasons. One – unlike other biopics which give you the whole Wikipedia routine, my script focuses on a year-long period in a man’s life, during which he has a clear goal. Two, it could generate a discussion on the act of using licensed properties you do not own in a spec written as a sample. (Like “Wonka”, which I am certain will not be made unless Roald Dahl’s zombie corpse approaches a production office, gobstopper in hand, and signs off on it while offering casting notes: “Two words: Get Gosling.”). And, three, my script comes from the heart. My father passed on in ’91, when I was kid, and one of the things he instilled in me was a love of science fiction, particularly “Star Trek”.
Title: The Camelot Club
Logline: A religious man and his sexually deviant cousin unexpectedly inherit a run down strip club and have two weeks to make fifty thousand dollars or be killed by a seven foot transsexual pimp.
Why You Should Read: What do you get when you add together a 6’3” ginger Pole and an average height, golden tan Croatian? The Camelot Club, a combination of tanned, god-like overconfidence and the inherit self-loathing that comes with being orange and pale. We came together to write this script so we could split the crushing despair that comes when someone inevitably tells you your scripts reads like German is your native tongue (an actual criticism I received on my very first script, which hurt even more considering the only language I know is English). In the end we are just a couple of struggling artists looking to be accepted into the soft, voluptuous bosom of the screenwriting community (an agent and management would be nice, too). After learning the English language more better, and getting the screenwriting turds out of our systems, we put our minds together and produced The Camelot Club. And now I would like to end on a testimonial from my bi-polar, alcoholic brother, “…this script was so good it made me wish I was tri-polar…”. Enjoy!
Title: The Stone Addendum
Logline: An Israeli secret agent has less than two days to prevent a terrorist hostage exchange in the U.S., but he must rely on help from an innocent Muslim woman that he’s ordered to kill once the mission is complete.
Why you should read: This script appeared in AOW a ways back to pleasant but uneventful reviews. Since then, with the help of Carson’s notes, it’s gone through a major makeover, and registered a Page Quarterfinals, a BlueCat Top 5%, and most recently a Top 25 in the Tracking Board. The latter billed it as TAKEN meets THE HURT LOCKER, and “the perfect blend of brains and brawn.” I think I’m in the red zone on this one, but can’t seem to punch it into the end zone with producers. Feedback from the SS community would be more than helpful. Thanks in advance to anyone taking a look.
Logline: A young man from a strict religious family awakens from a severe head injury with the personality of a vulgar, slutty party girl named Tammy.
Why you should read: (from Tammy) heyyyy. so like, i didnt write this er whatever. the movie. but its awesome. mainly cuz its about me. myy names Tammy… & yes, im way hotter then that slam pig melissa mccarthy who took my name and shat on it. i like to party & get schwasty, unlike my dumpy foster mom. but seriously. u hafta read this. normaly, id suck u off, but i cant do that thru email… so quit beatin ur ham & open this script. u wont be sorry & if u r… gimme ur address & ill make it up to u. im like UPS… i deliver my box to strangers ;)
Title: Tampa Bay
Genre: Buddy Action
Logline: An old, homophobic, U.S. Marshal must seek the assistance of a gay FBI agent to solve the murder of a neighbor’s daughter.
Why You Should Read: I think it’s about time we had an action hero who just happens to be gay. He should be a badass first, and gay second. So that’s exactly what I wrote.
Get Your Script Reviewed On Scriptshadow!: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and finally, something interesting about yourself and/or your script that you’d like us to post along with the script if reviewed. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Remember that your script will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effects of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.
Premise (from writer): After two teens are murdered, a Detroit police lieutenant is hard-pressed to end an unprecedented wave of retributive violence—not against the gang suspected of killing them, but against the gang members’ families and loved ones.
Why You Should Read (from writer): I’ve written a number of scripts, and up to this point they’ve all been fairly comfortable, meaning they were in genres I felt I could do well. Mostly light comedies and family-oriented scripts. But I had an idea for something quite a bit darker and edgier rolling around in my brain for some time now. “Retribution” is the result. — It’s probably the most complex, layered story I’ve written. The challenge for me was to make it a clear and straight-ahead story despite the complicated storyline. I’d love to hear from the Scriptshadow community whether or not they think I’ve succeeded.
Details: 112 pages
I believe all screenwriters should try and perfect a genre. And preferably, it would be the genre they love. Get in there, watch every movie ever made in that genre. Then write 5-10 screenplays in it. Just immerse yourself in all its unique traits. Because different genres have different requirements. For a good Thriller, you have to be a master of twists and turns. For a good Comedy, you have to be a master of witty dialogue.
However, it’s also important to push yourself every once in awhile. And that means getting out of your comfort zone – writing something in unfamiliar territory. These exercises can be unexpectedly exciting because there’s a new challenge around every corner. I’m not sure they ever end up being your best work. But they definitely help you grow and expand as a writer. Let’s see how Somersby did with this approach.
After watching a basketball game downtown, suburban brothers Noah and Wyatt hop in their car to head home. Wyatt, 15, insists on driving in anticipation of getting his license, but quickly gets lost in a bad neighborhood. When he goes to ask directions at a convenience store, he stumbles upon a few gangbangers robbing the place and gets shot dead. Noah makes a run for it but the thugs catch up to and kill him as well.
Hard-nosed veteran Lieutenant Jacob Brant and ladies man investigator Franco Marietti are assigned to the case, and immediately zoom in on a local gang known as the V-Boyz. But that’s no consolation to Tecca Bellwood, the boys’ mother. She and her husband, Marc, know that finding the killers isn’t going to bring their kids back.
Still, Brant and Marietti have to do their job, and start looking into the V-Boyz. That is, until, family members linked to the gang start getting shot by a mysterious killer. First it’s a V-Boyz wife, then a grandmother, then a girlfriend. Brant and Marietti figure it’s got to be someone who wants the V-Boyz to suffer, and Marc (the dead boys’ father) seems like the most likely culprit.
But as they continue to dig, the truth about the convenience store robbery surfaces, throwing everything into question. Who really killed those boys that day? And how is this mysterious killer connected to them?
Yay! We get a script by longtime commenter, Somersby. Not surprised at all that his script dominated last week’s Amateur Offerings. Someone with this much screenwriting knowledge wasn’t going to deliver something subpar.
I definitely liked parts of Retribution. In fact, I thought the last 30 pages were great! That’s when the script really came together.
But I can’t say the same about the first 80 pages. There was nothing wrong with them. In fact, they were very well-written. But something about them didn’t GRAB ME AND PULL ME IN. I was never that invested in the story. And I identified a few reasons why.
For starters, I don’t think this script had a main character. Not that every script needs a main character but if you DON’T have a main character, you risk alienating your reader. Readers want to latch onto someone. Relate to them. Empathize with them. In a way, a main character becomes the reader’s avatar in the story.
Without that one-on-one connection, getting a reader to emotionally invest in your story is a lot tougher. And that’s what happened with me. I was never emotionally invested because I didn’t have anybody to emotionally invest IN.
Also, up until page 90, the execution of the script, while technically perfect, was creatively basic. It was all very predictable and “been-there-done-that.” When you added that on top of having no one to connect to, it made for some average reading.
Finally, there was the serial killer element. This added the dimension, I’m guessing, that Somersby felt would make the script different from others in the genre. Which is good. That’s exactly what you want to do.
The problem, though, was that the people who were being killed were “bad” people. They were family members of gangbangers. So I didn’t care if they were killed. I was like, “Good, keep killing. These gang members deserve to suffer.”
That storyline was meant to create suspense. But since I didn’t care that these people were being killed and therefore didn’t care who was doing it, I had no real desire to learn the truth.
Despite all that, I give Somersby credit for the killer reveal. I wasn’t expecting that at all (spoiler: For those not reading the script, the killer ends up being the mom). And once the killer is revealed, the mad dash to stop her gives that last 20 pages all the energy the first 90 pages were missing. In fact, because the last 20 pages were the script’s best, we end up somewhat happy with the result.
But if I were Somersby, I’d ask myself if there’s a way to tell this story with a main character. I’d actually consider telling it from Tecca’s (the mom’s) point of view. That (spoiler) would make the reveal even more shocking. Although how you’d hide her involvement in the murders while following her as the main character, I don’t know. It’s possible though. Isn’t that what #1 Black List script (spoiler for the 2013 #1 Black List script) Holland, Michigan did?
Even if you were to solve that problem, you still run into the issue of: Is this concept big enough to power a movie? As I was reading this, I kept waiting for some hook to arrive that gave “Retribution” that “larger than life” quality I say I’m always looking for in a spec. Right now it’s a pretty standard crime-procedural. I think Somersby’s capable of more.
But it was still fun to read a script from Somersby. The script definitely had its moments. If the first ¾ was as good as the last ¼ this would’ve had my vote. As it stands, it didn’t quite get there. How about you guys? What did you think?
Screenplay link: Retribution
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: It used to be that studios would release 10-15 cop/crime films a year. They don’t do that anymore. And the ones that do get made get limited releases or go straight to digital. So I’d say, if you’re going to write a crime/cops/procedural script, find a flashy hook for it. Give us that larger-than-life high concept angle to really elevate it enough that studios would want to put it on their slate. The two biggest spec crime films of last year focused on the best CIA killer in history (The Equalizer) and the best hitman in history (John Wick). Their main characters were almost superheroes. Not to say we should’ve done the same here. But that’s what you’re going up against these days. You’re going up against these big-idea big-character crime films.
Okay so when I try and explain to writers what Hollywood is looking for, they often look at me sideways, as if to say, “Well that’s dumb,” and then they go off and write what THEY want to write. They then come back eight months later and say, “Why doesn’t anyone want to read my script?” And I say to them, “Maybe it’s because you ignored me when I told you what Hollywood wants and wrote something only you want.”
So I’ve decided to parade out the cold hard facts. I want you to know the EXACT subject matters that dominate the box office right now. So I’ve taken the top 20 films of last year and I’m going to post JUST their subject matter. Not the title or anything else. That way you can see, without anything else clouding your judgment, what Hollywood is selling.
Now because no one here’s expecting Paramount to offer them their next big comic book writing assignment, I’ve followed this with the TOP 20 SPEC SCRIPTS in 2014 and their subject matter. So you can see exactly what subjects Hollywood responds to in spec form.
What I’m about to highlight is NOT the only way to find success in Hollywood. There’s an entire independent route you can take as well, which requires less splashy premises but more legwork on your part (as we always say here – the less “high concept” your script, the more effort you’ll have to put into getting it sold). Still, I think this gives you a good approximation of the KINDS of things you should be writing about if you want Hollywood to take notice.
2014 TOP 20 MOVIES – SUBJECT MATTER
2) Dystopian future
3) Space aliens
6) Fantasy world
11) Dystopian future
14) Undercover cops (comedy)
15) Fighting Animals
16) Space travel
18) Missing woman
19) Dystopian Future
20) Frat houses (comedy)
Okay, now let’s do the same for spec screenplays! Sometimes categorizing specs can be difficult. A director directing his own spec screenplay is a lot different than a writer selling a “naked” spec to a studio. So I’m going to stay away from writer-director projects in this analysis (i.e. No “Interstellar”). Also, it’s kind of hard to gauge the subject matter of a spec without knowing the genre, so I’ll include that too.
2014 TOP 20 SPECS TURNED FILMS – GENRE AND SUBJECT MATTER
1) Comedy – Frat houses
2) Comedy – Cops/Crime
3) Sci-fi – Superhuman powers
4) Thriller – One man takes on gang
5) Thriller – Danger on an airplane
6) Comedy – Pretend cops
7) Fantasy – Dracula
8) Thriller – Stalker
9) Action – Dangerous weather
10) Drama – Returning home (coming-of-age)
11) Romantic Comedy – Vacation in Africa
12) Comedy – Old man takes care of kid (coming-of-age)
13) Romantic Comedy – sex
14) Thriller – Dangerous news coverage
15) Thriller – Terrorism
16) Comedy – Sports (football draft)
17) Comedy – 20s males trying to get laid
18) Sci-fi – The Singularity (artificial intelligence)
19) Horror – dangerous pregnancy
20) Romantic Comedy – Man must raise granddaughter (coming-of-age)
When I finished compiling this list, I noticed two things. First, the subject matter for the top films of the year were extremely predictable. Which is good, in a way. We know exactly what the masses want (aliens, robots, monsters, the future) so we should be able to give it to them. But what I was really surprised about was the variety I found in the subject matter of the spec screenplays. It was way more varied. It seems to me that if you’re okay with not trying to write a 300 million dollar blockbuster, you have a lot of options. What did you guys find?
Oh, and for those of you who were wondering what the actual movies were for each list, here they are, reprinted, film and subject matter…
2014 TOP 20 BOX OFFICE WITH SUBJECT MATTER
1) American Sniper – War
2) The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 – Dystopian Future
3) Guardians of the Galaxy – Space aliens
4) Captain America: Winter Soldier – Superheroes
5) The Lego Movie – Toys
6) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Fantasy characters
7) Transformers: Age of Extinction – Robots
8) Maleficent – Witches
9) X-Men: Days of Future Past – Superheroes
10) Big Hero 6 – Robots
11) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Dystopian future
12) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Superheroes
13) Godzilla – Monsters
14) 22 Jump Street – Undercover cops (comedy)
15) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Fighting Animals
16) Interstellar – Space travel
17) How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Dragons
18) Gone Girl – Missing woman
19) Divergent – Dystopian Future
20) Neighbors – frat houses (comedy)
2014 TOP 20 BOX OFFICE SPECS WITH GENRE AND SUBJECT MATTER
1) Neighbors – Comedy – Frat houses
2) Ride Along – Comedy – Cops/Crime
3) Lucy – Sci-fi – Superhuman powers
4) The Equalizer – Thriller – One man takes on gang
5) Non-Stop – Thriller – Airplane danger
6) Let’s Be Cops – Comedy – Pretend cops
7) Dracula Untold – Fantasy – Dracula
8) No Good Deed – Thriller – Stalker
9) Into the Storm – Action – Dangerous weather
10) The Judge – Drama – Returning home
11) Blended – Romantic Comedy – Vacation in Africa
12) St. Vincent – Dramedy – Old man takes care of young kid
13) Sex Tape – Comedy – sex
14) Nightcrawler – Thriller – dangerous news coverage
15) 3 Days to Kill – Thriller – Terrorism
16) Draft Day – Dramedy – a sports draft
17) That Awkward Moment – Comedy – Trying to get laid
18) Transcendence – Sci-fi – the singularity (artificial intelligence)
19) Devil’s Due – Horror – dangerous pregnancy
20) And So It goes – Romantic Comedy – Man must raise granddaughter (coming of age)
And finally, a friendly reminder to sign up for The Scriptshadow 250 Screenwriting Contest. The deadline is now at 3 months and 7 days! And the contest is FREE!
Premise: A safari tracker who’s long since given up on life races home to look for his brother, who’s gone missing in the wilderness.
About: While this is Spencer Mondshein’s breakthrough script, he’s not a stranger to the industry. His father was an editor, and he was working as an assistant on Boardwalk Empire when he penned the thriller. He was lucky enough to convince Boardwalk Empire director Allen Coulter to give him guidance on the screenplay. The script made last year’s Black List and was picked up by Voltage Pictures.
Writer: Spencer Mondshein
Details: 98 pages
If you’re coming into the Scriptshadow 250 Contest, you’re most likely thinking like a lot of Scriptshadowers – “I need to have GSU.” Indeed, it’s a favored approach around here because it works. You want to give your main character a focused goal. You want there to be high stakes attached to that goal. And you want there to be urgency behind his pursuit.
But GSU can be dangerous in the wrong hands. If that’s ALL you’re adding to your screenplay, you’re going to find you have a really simplistic screenplay.
Some of the ways to avoid this are to add rich compelling characters, a rocking high concept, some clever twists and turns, and – the most dangerous but potentially rewarding route: Break the rules. Introduce something into the script that’s not traditionally done.
This is the scariest thing to do in screenwriting. You know you’re gambling when you eschew convention, but the rewards are much greater when you take the risk. Today’s writer gambles away, and you’ll have to read on to find out if he succeeds.
27 year-old Henry Davis hasn’t been the same since his father died. Henry’s been on some sort of failed spiritual journey ever since, medicating himself with booze and pills, trying to find a reason to go on.
Probably the only reason he hasn’t killed himself yet is his older brother Sean, who he hasn’t talked to in ages, but who he still loves very much. The two were close as kids and almost started a business together. But eventually Henry flew off to Africa to help rich English families track big scary African animals like his father used to do.
Henry’s been filled with even more rage than usual lately and he’s about at the end of his rope. Who would’ve thought that he’d be saved by his brother, some 5000 miles away, who’s gone missing in the wilderness.
Sean was doing an exploratory run for his mountain biking business when he slipped, fell, and became seriously injured. The script takes us over to Sean, where we see that he has stomach and leg injuries that leave him with about 36 hours to live at best.
Sean’s wife, Jessica, doesn’t trust the local clueless cops, which is why she calls Henry. For the first time in a long time, Henry has purpose. He arrives and immediately starts tracking, and as he does, we cut back to a series of flashbacks from the brothers growing up. These randomly sequenced flashbacks cover everything from when their father first taught them how to track to the brothers’ eventual break-up after Henry left Sean’s business.
As Henry gets deeper into the wild, nature throws more and more curveballs at him, and we begin to wonder if he’s going to make it. In the meantime, Sean is holed up in a cave, his health deteriorating rapidly. If Henry’s going to save his brother, and probably himself, he’ll have to pull off a miracle.
Ahhh, the flashback.
The evil infatuated-with-the-past demonic entity known as the flashback.
Screenwriters and screenplay professors everywhere will tell you to avoid it like the plague. But should you?
The answer, of course, is yes.
But there’s always an “unless.”
And the “unless” is if you can make the flashbacks matter. If they’re essential to telling your story, then include them. The thing is, they’re usually not. And writers don’t realize that.
What I’ve found is that flashbacks are either used to convey backstory that could have easily been conveyed in the present, or they’re utilized to fill up space when the writer doesn’t have enough story.
And that’s exactly what I was worried about here. The core storyline for The Search is bare-bones. You have two characters. One is looking for the other in the forest. It’s hard to turn that into a 100 page screenplay and not add filler.
So I was skeptical when the flashbacks began. I thought, “He’s just trying to get this to a respectable page count.” Because the thing you have to remember with a flashback is that it’s almost always detrimental. If you’re going backwards, it means your story isn’t moving forwards. And moving your narrative forward is THE ONE UNIVERSALLY AGREED ON component in screenwriting. Everybody agrees that if you’re moving your story forward, THAT’S GOOD.
But here’s what flashbacks give you when done well. They give you depth. In this case, depth to the main characters. If you stay in the present only with Henry and Sean, you don’t learn anything about their relationship. You don’t learn what happened to their father, what happened to their business, or how they drifted apart. And when that’s the case, you get that dreaded “GSU and nothing more” I was talking about at the beginning of the review.
But, see, the only way that you can justify adding all that depth, is if you deliver with your climax. All that setup you stopped your story cold for to go back to and show us, needs to be paid off in your finale. Or else what was the point of it?
So everything about The Search hinged on its finale.
And let me tell you this: The Search delivered in its finale.
One of the things I was frustrated with while reading this script was there were no surprises. I was always a bit ahead of the story. I know when I’m able to skim down a page and get to the end of a scene, and that scene finished exactly like I thought it would, that the writer isn’t challenging me enough. So I kept waiting for that one unexpected moment. And I finally got it at the end.
I’ll just admit to you right now that I wept like a little girl. I wasn’t expecting the script to go to that place. And I also realized that it was all those flashbacks that helped bring me there.
So I’d say The Search is a great example of a writer who risked breaking the rules (Rule #137 in screenwriting: “Avoid flashbacks!”), and found a way to make it work for the script. It also goes to show that people are much more likely to remember your script if you write a great/powerful ending. I’m not going to say that everything about this script was great. But the ending made up for a lot of its weaknesses.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Flashbacks are like making a deal with the devil. They add depth to your story (creating deeper characters). But that depth comes at a cost (slows your story way down). So you have to weigh that every time you’re tempted to use a flashback. I will say this: If flashbacks become a consistent part of your story structure like they are here (they’re brought in repeatedly at regular intervals), that always works better than just randomly stuffing a few flashbacks into your story, which often feels hackneyed and lazy.
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: Days away from an organic farmer having to sell his dying farm, an unlikely stroke of luck changes his life forever.
About: Alejandro Inarritu has finally caught the TV bug. The visionary director who had his biggest success last year with “Birdman,” has realized that his brand of cinema is perfect for television, as it’s mainly character based. As you might remember, I detested the Birdman screenplay and didn’t think too much of the film either. So a bad review from me on The One Percent may ensure a bucketful of Emmys and unrivaled financial success. The show will appear on STARZ, which is a channel that’s trying to enter the coveted ranks of AMC, Netflix, and HBO, but for whatever reason, hasn’t got there yet. Probably because nobody knows where Starz is on their cable box.
Writers: Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giacobone, Alejandro Inarritu, and Armando Bo
Details: 64 pages – July 27, 2014
There are some things I can promise you before I get to this review. First of all, this will not be a “make-up” review where I try and make-up for my dislike of the Birdman script. If this is bad, I’m going to tell you it’s bad. Secondly, I’m not going to undeservedly trash this script in a stubborn rage, trying to solidify my point that Birdman wasn’t any good and this yucky follow-up proves it. I am coming into this completely objectively. If it’s good, I’m going to say it’s good. If it’s bad, I’m going to say it’s bad. I haven’t read the script before typing this paragraph and I have NO idea what it’s about. So let’s see what happens!
In our last few screenplays, we had main characters who had it all. Alfred Murphy, our protagonist in “The One Percent,” does not fall into that category. The 40-something Alfred married his wife 20 years ago. We get the sense that he had ideas for a big city career, but since his wife’s father owned a profitable organic farm, the unsuspecting Alfred was roped into the family business, a business he’s never had any interest in.
Which makes the fact that the farm is dying bittersweet, I guess. But since it’s their only form of income and they have two kids, Alfred needs that farm to survive.
If that’s not bad enough, Alfred’s wife’s father, Nathaniel, hates him. At one point he calls him “talentless,” “lazy,” “boring,” and a “bitter weakness that stains everyone around you.” What is this, the Comedy Central roast of Alfred Bieber? Nathaniel has always resented the fact that his daughter married Alfred and now that the stress of the failing farm is seeping in, all those feelings are coming out. In fact, they’ve dribbled down to Alfred’s wife as well, who’s starting to question their marriage.
It’s at a local farming demonstration that Alfred’s life changes. During a spat with police, Alfred’s 18 year-old son is injured. Alfred runs to a nearby convenience store to get some water for him, but is stonewalled by one of those 15 dollar minimum credit rules. Some customer has left his stuff on the counter, and, worrying about his son, Alfred just tells the woman to include it to make the minimum. He then grabs the man’s things and runs off.
Little does Alfred know, that bag of things included a lottery ticket. And later that evening, that lottery ticket hits, to the tune of 180 million dollars. Alfred is so shocked, he sort of stumbles into the lottery office, not knowing what he’s going to do next. When they confirm the ticket, Alfred heads home to give the family the good news – that he’s going to save the farm.
But when his father-in-law lays into him yet another time and his wife tells him she wants a divorce, Alfred realizes that the best thing to do right now may be to keep the winnings to himself. But how long will he be able to keep that up? Or maybe the more relevant question is: How can Alfred escape this life and keep all that money?
Well this was a pleasant surprise. After watching Inarritu conceive of the king of all artsy movies in Birdman, the last thing I expected from him was a high-concept premise. Especially for a television show, which is much more low-concept friendly, and the wheelhouse Inarritu likes to roll in. In fact, after those first 30 pages, I thought this was going to be a dreary Grapes of Wrath like exploration of organic farming in the modern age.
When that lottery ticket hit I was like, “Whoa.”
I’ve always been a fan of lottery-centric premises but the truth is, they’ve never done well, either in film or television. I don’t know why that is. It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. What would you do if you won the lottery? But there’s something about it that’s hard to relate to. Nobody knows anyone who’s won the lottery so how do you make that experience accessible?
But I’ll tell you why this show works (so far, at least). What I’m starting to learn from all my recent pilot reading is that TV shows are predominantly about family. Even when they’re about something else, it all comes back to family in some way.
So one of the keys to writing a good pilot is coming up with an interesting family dynamic. There have to be issues there – issues that aren’t easy to solve. And once you hook an audience on those issues, they’ll stick around for multiple episodes to see how they play out.
Look at one of the best written shows of recent times – The Good Wife. That show starts out with one of the most fascinating family conflicts ever. The wife of a district attorney finds out he’s been secretly sleeping with hookers, and now must publicly support him as he fights to stay out of prison. That’s a conflict we know can’t easily be solved. So after that pilot, we’re in it for the long haul.
Here, Alfred finds himself in a family business he’s never wanted to be a part of. His father-in-law thinks he’s weak and not good enough for his daughter. And his wife wants to move on from him. But it’s not as simple as filing divorce papers. Like it or not, this money is tied to his wife, since he won it while married to her. And he also has two children with her. So we know there are stormy days ahead and there won’t be any easy answers for this group.
The only weakness in this pilot is the weakness of its main character. And this is something I’ve never quite been able to figure out myself. Sometimes the story requires your main character to be weak. Everything about this pilot is based around the idea that Alfred isn’t good enough for this family. I don’t think the show can work any other way. But the problem with that is, now you have a weak character manning your story. I mean all Alfred does in The One Percent is nod meekly and go along with what people tell him to do. I’m left wondering how long you can keep that going. Audiences like to be led by a strong person.
To bring The Good Wife back into the mix, even though Alicia (the main character) had always played second fiddle to her husband, she stands up after the betrayal and actively seeks a new life for herself, joining a law firm with the goal of becoming a top trial lawyer. So she immediately feels strong. We don’t get that sense with Alfred here, and that would be my one worry for the show.
But as far as the concept, it’s pretty darn interesting. And basing this all around a family that owns an organic farm is an angle I haven’t seen before. It feels fresh (no pun intended). And that intrigues me. We’ll have to see where this goes once it airs. But so far, I’m a believer.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: With TV shows, you need to infuse some sort of conflict into the family dynamic. Just like we talk about with features – creating unresolved issues in your character relationships – you want to do the same when you write a pilot, just on a bigger level since the conflicts will need to last for a lot longer. If everything is fine with your show’s central family, you’re likely to have an extremely boring show.