Genre: TV Pilot – Supernatural
Premise: Three years after 2% of the world’s population DISAPPEARS into thin air, a small town is still trying to pick up the pieces of its missing.
About: Don’t bring any Damon Lindelof haters here. Scriptshadow is a pro-Lindelof zone. And the man who became a feature super-scribe after Lost ended, is going back to TV, this time to HBO, where we’re assuming he’s going to take a few more chances. Lindelof is adapting the novel by Tom Perrotta, who is, of course, best known as the author of the book-turned-film, “Little Children.” He also worte the book, “Election,” which Alexander Payne made into a film. The show is slated to debut in 2013, but I haven’t been able to find an exact premiere date.
Writers: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta)
Details: 77 pages – 2nd Draft (1/30/2013)

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I’ve been keeping an eye on The Leftovers for awhile. Perrotta is an interesting author. His book tackles a unique premise. And Lindelof is a “big material” writer. That trifecta was something I was willing to bet on.

Then again, it is a STRANGE premise. I mean you decide to have a bunch of people on the planet disappear one day (big idea!). But you choose for the number of people to only be 2%. That’s like buying a Ferrari but never taking it out of first gear. Why such a small number? Isn’t that not far off from the number of people who die every day anyway? I mean it’s such an odd choice. So The Leftovers had me asking questions before the story even began.

Kevin Garvey is the chief of police in a small town on the day that everything changes. For reasons no one can explain, 2% of the world’s population just disappears. Now what’s interesting about “The Leftovers” is that instead of focusing on the immediate aftermath of this insane invent, it jumps forward three years.

Despite the passing of time, the world (and this town) are just as confused today as they were back then. A global committee even put together an investigation and the universal assessment was: “We have no fucking idea why people be disappearing.”

As you’d expect, the religious crazies are ready to offer their opinions, specifically a spooky clan known as the “Guilty Remnant.” These guys are such weirdoes that they don’t even communicate with their voices. They write down what they want to say and hold it up. It’s not clear what their “mission” is, but they clearly don’t like the people who aren’t part of their group.

Joining Kevin are Jill, his angst-ridden teenage daughter, who’s in love with the school hottie (a guy who unfortunately likes her best friend). And then Tom, his older son, who’s a gate-keeper for ANOTHER religious cult outside of town, led by a freaky dude named Wayne. Wayne takes very rich and/or important people seeking guidance and “saves” them.

The pilot revolves around the upcoming town “Hero’s Parade,” which commemorates the three year anniversary of the disappearance. There’s much anxiety in the air as everyone assumes the Guilty Remnant will show up. And they do. As these freakazoids hold up signs and wear their white sheets, they’re yelled at to go home. When they don’t, a riot erupts. But the spooky part is that the Remnant doesn’t fight back. They allow themselves to be beaten to a pulp. It’s weird and disturbing and I would so not invite these guys to my upcoming dinner party.

As the episode draws to a close, it’s apparent that more and more people are having doubts about the way our society’s run. Whether it’s fair or not, that mass disappearance happened on our watch. And the religious groups are taking advantage, recruiting more and more citizens every day. We seem to be moving back to a time long ago – when America (and the world) was a full-blown religious state.

This is one of those ideas that gets you buzzed when you first see it. But as a writer, what do you write NEXT with it? It’s one of the easiest things to be fooled by as a beginning writer. Yeah, millions of people DISAPPEARING one day hooks a reader. But getting to that point in the story takes you ten pages. What do you write AFTER TEN PAGES??

The Leftovers surprised me with its answer: “Three years later.” That showed me they weren’t interested in the immediate mysteries involving this phenomenon (like, say, the show “Flash Forward”) but were more interested in the characters and the aftermath. For a movie, “three years later” probably would’ve been the wrong move, cause you WANT to deal with those questions. But with TV being about longevity, and the answers coming over time, it’s a better move to get to know and focus on the characters’ lives first.

Now the script started off strong. I thought it was an inspired choice to make the Guilty Remnant silent. It made them so spooky. Watching them stand outside of restaurants glowering at customers was so much more powerful than the cliché choice of religious wackos spouting out “end of the world” speeches on street corners.

But it didn’t end as strong as it could’ve. (Spoiler) We’re led to believe that Kevin lost his wife in the “disappearance.” But at the end of the episode, the big surprise is that she didn’t disappear, she’s a member of the Guilty Remnant. It was an okay twist, but not one that had huge overreaching implications. At least in my opinion. It was one of those twists where you sorta go, “Oh, yeah, that’s kinda neat” and then move on.

And maybe that’s my big issue with The Leftovers. While I like that it’s dealing with the characters, I’m not sure that the supernatural angle brings ENOUGH to the table.  I feel like if maybe HALF of the world disappeared, the show would be much juicier. But these guys clearly aren’t interested in making Lost 2 so maybe I should get over myself and accept their vision.

Despite some of my criticisms, this was still a fun read. For the most part, I enjoyed it.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Don’t fall in love with the hook. Focus on what comes after. ESPECIALLY with TV. Because what comes after will need to last 5-7 seasons. The Leftovers made it immediately clear, with their 3 year jump forward, that it was more about the characters dealing with the effects of this, rather than a plot-heavy narrative. That’s the way you gotta go with TV.

  • ScottStrybos

    RIP Syd Field…

    “Syd Field, the influential screenwriting teacher who taught a generation of top scribes how to shape feature films, died Sunday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 77.”

    • Mike.H

      … and before Syd’s death, he mapped out his life in horizontal grid from page 1-25, inciting incident at year 12, then 25-65 as mid point —

      and third act from 66 to THE END. [ source, his maid who left his bed sheets clean all these years. ] :)

  • JW

    What I find interesting is that we’re fairly harsh on each other in terms of when we look at a piece of writing and say, “that’s already been done” or “I’ve seen that before” and yet the pros are so unabashed about doing whatever they want (and I think there’s something to be learned there). As I read the synop for this I couldn’t help but think REVOLUTION, a current TV show produced by Lindelof bed buddy, Abrams. And, what is the fascination with the supernatural angle to everything they do? Obviously, I’m okay with it (amateur offerings considered), but I feel like the way both him and Abrams do it is because they can’t find a solid explanation for what is actually happening. One of the things I really thought was wasted on LOST was our ability as an audience to believe these people were actually caught on an island, only later to be revealed there were supernatural elements. The reason I say wasted is because it pops up in the pilot, so the second that happens I immediately know that what I’m looking at could be entirely the opposite of what I’m actually seeing. Which, in my opinion, is a complete waste because I wanted to think that in the beginning it was all real and then turn it on its head and pull The Sixth Sense rug out from under me later… but, at the end of the day Lindelof and Abrams are Hollywood darlings, so live and learn…

    • ximan

      “And, what is the fascination with the supernatural angle to everything they do? Obviously, I’m okay with it (amateur offerings considered), but I feel like the way both him and Abrams do it is because they can’t find a solid explanation for what is actually happening.”

      I respectfully disagree. As someone who is also fascinated with the supernatural, and writes accordingly, I can almost assure you that their ideas START in the supernatural. Then they bury it within a “natural” hooky idea and, like a weed, allow it to slowly emerge. If they’re anything like me, that’s how they do it. Not as a kind of deus ex machina. But more as a kind of subversive metaphor.

      Which is what I love about their work.

      • JW

        I think you’re right and that could very much have to do with why the supernatural elements are introduced so early. For me, as a viewer, and this is simply personal taste, I like supernatural elements grounded in reality (one could argue LOST is actually in this genre at times), but the second it goes too far out in left field with the supernatural elements becoming the primary focus, that’s when I tune out. If you can set the world around the characters up, so we completely understand what the supernatural element actually adds, then it’s all good, but I think that’s definitely a weakness of Abrams, because he tends to not exactly explain the world itself while simultaneously asking the audience to JUST believe in what is happening (supernatural or not).

        • drifting in space

          Smoke monster, lol.

        • ripleyy

          Sure, Lost has “supernatural” elements but I think Lost is more of a spiritual series than anything.

      • lesbiancannibal

        nah, what’s the point in having a mystery if the explanation can be absolutely anything you want – that’s why people kicked off about Lost, because it presented itself as a puzzle but then the answer, I don’t even know what the answer was, something about brothers, and a cave and something, they were dead, but just in the last series, or…

        I’m still slightly fucked off that Raiders of the Lost Ark went all god-fearing, she-ghosts, close your eyes, don’t look at the she-ghosts because, er, they only melt people who look at them.

        That’s what was so great about Scooby Do – it was never an actual ghost. Otherwise it’s just a cop-out.

    • Poe_Serling

      You bring up a good point – it does seem that successful writers recycle a lot of the same ideas/concepts that tend to pop up so often on amateur websites like SS. The big difference is that Lindelof and co. have the backing/support of the studios based on their prior track record for producing hits and generating $$.

      Just curious – are you the writer JW from this weekend’s The Supernatural? If so, I really enjoyed your project.

      • JW

        Poe, yes, I am and thank you for the compliment. On the surface many have commented as anticipated. I was hoping to get a few who would dive below the surface (no pun intended) and talk about the use of the “ghosts” as not a “scaring” mechanism, but the fact that the ghosts themselves are actually driving the characters through the boat to uncover the secret they know exists and thus have a goal as well (while the characters themselves have no idea this is taking place the way it is, the “ghosts” are not just scaring them through the boat, the “ghosts” are scaring them into the rooms, cracks and crevices they need to find the information to put together the ship’s secret). The idea with this was to satisfy those who just wanted a commercial surface story that was simplistic to follow with a clear-cut goal and an ability to see a trailer along the way. While simultaneously satisfying those who would be looking for that extra layer of storytelling. I appreciate all those who read. Many thanks.

        • Poe_Serling

          “… the fact that the ghosts themselves are actually driving the characters through the boat to uncover the secret they know exists and thus have a goal as well (while the characters themselves have no idea this is taking place the way it is, the “ghosts” are not just scaring them through the boat, the “ghosts” are scaring them into the rooms, cracks and crevices they need to find the information to put together the ship’s secret).”

          You’re so right – it does add another compelling layer to the overall storytelling, which most people would miss if you didn’t read the entire script.

          Good luck with it.

    • Eddie Panta

      Hey JW,
      Your comments here are all too true. I don’t find the THREE YEARS LATER story structure as creative, rather just a easy way out of the exposition.

      The Leftovers reminds me so much of the Christian Fundamentalist movies of the 70’s. ( The Mark V “Rapture” movies). Also, not unlike the film Vanishing on 7th St.

      BTW – I’ve read your script, Supernatural, up to 30+ pages so far. I thought it was the best written at the of the five. It read like a real movie, not a script. I plan to post my comments when I’m done reading. Great work. Especially since your story line was the one I was least interested in… at first. The pages really turn.
      -Eddie

      • JW

        Appreciated, Eddie. Feel free to send by email: wright.jeffrey@hotmail.com
        I don’t want to hijack C’s post today. Thanks again!

  • ximan

    “Don’t bring any Damon Lindelof haters here. Scriptshadow is a pro-Lindelof zone.”

    I know right! No, the guy is not perfect, but he’s got one HELLUVA imagination. Plus he comes across as a genuinely nice guy. And this is coming from someone who wasn’t crazy about Prometheus, to say the least.

    • Mike.H

      How can you not give props to Lindelof when JJ Abrams left LOST to handle another project full time. ABC execs: Damon Lindelof… cha-ching! 9 holy season’s worth.

    • A Tribe Called Guest

      Read this Cracked article: http://www.cracked.com/article_20703_5-famously-terrible-movies-that-were-almost-great.html

      and also “Desperate Networks”. Lindelof is a wrench who owes his career to Lloyd Braun (who came up with the concept of Lost) and Abrams.

  • Ambrose*

    Carson,
    Are you aware that you are a reference of sorts on the Black List website Go Into The Story?
    In Scott’s November 16th ‘Declare Your Independents’ post, for the ‘Charlie Countryman’ section he links to your Scriptshadow review.
    I imagine Scott got your imprimatur beforehand but I thought I’d mention it in case you don’t know.

  • klmn

    Speaking of cults, the Church of Scientology has erected a new center to teach Super Powers.

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/lifestyle/new-scientology-building-in-florida-claims-to-teach-members-super-powers/story-fni0d7e5-1226762196095

    I’ve already signed up for HOW TO HYPNOTIZE WOMEN 101 and I’m thinking about taking X RAY VISION.

  • tom8883

    I was just watching the first episode of Orphan Black and I thought the same thing. Okay, the hook will do its job and hook a wide enough audience. (A girl witnesses the suicide of a girl who looks just like her.) But then what?

  • Cuesta

    Damn Lindelof! Now he want to destroy Scriptshadow too.

    • Trek

      Come now! He’s made some terrible writing mistakes in the past, but since Lost (with the exception of a couple bits in STID) he’s become an even better writer than he was to begin with.

      • Cuesta

        Sorry. This is Lindelof territory now.
        Guess you’ll have to imagine my reply.

  • klmn

    Your title should be THE UNTAINTED.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Or UNTAINTABLE… starring Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson.

      “Where’d the muthafu*kin’ taints go?”

  • Eddie Panta

    Hey All,
    The plot here is eerily similar to the 70’s “Rapture” films. Especially, A THIEF IN THE NIGHT – These films were created by MARK IV pictures. A evangelical, Christian fundamentalist film producer.

    MARK IV films were ridiculous intense, some even well produced. The films did not hold back. They were all callously melodramatic and incredibly subversive. Some might even say sinister in their attempt to scare. Which most times they accomplished.

    I don’t see how the TV series can escape the strong religious fundamentalist overtones. It seems it could be too easily adopted by those that believe in the Rapture.
    Also makes me think of the LEFT BEHIND series of books and films, one of which stars Kirk Cameron
    MARK IV pictures trailers

  • Alex Palmer

    No, I think you’re concept easily stands on it’s own. Look beyond the fact that you both use “2%” and they seem to have vastly different ideas behind them. Leftovers sounds like it’s dealing with the theme of loss, whereas The Untainted sounds more like a social commentary about accepting your fellow man (just a guess).

    BTW, what tone are you going for? Making the emergence of people without a taint between the anus and genitals your hook could make for a serious (and gruesome) show. Maybe it’s just me, but describing this event as causing the world “to tear itself apart” seems an unfortunate turn of phrase.

    • IgorWasTaken

      Or, Simon was just making a funny.

      • Alex Palmer

        Christ, I can’t even tell the difference between high concept and bullshit anymore…

        • klmn

          I love when that happens!

          (to anyone).

        • A Tribe Called Guest

          This is probably one of my favourite comment threads ever. Alex dude, your sincere “No, I think your concept easily stands on it’s own.” gets *so* much funnier after multiple readings.

          I’m kind of in Simon’s boat with a similar concept. If anyone’s interested, I’m writing a British mini-series right now. Here’s the logline:

          The financial and personal travails of a group of upper-class testicles in Edwardian England are explored in this four-part, six-hour miniseries.

          • Alex Palmer

            But that’s just Downton Abbey.

  • bluedenham

    Why is it called The Leftovers if only 2% disappeared?

  • drifting in space

    I figured this would be a show about the day after Thanksgiving….

  • successor

    The premise sounds like old hat. Philip Wylie did something similar in his book _The Disappearance_, except men disappeared into one parallel universe and women the other. Actually, Wylie’s idea sounds a lot more dramatically interesting than this one and his book came out back in 1951. _Vanishing Point_ by Michaela Roessner (1993) is another book with people mysteriously disappearing from the world.

  • Trek

    Very happy to see you tackle this script, Carson. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve been following the development of the series for a while, of which the story has me really intrigued. Wonderful to hear that Lindelof’s bringing his A game once again, and glad to see that it’s won your approval.

  • lonestarr357

    Would I be correct in assuming that the Abrams SPEED RACER draft was MIA?

    Also, I’ll just say it: I loved the crap out of the Wachowski movie. An engaging, eye-filling delight. Very much for kids and the kid in us all. Cynics need not apply.

    • Poe_Serling

      Agree. I thought the Wachowskis really captured the campy flavor and spirit of the vintage cartoon.

  • ff

    Hmmm. Other than the setup this sounds pretty boring.

  • Warren Hately

    One of the ironies with TV becoming flooded with “better” shows is the competition to be better is more and more fierce. And I am reluctant to commit to shows when there are a handful of good shows that I am committed to watching. Personally, and I’m sure others say this, I’m much more interested in the show where 2 per cent get left behind or we find out where the 2 per cent went. Lost comparisons be damned.

  • Citizen M

    Kind of like “Who’s on first?”
    – You’re tainted
    – No I’m not
    – You haven’t got a taint
    – So?
    – So, you’re tainted
    – No, I’m untainted