Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: A former cop who’s lost custody of his son to a vindictive ex-wife, moves back home to plot how to get him back. In the process, he meets some old friends on the wrong side of the law, friends who may be the only people who can help him.
About: Okay, I’m super confused here. I read on Deadline that Badlands was a show that showrunner Shawn Ryan (The Shield) was doing for HBO. It covered a mining town in Wyoming. But this pilot, which was labeled as “HBO – Badlands” in the document title, is not about mining at all (thank God). So I’m guessing this is a completely separate pilot named “Badlands” that someone erroneously thought was the HBO pilot? Or Deadline was just way off? Either way, the writer, Joe Nienalt, has a short but sweet interview over at “The Boring Stuff” blog about the difficulties of being an “almost there” screenwriter. UPDATE: Okay, I got some new info here.  Joe is NOT from Australia.  The guy who interviewed him was.  Joe is from Philly.  Also, this is not the HBO Badlands.  But, this pilot did get Joe invited to submit to the Sundance TV Lab (you have to have someone vouch for you to submit).  I know Sundance really helps people get their stuff made, so maybe you can ask Joe about that process in the comments. — Also, I changed the dialogue sample.  I knew it wasn’t the perfect sample but I’m still learning this screen grab thing (I can’t scroll and capture long scenes. I can only capture what’s on the physical screen, which limits me).  Hope it’s a better representation.
Writer: Joe Nienalt
Details: 62 pages

Clive-OwenI wouldn’t mind seeing Clive Owen take on a TV role. 

So I was reading the interview I linked above for today’s writer when I came upon something he said that happens to be one of the most debated topics in screenwriting. Joe said that when he stopped worrying about what was marketable and what Hollywood wanted and focused more on himself and what he cared about, that’s when Hollywood noticed him.

Writers can go crazy overthinking this, and I’ve gone back and forth on it over the years. Then recently, something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before: timing. Writers break through when they’re ready – when their mastery of the craft gets to the point where they can write good screenplays. Therefore, whatever genre they’re writing at that time (a big action movie or a small personal drama) becomes the one that breaks them in.

The writer then says to himself, “I broke in with an action movie so Hollywood is about being commercial,” or “I broke in with a personal script so Hollywood is about being true to yourself,” and then they ride that mantra along for the rest of their career, believing it’s the only way. That can be misleading because maybe you’d just gotten good enough that whatever you wrote next was going to be the one.

Because the thing is, you can take either of these approaches too far. If you think it’s all about being true to yourself and ignoring the commercial aspect of the industry, you can write something that’s so innocuous, nobody gives a crap. And if you think it’s all about giving them vampires and robots wrapped inside a catchy hook, you can write something so vapid that nobody gives a crap.

So I love reading scripts from writers who have declared themselves believers of one way over the other, as I feel that each of these scripts gets me one step closer to finding the definitive answer.

Now I originally thought this pilot was about mining, and boy did I wonder how the hell someone was going to make that interesting. The subject matter isn’t quite that boring, but it was lacking a hook. So let’s see if Joe was still able to make it entertaining.

30-something Joseph “Buddy” Shields, a former cop, happened to marry the wrong woman. Like a really terrible woman. And that woman, who’s now his ex, is raping him of everything he has, including his home, and most importantly, his son. The ruling is so bad that not only does Buddy have to leave his home, but he still has to pay the mortgage while his ex-wife lives there. His reward? Seeing his kid once every other weekend.

That isn’t enough for Buddy. His kid means everything to him and he’s willing to fight to get him back. The problem is, he doesn’t have any money for a good lawyer, and lawyers are the people who get your kids back in these wars.

Broke, Buddy is forced to head back home to Philadelphia and live in his mother’s house. His old neighborhood, Badlands, is the worst in the city, and we quickly realize Buddy was one of the few to escape and actually do something with his life.

Now that he’s back, all those “bad influence” friends start visiting him again, including his old buddy “Fast,” who’s become a bit of a criminal in his middle-age. Fast sees how badly Buddy wants his kid back and offers him a deal. Join him, run some “jobs,” and he’ll be able to afford any lawyer he wants.

Buddy doesn’t think twice. His kid is everything to him. If he has to lie, cheat, and steal to get him back, that’s what he’s going to do. But when Buddy realizes that some of these jobs entail killing some of his old friends, he realizes just how deep this rabbit hole goes. But in the end he feels that if his son is at the bottom of that rabbit hole, then fuck it, he’s willing to dig.

I got to give it to Nienalt. This was really good writing. I know something’s good when a) I’m involved even without a story hook, and b) when the writer can make things I’ve already seen before interesting.

That’s the biggest shock of Badlands, is that we’ve seen all this before. I’ve seen the divorcee desperately trying to get visitation. I’ve seen the middle-age protagonist who has to go back to his hometown to regroup. I’ve seen the hero who, once back home, is pulled into a crime ring.

But what makes Nienalt different is he addresses all of this in such detail. I think this is what he meant when he said (in his interview) that he became a better writer once he looked inward, because he states in that interview that he got a divorce, and we see all that pain and those unfair custody hearing details right there on the page. I’ve never had to fight for custody before, but if I had to guess, it would be something like this.

And when you add details, when you add REALITY to your script, the reader REALLY begins to trust your story. They know this isn’t something somebody slapped together in a month, but rather the blood, sweat and tears of someone who’s been through these things. And that gets to you. Because you know the writer really suffered. And it draws you towards the protagonist in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Now as far as the criminal stuff – like when they robbed a marijuana store – I don’t know how he pulled that off. I hope Joe isn’t doing that in his spare time. But man, he knows this Badlands town so well that if you told me tomorrow Joe had been in prison for robbery, I’d probably believe it.

And you can really tell when someone knows an area when the dialogue feels authentic to that area. Usually, when I see writers trying to write low-income criminal type dialogue, its wrapped inside this upper middle-class entitlement sheen, the way some middle class kid THINKS people like that talk because they’ve watched a lot of movies. You can always tell the difference when a writer has a true ear for this stuff.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 3.21.41 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 3.31.40 PM

The only real issue I had with the pilot was the longevity question. As you well know, the one big difference with a TV pilot is you have to be able to see 50-100 more episodes going forward. With the only real goal in this setup being for Buddy to get his kid back, I’m not sure where the story goes afterwards.

There is (spoiler) a scene at the end that reveals Fast is a cop, and he brings Buddy in as a Badlands cop too, which was a nice little twist. But I’m not sure what that means. Does that mean we’re going the basic “corrupt cop” route that we’ve already seen before? Does it mean these guys are going to pull a bunch of heists/robberies as cops? I feel like these are trails already well-traveled so it’s hard for me to envision the future of the show.

The thing is, Nienalt is so good at making “been there, done that” scenarios feel authentic and fresh, that he might be able to make it work. If not for this show then for something else. I really like this guy and will be watching him a lot closer after this.

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

What I learned: You’d like to include things in your script that you can talk about with some level of expertise, whether it’s a job or an experience or something from your personal life. The more expertise you have, the more detailed and, therefore, authentic your story will be. I loved how Nienalt included these custody hearing details. It made me sympathize with the protagonist in a way I wouldn’t have if the execution of that stuff was more generic.  Remember, the reader can always tell when you’re bullshitting them – when you don’t know any more than they do about something.

  • Citizen M

    Carson, the screenwriter is from Tacoma, Washington. He was being interviewed by someone from Australia.

  • JakeBarnes12

    “Writers break through when they’re ready – when their mastery of the craft gets to the point where they can write good screenplays. Therefore, whatever genre they’re writing at that time (a big action movie or a small personal drama) becomes the one that breaks them in.”

    That’s a great point, Carson. Great writing sells, or at least gets you noticed.

    What’s the market for scripts about stuttering aristocrats who want to talk on the radio, huh?

    Who’s looking for screen stories about rural hicks porking each other up a mountain?

    Think there’s a big demand for frigid English spinsters who want to wrangle over selling the legal rights to their book?

    How many seats you gonna fill by reminding Americans that they ran something as brutal and evil as Auschwitz not for a dozen odd years but for hundreds?

    Who’s out there waiting for a script about a senile old coot who goes on a pointless road trip because he thinks he’s won the lottery?


    Never underestimate the power of being the asshole in the room.

    Steve Jobs said that people don’t know what they want until they see it.

    But that’s only true IF what they see is breathtaking.

    In our case, it must be a great story or fuck off home and get a gravestone saying you were nice to your neighbors because nobody else will give a shit about you.

    Saw an aspiring writer on here recently who blamed the uncommercial nature of the script for its lack of success. And all I could think was, craft-wise you’re years away, if ever, from being able to execute this story that a talented professional could turn into a sellable script tomorrow. It still wouldn’t be easy to sell, but it would have a chance.

    When commenters on Amateur Friday say they stopped at page X because the script wasn’t for them, that’s bullshit.

    They’re being polite. They’re being so polite in fact that the naive hopeful doesn’t get it.

    There’s only one real reason anybody stops reading anything.

    It’s when they’re bored.

    Ask someone if they like zombie scripts and maybe they’ll say no. Give them a great zombie script and they’ll read the whole thing.

    Why? Because a great fucking piece of writing on ANY subject will suck you in, will get you absorbed, will keep you turning the pages until you forget where you are and what time it is.

    • Magga

      To be fair I’ve stopped watching many supposedly good movies mid-viewing because they’re not for me. I’m about to make my fourth attempt to watch The Avengers because I have to keep up with pop culture, but I’m pretty sure I’ll give up and watch Zodiac again or something.

      • JakeBarnes12

        So, um, according to my crackpot theory, Magga, Avengers isn’t a great story. :)

      • Wheatman

        I just re-watched Zodiac the other day. The scene in the diner close to the end wherein Graysmith explains to Toschi that Leigh knowing Ferrin is no coincidence…simply brilliant. I just read through the script and my favorite line must’ve been added or improv’d.

        Places the salt shaker at one end of the table to represent where Leigh lived, the pepper on the other to represent where Ferrin worked. Graysmith says, “Leigh Allen lived less than fifty yards away.” Toschi asks, “Is that true?” Graysmith replies, “I’ve walked it.” The “I’ve walked it” isn’t even in the screenplay!

        • Randy Williams

          I’m looking over some visual scenes in my script right now for this. Not saying it’s what happened in this case, but sometimes taking an ordinary visual in a script, like say, the often used detective reenacting some portion of a crime and measuring a distance, can be more effective by just having the character SAY he did it in some other well orchestrated scene.

        • Malibo Jackk

          That’s the challenge of screenwriting.
          Not just telling a story
          — but telling it in such a way that it’s an art.

      • Unfinishe

        It’s a lot easier to quit movies when you’re streaming them. If I rent a physical copy, I’m more likely to sit through it, and I know I’m not alone when it comes to eating sunk costs.

      • Ken

        Watch the Avengers, it’s great.

    • Linkthis83

      Man, Bruce, you were spot on to call me a “moron” in yesterday’s thread. I’m so confused right now. Yesterday you had an issue with me posting to your comment when I hadn’t read the script. Does this mean you read today’s script but chose not to comment on it?

      You’ll be happy to know that I agree with the last portion of your post. On AOW this past weekend I wrote this:

      “People think they know what they want, and a lot of times they have no idea. But once you hook them, they won’t give a crap what world they’re in as long as you are taking them on a journey.

      There was a spec script a while back on here called AESOP THE COURAGEOUS for AOW. I groaned at the thought of reading it and…I loved the pages I read. I was hooked. I didn’t have the time to read the whole thing, but those first 20 pages had me invested. You might want to check that out as well.”


      I think that I’d also slightly disagree with both you and Carson regarding “when/if” they are ready. Are you going to tell me that every movie I’ve ever scene was based on a script that was “breathtaking”? Doubtful.

      Also, you consistently highlight the fact that amateur scripts aren’t to the level of professionals. Isn’t that obvious? That’s one of the reasons amateurs come here is to show their work and to get feedback/advice that they can hopefully utilize in an effective manner. You seem to be in a perpetual state of awestruck at the fact that amateur scripts/stories look amateur. It’s be like going to a Single A baseball game and stating that these guys don’t exhibit pro level skills. But you have to throw in the caveat of “yet.” You are catching them in a moment of DOING THE WORK. That’s what we all know we have to do. Put in the work.

      I disagree with Carson and his use of the phrase “mastery of craft.” In all the interviews/speeches/talks/podcasts I’ve listened to, the common thing professional screenwriters consistently talk about is how masterful they aren’t.

      The first undeniable thing is that some writers just have IT. No matter how much they downplay it or how humble they remain, they have it. There are so few of them. Then there are the majority. Those who have SOME of IT, but have the other necessary requirement: the willingness to put in the time and the suffering and the diligence.

      A possibility: those who have reached a higher level of proficiency and have done the work, are less likely to show up here. It just makes sense to me why the scripts we read are the scripts we read.

      Also, in my experience interacting with writers on here, I don’t find many that are NAIVE to why people stopped reading their script. So you must be running into these clueless amateurs elsewhere. Or the obvious, I’m just clueless too. Which could be right. I’ve been called a “moron” by both you and Grendl in less than a week. It must suck to be me :)

      • JakeBarnes12

        If the script’s not available, it’s bullshit away time, man.

      • Unfinishe

        I don’t think you’re a moron, Link.

      • Casper Chris

        Grendl calls everyone a moron. It’s cute.

      • JakeMLB

        Just to add to this:

        It amazes me at how so many individuals on forums like these don’t understand the actual business. So many professional scripts start off as piss-poor scripts that go through literally dozens of rewrites with dozens of smart and not-so-smart individuals providing notes, including mid-shoot rewrites, until a final product is ground from rock into diamond. That’s not what we’re up against. You can tell yourself that it is, but in truth it’s not. You’re highly unlikely to go from zero to hero so to compare yourself to hero is playing a dangerous game with your ego and self-esteem.

        And so many professional drafts are based on previous intellectual property, or prior drafts, or prior treatments, or prior pitches, or prior stories. And they’re frequently developed in collaboration. And even then, professional writers still struggle to sell their scripts probably as much as the amateur struggles to get noticed.

        As you point out, directly comparing your script to whatever draft of a professional script is neither constructive nor honest, because you’re often comparing your single script, written largely in isolation, to a script that’s had the benefit of dozens of professional minds. Sure, he/she who wrote is likely far ahead of you in their craft, but let’s not abuse our egos and act as if professional writers shit gold. Some do but most don’t.

        Now, I’m not trying to say it’s easy to break in. It’s not. The odds are against you and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult. All I’m saying is for the many critics here to stop expecting professional-level execution at such an early stage in the process. Unless every submission is the 10th script of a writer, you’re bound to see plenty of mistakes.

        The question is not whether this is of professional quality but whether there is potential. Is there some evidence of craft on display? Is there a premise? Are there real characters? Is there an attempt at theme? Is there a story here? Is there a film here? Are they growing? Are they learning? Can they take notes? Is there potential? If there is, it needs to be nurtured.

        • Linkthis83

          Your post here is what I truly feel the reality of SS is. It would be awesome if someone submitted a script that looks like something that’s ready to shoot, but mostly I feel we are trying to create the “thing” that people want to develop and invest in. The “potential” as you say.

          That doesn’t mean that we as writers should strive for good enough, but just have the basic awareness of the realities of the business and the process of scripts in general (spec and especially professional).

          That’s one reason why I chime in the way I do. All the things I’ve discovered about the industry, or put into perspective on my own, have told me I’m not going to be delivering a script that’s designated an instant classic. Not in this form and not without the crucial experience of other collaborators.

          I never give much credit to the use of scripts from Hollywood classic films as what I’m working against. It’s not. Readers, studios, producers, etc talk about the substantial lack of quality scripts. The lack of quality is not that they don’t resemble the completed scripts that are ready to be shot, but the quality that there is substance enough there to invest in.

          I appreciate the post and I’m glad you took the time. Thank you.

          • JakeMLB

            “All the things I’ve discovered about the industry, or put into perspective on my own, have told me I’m not going to be delivering a script that’s designated an instant classic. Not in this form and not without the crucial experience of other collaborators.”

            This exactly. You’re not going to. No one does. And those who seem to have typically been at the craft a very long time and have the benefit of other great collaborators even if they themselves aren’t working professionals.

            And using the greatest films of all time as a benchmark is a fool’s errand. Iconic films require a confluence of incredible talent, timing, luck, casting and the hard work of dozens of smart people. It’s certainly important to learn from these films but to directly compare specifics such as theme or character construction is a loser’s errand because what worked for those films will almost certainly not work for your story. Do you want to create or do you want to re-create?

            And many of the greatest scenes or characters or what have you happened by pure dumb luck, intense collaboration of very bright people, and/or by sheer grinding — constant rewrites or filmed takes to see what does or doesn’t work. That’s not to say that there aren’t great scripts that were largely written by single individuals, there are, it certainly happens all the time, but it’s the exception not the norm.

          • Linkthis83

            Ha. No worries. If I felt you were ranting AT me, you would’ve gotten an entirely different response. Lol.

    • Randy Williams

      Don’t executives or managers or whomever looking for something to fill a slot, reflect their specialties, put down scripts that might otherwise be hooking them with great writing and a story because it doesn’t fit what they’re looking for?

      I get that same right as a commenter on AOW. Sorry.

      • Jarman Alexander

        That’s the great thing about AOW. Their are enough eyes on every script that the people who love the subject matter will let everyone else know that it was brilliant, and then we can revisit it if we want to learn what made it brilliant.

        Otherwise, we’re just looking to give good feedback and help improve the script, and some of us don’t know what to offer certain subject matters.

        • Randy Williams

          It’s “there” , not “their”

          Just trying to protect your reputation as a great writer. ;)

          • Jarman Alexander

            You always have my back Randy!!!

    • Matty

      I disagree that great writing on any subject in any genre will suck any one in.

      I have no desire to ever watch STAR WARS again. If I started, I likely wouldn’t finish it. I didn’t really even care to finish it the first time. Do I think it’s poorly written? Not at all.

      It just…. isn’t. for. me.

      Much sci-fi isn’t.

      What you’re saying is kind of like saying even if someone says they don’t like Thai food, if the dish is great enough, they will eat it all. Just not true.

      But I understand the point you’re getting at.

    • SinclareRose

      Um…….. time for a reread, JakeBarnes12? Be positive! ;)

  • maxi1981

    Reading about this pilot and the character in it reminded me of The Town which was a great script with some pretty memorable dialogue scenes as well as a tonne of action. Even the cop angle was also done in the movie at the end when they go to rob the safe at the baseball game. In this sense I agree with Carson that I see this more as a movie rather than a drawn out series.

  • Randy Williams

    Buddy has to move back to his mother’s house in Philadelphia’s “Badlands”?

    I think I know that city well, and except for the Chinese working the Take out windows, and the one’s slouched in their seats on a cross-city bus, reeking of alcohol, and me sitting next to them, and the odd Muslim proselyte, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white person in that part of town.

    Yeah, that could spell “drama”

  • Brainiac138

    This “but doesn’t the father have a say” revenge stuff is boring. Had the the roles been reversed and it was the mother who was left with nothing and decided to break the law to get her son, then I might be interested. To tell you the truth, a Shawn Ryan scripted pilot about a mining town sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than this.

  • Jarman Alexander

    The golden rule of “know more about your subject than the person reading it”. This is important because it helps with an element outside of the story you have written, an element that exists in that readers mind, and that element is trust.

    If you throw a lot of jargon at a reader without great explanation of that jargon, the reader will be pulled from the story and hate you/curse you.

    If you start out with a lot of jargon that is explained with great detail, it will encase the reader in your world and they’ll think to themselves “I don’t know what that means, but this writer has swaddled me in a story blanket that makes me want to read on because I know this writer cares for me and would never hurt me”. If you can get your reader to this point, well, you’re good.

  • Charlestoaster

    So how many times did check the internet while reading this script?

  • JW

    My issue with this concept stems from one thing and one thing only — the dilemma. And, I think this is definitely something that is universal between TV and FILM, if you have a situation that your character is in that is easily avoided or there is a simplistic (realistic) solution, why do you come up with some convoluted way for them to drudge through it (other than simply for entertainment purposes)? The first and most obvious way, to those who are frequenters of the ID channel is to simply try to “get rid of her.” Second, burn the damn house down. Third, take out her car. Fourth, kidnap the son. Fifth, get her fired. I mean, this is almost a comedy when you really think about it. But, this is why I would never watch this show — because the answer to the dilemma isn’t as complicated as the show will make it (and the answer sure as hell isn’t leaving). And, unfortunately that’s where I get lost.
    What I learned? When you put your characters in situations, make it as real as possible, so the audience believes they have NO OTHER CHOICE but to do what they’re doing. If that is the case, the audience will get behind your character and become invested in the outcome.

    • mulesandmud

      Perhaps I’m confused.

      Are you suggesting that this story, about a divorcing guy who dips into a life of crime to help pay his alimony, is unrealistic because the less complicated and more practical solution to his problems would be to murder his ex-wife, burn his family’s house down, or kidnap his child?

      If so, we may need to revisit realism as a concept.

      Really can’t tell whether you’re joking or I’m missing something. Please clarify if possible. Also elaborate on how this relates to the difference between film and TV.

      • G.S.

        I think I understand what JW is getting at.

        If the main character is prepared to commit crimes, even murder (based on the synopsis he has to kill former friends) in order to get to his goal – custody of his son – why commit multiple crimes, perhaps even multiple murders only to then attempt to go through the regular court system? It’s actually a valid point.

        The Breaking Bad version of this dilemma which lead to criminal activity was quite a bit more “realistic” in the way JW is describing. In his case, the goal was to set his family up with a lot of money very quickly. He ended up in a place that made sense within the context of the story.

        The point is, if YOU can think of an alternative that is easier or makes more sense, it makes it appear that the writer didn’t.

        That said, I’m kind of done with the protag doing “bad things” for a “good reason” plot idea. I know it’s supposed to be compelling watching a character allow themselves to be corrupted, but I can’t say I actually enjoy it.

        • mulesandmud

          Gotcha. Thanks for the perspective.

          Of course, killing the mother of your child, whom you are currently engaged in a custody battle with, doesn’t quite make things easier or less complicated, does it?

          I won’t say that one option is automatically more realistic than the other, but at least by doing odd crime jobs in a different town, you aren’t suspect number one. The Badlands plot seems easily as plausible as any of JW’s suggestions, with the added bonus that a realistic custody battle could make an interesting contrast to darker criminal activities. Best case scenario is a thoughtful mix of genre story and everyday life, a la Breaking Bad. Because hey, bank robbers can end up in divorce court just like everybody else.

          • Joe9alt

            I don’t know where to begin…everybody just read it and then see if it makes sense to you :)

        • jw

          GS, thanks for stepping in in my absence. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. And, to be completely honest, this is a stated fact, one that comes straight from focus groups – the second any character in your script makes a decision that doesn’t seem logical given the setup of their current predicament this is where you see eye rolls, groans and the “turn to the friend” begin. You really have to do whatever you can to keep things “on the right track” in relation to your main character’s decisions. This is even more important if the entire series itself hinges on the audience having some belief in the setup. And, the truth is, custody battles happen 24/7, so I’d be more apt to watch this if the woman won the custody battle, uprooted the kid, took him to a different state, became really good friends with local law enforcement and the dad was “forced” to relocate and track them down, only to hit brick wall after brick wall. The “paying for the house the wife is in” ALSO happens all the time, so a different direction there might be better.

          Mules – what I stated about TV and FILM is that everything I stated in this post applies to both. Keeping things moving on a “realistic” basis will draw viewers in and get them hooked on a level where they would normally give you 20 seconds and bounce.

          • S_P_1

            I haven’t read this script, but I think some writers confuse conflict with convoluted. I guess you could call it the Macguyver writer mentality. No matter what situation I get my protagonist in I will write myself out of a corner.

          • Bifferspice

            “The “paying for the house the wife is in” ALSO happens all the time, so a different direction there might be better.”

            maybe a lot of the anger behind this comes from the fact that fathers get continually fucked in the ridiculous one-eyed courts and that fuelled the desire to write a script showing that if you continually treat people like shit maybe they’ll start acting like it. in which case, a different direction wouldn’t be better – it would be pointless.

          • jw

            Politically, you’re right. Cinematically, not so much. I get the idea and a lot of my writing comes from a place of social circumstance and what I see happening in the world, but we always have to be careful not to get too “preachy” in the writing. And, I do have to say that from a main character perspective, we never want to see a guy who gets treated like shit respond by starting to act like it. That’s a non-starter from page 1. We can see him get treated like shit, we can see a thousand dumpsters dumped on his head and we can see him be at his breaking point, but the entire series hinges on his response and his response can’t be a passive “I’ve been f*cked in the ass, so I give up.” It also can’t be, “f*ck this shit, I’m moving.”

          • Bifferspice

            “And, I do have to say that from a main character perspective, we never
            want to see a guy who gets treated like shit respond by starting to act
            like it”

            Falling Down has that exact premise. It’s refreshing to see a character in a situation many people can empathise with saying “Fuck this shit!” and doing all sorts of illegal and crazy shit to try and level the odds. Have a premise of someone who doesn’t have the usual hangups about society and convention and does whatever it takes to resolve situations that in real life are fucked up with no way out. if that premise matches my current situation, i’ll sign the fuck up and go and see the film.

          • jw

            You didn’t just name a film from 1993, did you? ahahah Kidding. I get your point, but the problem with this particular setup is that he doesn’t dig the heels in “local” he skips town and likely goes off the deep end and then finds himself “on the wrong side of the law”. Don’t know. I’m glad it works for some people because we need all types. It just doesn’t catch my attention.

          • Bifferspice

            yeah, no worries, fella. i get your point too. good to chat :)

  • mulesandmud

    Is the script page posted in the above article meant as an example of authentic dialogue? If so, how so?

    It’s pretty much straight heist procedural talk. Exposition and setup, perfectly fine I guess, but nothing to emulate. No interesting vernacular or terminology that couldn’t be gleaned from another movie. No regional dialect. No characteristic speech patterns except that both of the characters sometimes (but don’t always) drop their g’s (“-in'” instead of “-ing”). No notable turns of phrase. Minimal personality or insider perspective.

    Fast’s first line is a little bit square and grammatically proper for a street criminal, which might be a creative choice for the character (he’s the articulate one), or might just be bland and lazy (this is how the writer talks). Hard to tell from just a few lines.

    Are you sure you got the right page, Carson? Seems like a damn low bar.

    • Joe9alt

      I basically agree that it’s not a good showcase for my dialogue, mules, but it ain’t THAT bad, either — it’s a setup like you said and it does the job. It’s also the only page in the damned pilot with a blatant typo (I changed a character name)!

      • mulesandmud

        Hey Joe, thanks for chiming in. I don’t think it’s a bad page of dialogue, per se. My confusion and criticism was more pointed at Carson than at you.

        Again, it’s hard to tell without the whole script for context, but this page seems extremely functional by nature, so it’s strange to hold it up as an example of authenticity in dialogue. The scene’s primary focus is to lay out a schematic (literally) of an upcoming plot point, so it doesn’t leave much room for the kind of texture or naturalism that I’d associate with authenticity. ‘Authenticity’ is a fuzzy word to begin with; I just didn’t see where Carson was going with the example.

        And since I’ve got you here, you can answer my questions about Fast: is he well-spoken by nature? Is the formal quality of his first line on the page indicative of the way he talks? Are you trying to avoid stereotypical inner city cadences in general?

    • witwoud

      I liked it, precisely because it was more straightforward than one might expect. Fast is a professional speaking to other professionals. He’s been doing this for years, and has developed an expositionary style which is clear and business-like and a tiny bit pedantic, even. It sounds pretty authentic to me, and I wouldn’t agree that it has ‘minimal personality‘ — I certainly got an idea of Fast’s character from this.

      • mulesandmud

        I’ve got nothing against the page, really. And who knows what the hell authentic means, right?

        I’ve spent lots of time in Philly, though, and can tell you for a fact that even the businessmen there don’t talk like this: “The Green Light Medical Marijuana Dispensary sits at the center of this strip mall in Wilmington.”

        The “sits at the center of” part of the sentence is an odd construction for American spoken English; it sounds more like a PBS narrator than a professional. Nobody says that, which is not automatically a bad thing; it could be intentionally formalized, a la the Coen Brothers. If it’s intentional, it’s an interesting choice, but ‘authentic’ isn’t how I’d describe it.

        • witwoud

          Yeah, I was going to add a disclaimer that my acquaintance with the Philadelphian criminal vernacular is precisely zero. I’ve no idea if this is authentic in that sense. On the other hand, dialogue can sound convincing (or not) even when you’ve never heard the ‘original’, and I felt that this did. It didn’t sound like some screenwriter trying to write ‘gangsterese’ after watching the Godfather 500 times.

          I’ve been trying out that first line. If there’s a map spread on the table, and the guy in charge is being businesslike and assertive, and putting on a slightly formal tone, and prodding the map with his finger, then I can make it work. (Again, with disclaimers :))

          • Joe9alt

            Fine, we’ll change the line! :)

          • witwoud

            Ha ha. Sorry. I still like it though.

      • Joe9alt

        Yeah you got it for the most part, wit. This is Fast kinda getting down to business so to speak. Even though they’ve all done this before (except for Buddy), these are all his boys in the scene and Buddy is somebody he considers his lifelong best friend but this is Fast saying “listen the fuck up. I’m being serious now. This is how it’s gonna go down.” That type of thing. I wouldn’t say Fast is “well-spoken” but in a lot of ways he’s a character at war with himself — and he accepts that war in a sense.

        • Citizen M

          Are you Joe Nienalt who wrote the script?

          If so, cool that you’re commenting here. Please tell us more about it.

    • Joe9alt

      So you’re finally onboard, mules? :)

      • mulesandmud

        On board the Joe Nienalt Express? I’m with you, man.

        Am glad that Carson made the change and put your best foot forward. Since none of us here have access to the full pilot, those pages are all we have to go on. The new scene has a hell of a lot more personality, and if somebody told me that kind of shit goes down in North Philly, I’d believe it.

        I know the feeling of being right on the edge of breaking in, perched on that fence and not sure which side you’re on from day to day. It’s a tricky moment, but sounds like you’re playing it right. Best of luck with the pilot and everything else.

  • Randy Williams

    Didn’t “make it” until he was 33, too, according to this video.

    I know someone who is ready to give up at 28.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Still active on Done Deal?
    Where do you hang out on the web?
    (Or little time for that?)

    • Joe9alt

      Not as much as I used to be…and yeah I think so…some of the best advice I’ve ever receieved was from pros that I interacted with on there.

  • Joe9alt

    “Breaking in” in general is a weird term, though. It can mean different things to different people. I have a manager and an agent. I’ve optioned a feature. I’ve adapted a book…but I can’t afford to write full-time yet so I don’t consider myself to have “broken in” really. I’ve gotten some attention and taken some positive steps but there’s still a lot of rungs on the ladder still to climb.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Shane Black tells a story about “breaking in.”
      He had sold seven screenplays, one for over 4 million, and had
      tremendous box office success. Then he took two years off.
      (Some say it was writer’s block. Shane mentions attending too many parties
      and being snubbed by other writers.)

      He returns to have a meeting with an executive at one of the studios.
      He introduces himself to the first guy he meets and gets a — “Who?”
      He couldn’t believe that he could be forgotten in two short years.

      • Joe9alt

        Shane’s career is probably partially responsible for most writers’ current flawed perspective of “breaking in” — he was selling specs in the 80’s left and right for MILLIONS and I think a lot of people came to perceive that as “breaking in” — the picture looks differently these days unfortunately but at the end of day we don’t do this for money — money is nice, money helps — but it can’t be our driving force…or then again maybe that’s why I’m broke?

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Joe-

    From your The Boring Stuff interview: “I wrote a script called THE RIGHTEOUS & THE WICKED. That script has been the door opener for me so far.”

    Just curious – Is that project still in play somewhere?

    • Joe9alt


  • Casper Chris

    Fellow cinephiles,

    Check out this twitter:

    A guy posting various “Perfect Shots” from the history of cinema. A lot of them are great. Some of them are mesmerizing.

  • Michael

    Haven’t read the script, only the short excerpt Carson posted above in the review, so my apologies to Joe as he didn’t pick the passage and I may be taking things out of context.

    “And you can really tell when someone knows an area when the dialog feels authentic to the area.”

    I’m joining Mules on this one, how does any of that passage reflect the area these guys are from? Jerry uses “dude” and Fast replies “Yeah,” pretty common colloquialisms. None of this dialog does what “forget about it” did for DONNIE BRASCO or what “bada bing, bada boom” did for THE SOPRANOS.

    And dialog wise, Fast saying “He’s an old-head with loose ties to both the Warlocks and the Outlaws and some of the older black gangs like J.B.M. and the Richard Allen Mob,” sounds like the rundown a lead investigator would give to a SWAT team before a raid, not a criminal talking. Wouldn’t it be better for Fast to say they’re going to hit Green Light and have his guys collectively freak out “That’s Death Row’s place,” Outlaws dude, no fucking way,” “The mob will cut us up and throw us in the Schuykill.” Seems to me anything would be better than the straight exposition dump.

    And as far as the “what I learned,” I’m not feeling the expertise in this passage either.

    The gang is going to rob a medical marijuana dispensary of 50K in the safe. For starters, the storeowner’s character is confusing. He’s an old-head (assuming “pot” head, usually thought of as spacey and harmless), but he has all these criminal connections and a nickname Death Row? I’m guessing that a guy with this background would never pass whatever process is in place to get the license for a medical marijuana dispensary. And if a life long druggie got the holy grail of owning a legal drug dispensary, would he keep illegal black tar heroin on the premises?

    The gang is going after 50K in the safe, but wouldn’t the marijuana be worth a lot more? 50K seems like an amount from a 1960’s crime film, not for today? What about the security in a place like a medical marijuana dispensary, wouldn’t that be much harder to rob, so the stakes should be much higher?

    Medical marijuana is big in the news right now. If you robbed a medical marijuana dispensary, probably the first such crime, it would make the national news. Not only would you have the local cops investigating, but the Feds would be on your ass as well. And lets not forget the half dozen criminal organizations that are friends with Death Row. You are going to risk all that legal scrutiny and retribution from vicious criminal gangs for 50K when you could boost a car from the King of Prussia Mall that’s worth more?

    Finally, Brainiac is right, the mining town location sounds much better than another crime drama in a big city. It worked for BREAKING BAD and JUSTIFIED. Go somewhere new and interesting.

    This is just another example of how two people read the same thing and feel the opposite about it. If the full script is good, I’d most likely would have read through this passage and not stopped long enough to fixate on it.

    I see Joe is chiming in, so again, sorry if this is out of context. I know I nitpicked it, but that is what I do. I’ll go take some OCD meds and calm down.

    Best of luck with the pilot Joe.

    • witwoud

      ‘[Fast’s speech] … sounds like the rundown a lead investigator would give to a SWAT team before a raid….’

      True. It does. On the other hand, why not? These guys are organised criminals, and in this scene Fast is organising them. They’re about to pull a raid. They need all the relevant information, just like a SWAT team. So Fast is giving them a little lecture. He adopts a slightly formal tone because a) he wants to communicate all the details clearly and b) he’s implying ‘shut up and listen, this is important.’

      So, I agree with Carson. The way that most writers would try and make these guys sound ‘authentic’ would probably have the opposite effect.

      • Michael

        Again, this is all out of context but here goes.

        I like smart criminals, too. And they shouldn’t talk like South Philly mobsters just to be “authentic.”

        Fast is giving his guys a rundown of “who” Death Row is, not how to pull off the crime. If Death Row was a character important enough and scary enough to contend with, the guys should already know who he is and what a threat he is. That would make the criminals seem smarter in my book. The line as it stands, is a needless information dump. That is what it is triggering in me when I read it, but that said, I’ve not read enough of the script to be fully fair on that assessment.

        The bigger problem for me is the crime doesn’t read as smart. The risk versus reward is not believable. Death Row is not believable. The marijuana dispensary, while a novel choice, isn’t making sense. Maybe in the context of the full pilot it does, but not in that stand alone passage.

        So I’m not saying rewrite the dialog to make them seem like “authentic” criminals, I’m saying rewrite the crime to make the crime smart. Make us believe in their criminal dream by making the stakes worth it. Intrigue us with how smart these guys are and how smart their plan is. As written, the scene raises too many distracting questions as opposed to ones I want answers to that will keep me reading.

      • Joe9alt

        In many ways, IT IS a rundown a lead investigator is giving to a SWAT team before a raid :)

  • Tom

    The question of “commercial vs. personal” is not black and white. There’s a Goldilocks zone to it, and it’s one that some writers never reach. Ultimately, there’s an artistic side to your brain and a mathematical side to your brain, and unless you have unbridled raw talent, you have to find a way to get Pappa Bear and Mama Bear to play together.

    I see a common progression in amateur writers.

    1. The Sum Is GREATER than the Parts

    Many writers start out with personal, artistic projects. Stories about their life experiences, or their high school friends, or some small article they read that sparked their imagination. And the scripts? Unreadable. The dialogue is stilted, the scenes are cliche, the conflict and pacing is scattershot. These scripts suck. But there’s an undeniable heart at the core of them. Although the individual components suck ass, there’s a purity to the overall story. But no one can bare to read more than 10 pages.

    The writer then retreats. He/she reads other scripts, modeling the voices of those writers. They buy copies of Save The Cat and Story. They follow the industry and see what kind of scripts are selling, modeling their next effort on some of the trends. They log line, beat sheet, and outline. The result is:

    2. The Sum Is LESS than the Parts.

    Welcome to 95% of the Amateur Friday entries. Each individual scene is adequate, perhaps even exemplary. Dialogue is clean. Characters have flaws. Act I turning point hits exactly on page 25. The lead is a 35 year old male who has a mentor, a love interest, and a cat that he saves on page 4. The concept, while not “blow your mind” is solid. Yet, these scripts are… soulless. It’s all calculation. Commercial, yes. But forgettable.

    A lot of writers never leave this stage. They marvel at how easily their early scripts flowed, and they can’t seem to replicate that old creative vision. Every time they start setting a script in an early period, or with a female lead they block themselves. These writers, while not hitting home runs, get a few singles or doubles. They get repped by baby managers who have them submit 10 log lines a week to determine their next project. They get stuck in this mathematical, calculating style of writing. Their projects never gain traction.

    But after some time in this zone, a few finally say “Fuck it. I’m going to write what I want.”

    3. The Goldilocks Zone

    These are the writers who finally get noticed. The commercial side of their brain is no longer boxing out the creative side. The stories are personal, but with a larger, worldly-accessible twist. The story flows naturally, and yet subconsciously matches up with the 3-act structure.

    The time spent in Zone 2 was invaluable because now they know and understand structure. They know how to bottle Blake Snyder and put him on a shelf, away from the process, but always ready to help. They can step back and see their story not as disassociated gears on a clock, but as a full living organism.

    And the real key is they LIKE the stories they’re writing.

    The Zone 1 scripts were hard to read. The Zone 2 scripts were hard to write. But these Goldilocks scripts are fun. And as a result, the writer’s voice begins to seep into the pages.

    That’s the balance all writers have to find. You MUST know structure. You MUST know what’s commercial. You MUST be able to forget it all.

    • Kirk Diggler


    • carsonreeves1

      This is one of the best comments ever on this site. :)

      • Joe9alt


  • pmlove

  • Linkthis83

    I would assume that to a writer, the act of “breaking in” is complete when you can focus on what you want to write, as opposed to what you have to do to pay your bills (and that concern probably doesn’t go away for a while :) Or, that’s at least one interpretation.

    Very cool of you to show up and interact. Much appreciated.

  • HRV

    I believe he said he’s from Seattle, not Australia.

  • fragglewriter

    From the title, I thought it was the movie starring Martin Sheen & Sissy Spacek.

    Before we get hyped about authentic low-income lingo, it varies depending on age, education and geographic location.

    Would love to read the script. Please send to: fragglewriter at yahoo dot com

  • carsonreeves1

    Hey guys. I updated the “About” section with some new info and changed the dialogue sample. Hope this clears things up.

  • Ambrose*

    To Carson’s point: How do you see this playing out over 100 episodes?
    Do you have anything mapped out for, say, the next 10 episodes?
    Just curious where you think the central premise might go.
    And if you’ve ever thought about making it a feature instead of for TV.
    Thanks for participating today and throw another shrimp on the barbie in Tacoma.

    • Joe9alt

      I have a 20 page season 1 bible and an overall vision for subsequent seasons. I think people were probably asking the same questions about Walt’s cancer in BREAKING BAD and Tony’s therapy in the Soprano’s. Ultimately these things are just doorways that lead the viewer into the character’s world…I think I’ve created an interesting doorway that will entice people to walk through and once they walk through I think the world they will see will be interesting enough to make them want to stay.

      • Ambrose*

        Good luck with the script and your future writing.

      • Bluedust

        Joe, as someone who’s written for both TV and film, did you find one or the other more challenging?

        • Joe9alt

          That’s a tough question. Badlands was my first pilot. I think ultimately the structure of a pilot (and a series) was best suited for this idea. The actual writing of it came fairly smoothly and for the first time ever, when I sent it to my reps I received more excitement than notes. The challenging part came later when I was told I’d also need to prepare a bible that communicated the tone of the series, outlined a ten episode first season, and hinted at where future seasons could go. That was challenging.

          I’m working on a feature now and am happy to be. I enjoyed TV writing though — I’ll return to it. It all depends on the idea and what format best suits it.

  • Randy Williams

    I like the new dialogue sample.

    I’m a big fan of when a writer makes us identify with a character to prevent us from keeping ourselves at a distance when that character shortly does something we’d not normally or think we’d ever do ourselves. In this case, we are reeled in to Frank and can identify and sympathize with him when he describes, in a humorous way at that, how old age creeps up on us.

    Then he takes the blowtorch to the female. Too late to step back.

  • Poe_Serling

    Just saw this today…

    A list of some of the most requested TV pilots and the links to access the scripts. Courtesy of our friends over at Good in a Room:

    • S_P_1

      Did you or anybody else think the Game of Thrones script was anachronistic? Especially using modern day curse words. Plus some of those sex scenes, I have a hard time believing a Frodo type guy is getting fellatio performed on him by this beautiful woman. Or the young boy who could scale castle walls. The script read as far to modern thinking.

      • Poe_Serling

        Haven’t had the chance to check out the Game of Thrones script yet.

    • kenglo

      Nice Poe! I don’t know if anyone else is interested, but there are a couple of sites with a load of TV series and pilots here –;O=D

      and here –


  • carsonreeves1

    What’s his script?

  • fragglewriter

    Would love to receive the script at fragglewriter @ yahoo dot com.

  • astranger2

    Wow. I can’t believe I listened to the entire interview, not because I didn’t find it fascinating, but because I thought I’d be too sleepy to finish… shows how captivating I found it. (Not sure everyone would feel that way as it’s a “cracker barrel-type” chat, but I love his work.)

    Just like Adventures…” it drips with quaint humor. I can’t believe Graham Greene writes EXACTLY 300 words per day — counting them, and even stopping mid-sentence, lol… or how a simple five second insert in The Great Waldo Pepper, might’ve dramatically affected the box office on that film, if that was the process in film making then…

    What a splendid, inspiring, and humble man…

    Thanks for sharing… ; v )