Sorry for the late post, guys. Been on vacation. I’m actually posting this from a plane. That’s how dedicated I am to you guys! Things should be back to normal tomorrow! :)
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama/Thriller
Premise: We watch as a deadly virus slowly spreads throughout the world, changing mankind forever.
About: This is one of the hottest TV projects around, with Academy Award Winner, Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) and director Marc Forster (World War Z) set as creators. NBC knows when they’ve reeled in a good one and is going straight-to-series with the show. One of the more interesting things to come out of that Oscar win for Moore was his amazing Oscar speech. The problem was, many assumed it was Moore coming out, including GLADD!, who celebrated the speech as such. Moore had to make a public announcement to clarify that he was actually straight and his speech was just about celebrating being weird, no matter who you were.
Writer: Graham Moore
Details: 60 pages (1/4/15 draft)
Look at how much the business has changed. Five years ago, if you said the first thing a screenwriter would do after winning an Oscar was go write a TV show, the town would’ve laughed at you. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened with Graham Moore heading to television.
If there’s a “Wait a minute, huh?” moment people are having, it’s that Moore would go to, of all places, NBC, with his show. America’s uncoolest network is fresh off of thinking David Duchovny is still relevant and believes that confusing the hell out of the audience by calling a Charles Manson show, “Aquarius,” is a good thing.
No doubt the coveted “straight-to-series” promise was the key instigator here, as that’s about the only way NBC can lure talent away from the far hipper networks.
Moore’s pilot follows three key characters, the first being Sam Culp, a 40-something FBI agent who’s just shot and killed one half of a terrorist team who anthraxed a bunch of people. Culp is celebrated as a hero, but he’s not so sure. The kid was just 18 years old. And he sure didn’t seem like a bad guy.
Meanwhile, over in the UK, Eve Allen, a wife and mother who’s trying to get back into the work force, can’t remember an interview she just went in for five minutes ago. She embarrassingly walks right back into the interview room, announcing that she’s here. It can’t possibly be Alzheimer’s, since she’s in her early 40s, leaving us questioning what the heck can be wrong with her.
Finally, there’s Michael, who’s flying to Washington, D.C. from Africa, and who’s conspicuously hiding a vial of blood in his jacket. I don’t know about you, but when people flying in from Africa are hiding vials of blood, that’s usually not a good thing. But here’s the kicker. It turns out Michael works for the CDC. Making us wonder why the hell a CDC worker has to sneak blood across the border.
All three storylines clash when we learn that the Anthrax used in the terrorist attack could not have come from the suspected terrorists, but rather came from Michael’s CDC lab. How that could’ve happened and who could’ve done it is the impetus for what will surely be a chain of events that changes the world forever.
It used to be that writers either worked in movies or television. There was crossover, of course, but not to the extent there is today. Because that was the case, writers in each medium tended to think narrowly. Their idea-subset would consist of what would work in their respective medium. If a TV writer thought of a good movie idea, or vice versa, they’d likely put it on the backburner and never get to it. Who knows how many great ideas were jettisoned as a result!
Today’s writers have a huge advantage. When they come up with an idea, they get to DECIDE which medium it’s best suited for, and write in that medium.
To understand what kind of story you have, you want to classify your ideas into “long-form” and “short-form.” Short-form ideas (movies) are typically ideas that can take place inside of days or weeks. Occasionally, you’ll have a movie that covers months, and rarer still, one that lasts years (like biopics and period pieces). But for the most part, short-form ideas take place in under two weeks. That seems to be the sweet spot.
Long-form ideas are ideas that take place over at least a year. And here’s where I think Moore and Forster hit the jackpot. The pandemic outbreak idea has really only been dealt with in the feature world, and now that I’m looking back at it, I don’t think pandemics are made for short-form storytelling. They’re much better suited for long-form.
It’s much scarier watching a pandemic spread over weeks and weeks, slowly, from city to city, across the world, than it is trying to cram a fast-acting pandemic into a couple of days. By the time you get scared for everyone, the movie is already over. To a certain extent, The Walking Dead has shown us that this formula works.
Indeed, when we come to the end of Moore’s pilot, watching as Eve Allen, our character with a memory issue, starts seizing uncontrollably in front of her husband, we can sense that we’re going to watch something terrible take place, something that isn’t completed or solved within days, but rather something that lasts years. And isn’t that so much scarier? Watching what it would really be like, as opposed to some Hollywodized version of a paper-thin fast-acting pandemic?
A pilot like this has to set up a few mystery boxes, and here Moore does a good job as well. One of the more interesting ones is the character of Michael, our CDC rep carrying the vial of blood. Michael is seated next to a Middle Eastern man, who appears to be a stranger at first, although later this man appears to be a part of a bigger plan, indicating that their entire conversation occurred in code.
There’s also the mystery of who lifted the Anthrax vile from the CDC center – the one that was used in the terrorist attack. As if we weren’t confused enough already, it appears that Michael has no idea how the vial got out. So the man who’s carrying secret vials of blood and having coded conversations with Middle Eastern men on planes is clueless about who’s stealing diseases from his laboratory. What’s going on here??
If there’s a knock against the pilot, it’s that it’s one level shy of “must watch.” Everything here is strong, but there’s something missing. If I had to guess what it is, I’d probably say the lack of genre. When you have genre on your side (Lost, The Walking Dead), you have a little more leniency with your twists and turns. You can have fun with them. Like polar bears on a tropical island!
But when you’re trying to show how something would really happen, you have to play by a stricter set of rules. The twists and turns can’t be too crazy, less you puncture the suspension of disbelief balloon. But outside of that one not-really-a-criticism criticism, NBC looks like they finally may have a winner here. Straight-to-series for the win.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Writers don’t spend enough time asking themselves if their idea is better as a feature or a TV show. Asking this question can save you a lot of heartache later on. You don’t want to spend a year writing a movie only to find out the story is way bigger than a feature. Embrace the type of idea you have and write towards the appropriate medium.