Pilot Episodes

Pilot Episodes

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

My next assignment for the Young Screenwriters group is a pilot for a series. We've been split into groups - ours is the Scarabs - and we're working our way towards a series bible and a pilot script. We're being ably shepherded by Adam and Alexie. 

In preparation, I've just read William Rabkin's Writing the Pilot. I think it's an excellent book with plenty of fairly current examples. He neatly and logically suggests that you need these things to make your pilot (or series) work:

  1. Concept - robust enough to survive the loss of characters and is congrous with the theme.
  2. Theme - usually centred around your protagonist, sufficient to deliver endless conflict
  3. Characters - the most important as this is what is remembered and talked about the most. 
  4. Entertaining - is it fun?
  5. Relevance - why now?

So for concept, this often relates to the precint. So this could be schools, police stations, a crime lab - something with enough wait to hold future iterations of story. The theme can often be given as a question? Big Bang Theory might be "Can nerds find love?". In Game of Thrones, it might be "Do you need to be evil to be a ruler?". The protagonist must have some view of this and others in the show, opposing or different views. 

In many cases, the protagonist's behaviour is juxtaposed with their profession or their duty. Dexter worked for the police department but kills. Mackey in the Shield was a cop who did illegal stuff. Buffy was a schoolgirl who killed vampires. In these cases, what they were meant to be is at odds with what they actually did. Or they are doing something they are not really expeted to do e.g. Captain Mannering is a bank manager leading a group of soldiers.

Other characters either have different views to our protagonist or push/pull them in different directions. Often they provide a mirror or one extreme of where the protagonist could go to. 

William also went into a great discussion on the 2 types of pilot:

  1. Premise. The setup of the show but that's not representative of the series e.g. Lost
  2. Regular Episdode. Typical of each episode but perhaps slimmer but with some exposition. 

 It's a great book, get it.