I’ve been working on writing my first television pilot script recently. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been busy doing all sorts of writing, but the pilot is the thing I’ve been focusing on a lot. I also worked on a spec script of an existing show (basically writing an episode of a show that could happen, but hasn’t been written). I’m not expecting either script to get produced any time soon (if at all), so I don’t have my hopes up in that respect. But I’m using both as learning experiences to hone my screenwriting skills.
In that regard I’ve been reading tons of books on screenwriting, joined writing groups, followed a lot of writers/producers/agencies on Twitter and have been reading a bunch of scripts. Thankfully there are a lot of websites that offer up scripts to download, so I can read and compare how shows and movies were imagined/written to what was actually produced.
It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. For the most part I’ve found that the general theme, structure and much of the dialogue from the script stayed the same. Not every scene that was written turned out the same way in the final production, and there were numerous scenes that weren’t in the script that made it into the show/movie.
I read and watched the Gilmore Girls pilot (because, you know, a good show). There was one minor character who worked at the Inn who never made it on screen, and a whole scene between Rory and Dean that hadn’t been written. I read two different drafts of the Farscape pilot — the initial draft and the shooting script. There was a lot less action/description in the shooting script but it was messier because pages were inserted/rewritten. For HBO’s The Wire dialogue was dropped (more often than not), scenes were in a different order than they appeared on screen and characters were renamed, changed and added or deleted. It’s amazing how similar yet so different things are from initial concept to production.
I’ve learned that not everything has to be exactly perfect/finished to catch a developer’s eye. Now, I am reading things from people who have been in the business for a while and who were relatively well-known in the industry before these shows — Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino had done Roseanne and other shows before Gilmore Girls, and David Simon had created Homicide: Life on the Street before The Wire. So while that might be okay for established Hollywood players I think I will take the time to perfect my own script. That will mean lots of editing, rewriting, revisions and feedback. All of which I’ve both given and received before in one form or another, so I’m okay with that.
I’ve recently seen the fantastic Hidden Figures movie. I’ve got the script and have started reading that. But I really want to read the book to do even more comparisons. How was it adapted? What was left in? What changed? There’s always going to be some sort of creative license to make scenes more dramatically interesting in stories based on books — not to mention ones based on true events. Just look at what changed with the Harry Potter films, for example, or in any “based on a true story” movie. I don’t necessarily want to write movies or feature films, but having the knowledge and seeing how it can be done well could serve me in the future.
It’s all a very interesting learning experience. One that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my own script and writing process. I still have a lot of work to do, and at times it’s challenging, but it’s also fun. Screenwriting is an art form, as is any form of writing. I’m learning the craft. I just hope I can do something with it. Thankfully there are a lot of resources available to help in the process. I’m just happy Netflix doesn’t judge me for watching the same episode of something over and over again while I try to glean all I can out of a scene or episode. I’m just going to assume they don’t judge me, at least… Well, if they do I’ll just use the old adage “practice makes perfect.” All I’m doing is practicing. A lot.