Speaking of blogger “firsts”, I have also yet to write about screenwriting for television. While television scripts use the same format or “codes” as movie scripts, the pace and story structure have to be fairly different. At first, I thought that a TV episode was simply a movie condensed to roughly forty-five minutes. However, after looking at them more closely, I’ve come to realize that a movie is more accurately a condensed TV series. Unlike a movie, a television show has to tell the same story over and over again, dragging it out with a string of never-ending obstacles for our lead. I would imagine that the logline for a TV series is much more crucial than a logline for a movie, because the main idea for a TV series has to exist for multiple years.
This morning, I revisited Gerald DiPego’s advice from Tales from the Script, urging eager screenwriters to read a script on it’s own, claiming that a good screenplay should be just as captivating as a good book. The first time I tried this with The Breakfast Club, I started by reading the script first. While I still enjoyed the experience, this made watching the movie less exciting because I knew everything that was going to happen before it actually happened. This time, I watched the second episode of the BBC hit, Sherlock, first, and then read the script afterwards. By doing so, I was able to go back and really understand why each scene was crucial to solving the case of the episode.
I noticed a few differences between British TV and shows here in America. While this may be stating the obvious, the British accents seemed to change the flow of the dialogue throughout the episode. Since I’m convinced that the Brits speak faster than we do, reading the script separately really came in handy this time. Also, another British fun fact that I learned from watching Sherlock is that a typical episode on a British TV show is an hour and a half long. Considering that an episode of Spongebob is capped at fifteen minutes, I had to stretch my attention span as the quirky Holmes gallivanted around London with his pal, Doctor Watson.
In the script, I saw a lot of similarities to Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight. Both Sherlock and The Dark Knight take iconic characters from the past and resuscitate them for audiences today. Because of this, both of the scripts read more casually, as if the screenwriter was confident that the movie or TV show would be an automatic success. And rightly so. In episode two, “The Blind Banker”, Sherlock creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat write, “look behind you, Sherlock!” when describing a scene in which Sherlock is surprised by an assassin. I have to say that I was amused by the writers’ attempt to become involved in the story here. This makes the script easy to read and meant to do what the episode is meant to do: entertain.
The fun, relaxed style of writing in this script may also have to do with the fact that this is a TV show, and therefore requires less rigidity in the language. When reading, I felt that I was revisiting my favorite pals Sherlock and Dr. Watson. I think this feeling of friendliness is necessary for an audience to care about what happens to the main characters from episode to episode. We want to look forward to that Monday, or Tuesday or Saturday, when the next episode of Sherlock is released and we get to embrace our pals one more time with friendly phrases like it’s been too long and we need to catch up.
So, here lies my attempt to write a pilot episode for a television show I’ve come up with. Or part of it, at least. While it won’t be the traditional hour and a half British premiere, I hope it will have the same loveable quality that I found in BBC’s latest hit, Sherlock. More to Come…
INT. APARTMENT, LOS ANGELES – MORNING
The apartment is small and cluttered with stuff: books, papers, magazines covering every surface. A WOMAN, mid 20s, stands in front of the fridge, grabbing a carton of coffee creamer. She shakes the creamer but its empty. We can’t see her face.
This is YANI. She has long, dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and a trendy suit on, ready for work. She is in a hurry. We hear FOOTSTEPS behind her.
Erin, did you use the last of the creamer?
YANI turns around and we see her face for the first time, tan, serious. A MAN without his shirt on has a Styrofoam cup in his hand, and smiles weakly. He grabs a coat, and leaves the apartment. YANI GROANS.
She tries to drink the black coffee out of her mug, but SPUTTERS, then pours it down the sink.
ERIN enters the kitchen in a robe, her hair a mess and lipstick smudged on her face.
Can you go out and buy some creamer today?
Can’t. I’ve got an audition.
I mean, unless you wrote me into your show. Then I wouldn’t have to go to the audition...
YANI SIGHS; they’ve had this discussion before.
She grabs a briefcase off of the kitchen table and runs out the door, leaving Erin and all the mess.
EXT. STREET – MORNING
YANI’s blackberry rings and she answers it, holding the phone between her shoulder and her ear, a Starbucks latte in one hand, briefcase in the other.
What is it, Perry?
YANI is walking briskly, pushing around an OLD MARRIED COUPLE checking out a STREET VENDOR’s necklaces.
(still on phone)
I don’t understand the problem. You locked your set of keys in the storage room? How’d you do that?
Beat. YANI polishes off her latte before throwing it into a garbage can; then checks her watch.
Yes, I’m still listening. Odette can wait until I get to the studio and unlock it.
YANI jabs the crosswalk button and waits to cross the street in A CROWD OF PEOPLE.
It’s not my job to calm her down, Perry; it’s yours.
Tell her she looks sexy today. That should do the trick.
THE WOMAN standing next to YANI turns and stares.
I didn’t mean that.
(into the phone)
I wasn’t talking to you.
Sorry, not you. Well, I was talking to you and now I’m not.
Beat. THE WOMAN looks confused.
Gotta go, Perry. Another calls coming in.
We hear PERRY’s faint protests, but YANI hangs up the phone. When she looks up, THE CROWD has already crossed the street. YANI hurries to cross when...
A taxi SCREECHES to a halt right in front of YANI. YANI jumps, and the TAXI DRIVER HONKS his horn. Still rattled, YANI runs to the other side of the street, short of breath.
INT. PRODUCTION STUDIO – DAY
The set is cold, and it looks as if it once was a garage. Cameras, lights, and miscellaneous cords clutter the room, all focused around a stage furnished with a couch, coffee table, and fake living room backdrop.
CAMERA MEN fix their lenses, A COSTUME DESIGNER rushes past, rolling a rack of dresses alongside her. AN AGENT talks into a phone in the corner. EVERYONE seems preoccupied.
ZOOM IN on PERRY, a skinny man who can’t be over 25, wearing floods and a headset. At the sight of YANI, PERRY brightens.
Bring these back when you’re done.
YANI throws him a set of master keys and PERRY fumbles them, before scurrying off.
ODETTE, a woman in her late 40s, walks up to YANI in yoga pants and a sweatshirt. She looks too old to be wearing them. Her arms flail in the air: distraught.
Yani, my feng-shui beads are in the storage room and I can’t start without them.
YANI exhales slowly.
Perry’s working on it.
ODETTE runs off, following PERRY. It seems that YANI is used to conversations with ODETTE ending abruptly.
On her way to an office in the back, YANI is stopped by RICHARD LAWSON, a tall, proud man, with a permanent smirk on his face. He waves a stack of paper in front of YANI’s face.
I thought you said I was going to have more lines in this episode.
LAWSON pushes the papers into YANI’S chest and she grabs them, then flips through the pages.
This is seventeen more lines than last week!
LAWSON takes his copy of the script back, and points to his lines on the first page.
I didn’t mean that I wanted to say more mhmms and okays.
I don’t have time for this, Rich. I have that meeting with Carl this morning, remember?
Hence the suit.
YANI looks down at her suit, not sure if LAWSON is insulting it or not.
Fine, fine. We’ll deal with it later.
LAWSON stomps off, and YANI enters her office, finally. She shuts the door and leans against it; she EXHALES.
YANI stacks up some papers on her desk when...
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
MOVIES WATCHED: 11
SCREENPLAY PAGES WRITTEN: 44
NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 65