Tuesday, 14 June 2016

MIDNIGHT TEXAS - TV PILOT - NBC

LOGLINE: After a near death run in with an angry spirit, a psychic with the ability to not only speak with, but also see ghosts flees to the remote town of Midnight, Texas, in the hope of relaxing and recuperating, only to discover this small, nowhere town is the epicentre and home of all mythical creatures imaginable.

SCRIPT BIO: 2016 Pilot for NBC. Based on the Midnight Texas trilogy by Charlaine Harris.

WRITER: Monica Owusu-Breen.

STORY:

We meet MANFRED (20s), a psychic who speaks with and sees ghosts as he performs a seance for a client of his, RACHEL (50s). 

When Manfred tells the client's dead husband that she is moving on, starting a new relationship with another man, the spirit of the dead husband crosses over from the netherworld, possesses Manfred's body and almost kills Rachel. 

It's only through Manfred's powerful skill and control that he manages to banish the spirit of the dead husband from his body at the last moment.

After that close call, Manfred decides to get away. He needs some downtime, time to get his head back together. 

As he finds himself driving with no destination in mind, the spirit of his dead Grandma appears next to him in the car. She advises him to go to a remote nowhere town in the desert. Not one to ignore sage advice from the dead, Manfred sets course for Midnight Texas.

Midnight, at first appears to be just another one street town in the middle of nowhere. A forgotten place. That is, until you meet the characters living here. 

Without giving away too much of the storyline, we meet a real life practising witch, a vampire, a werewolf and... you get the idea. 

This town is anything but ordinary. 

Manfred is introduced to all these incredible characters via a series of fascinating, often life endangering encounters. Then around the half way mark, one of the main players, a young lady - is found killed.

Investigation into her death soon reveals that she has a past no one knew about. 

A past that comes to town willing to wreck havoc on anyone and everyone to reap vengeance for her death. 

In the closing throws of the pilot one of the main characters is wrongly accused of killing the young lady and is taken into custody. 

A freak of nature in so many ways himself, Manfred decides to stay and work with the band of mythical creatures to exonerate the man wrongly accused and to discover who the real killer was, and more importantly, to discover the secrets of this strange town. 

INITIAL REACTION:

I've been reading a lot of TV pilots recently. I find the approach to TV a refreshing switch up from the format of Film. 

TV seems to be where the good writing is at these days. With TV there is an innate need to 'cut to the chase.' Get the story told as efficiently as possible.

Quite often with feature films, there is a sense of laziness to the story telling. There is a notion that - 'This is a film, let me take my time getting to my point, let me show you this character walking through a doorway, or driving up to a house even though you learn nothing about who that character is through these actions.'

In TV all the fat is cut away and all you're left with are compelling beats that pull the story along.

Ok, that's a generalisation, there are TV pilots that wander and take their time, but on the whole I'm noticing that TV writers are aware of how important it is to 'get to the point' as fast as you can. 

This TV pilot is a great example of good, clean, fast writing. 

Not only is the writing itself A grade, but the storytelling never wanders. Every scene is as short as it can be, every scene starts as late as possible and ends as soon as possible. 

It is so refreshing to read a well orchestrated script. 

CONCEPT:

Fantastic idea here. A psychic who can see and interact with the dead, finds that he's not the only person on earth with freakish abilities. He is 'guided' to a town where mythical creatures live among ordinary folk, and is embroiled in a murder mystery. 

This is an idea that immediately jumps out at you, you can imagine all the interesting characters - the witch, the werewolf, the vampire etc... all these great folklore creatures living as humans in a small town. 

This is a great example of high concept AND a character piece. More often than not, when you have a high concept script, be it film or TV, the characters are underdeveloped. And on the flip coin, when you have a really well developed character piece, with sensational players that explode off the page, you will find that the story itself is ho-hum, nothing to write home about.

It's when you marry those two all important aspects of story together that you end up with a powerful piece such as this. 

CONCEPT RATING: 9/10

THE TAKEAWAY: Look at your latest script. Break it down into these two core parts. IDEA and CHARACTERS. Look at each one separately. Does you IDEA stand up? Is it different enough to stand out from the masses? Or is it really just another mystery, just another crime drama, just another comedy etc... 

Try and single out that one aspect of your script that you can hold up and say, look, this is my unique angle, this is WHY my script is different to all the rest. 

If you can't honestly do that - then re-write your idea until you have an ANGLE. If you don't have an angle, no matter how well executed, you're just not going to get the reads, just not going to get it over the line.

Likewise with your characters. Look at each character and think about how well developed they are. Again, be as honest with yourself as you can be. Does each character have a flaw of some sort? Or if not a flaw, do they have a unique personality to them? What makes them stand out? If there's nothing making them stand out from the rest, re-write them until they have their own unique flavor. 

FORM:

Form here is exceptional - except for one thing. The writer often directs the camera. Now for an established writer adapting a pre existing novel as an assignment for an established TV company, she can get away with this. 

For everyone else out there - never - ever - direct the camera in your script.

End of discussion.

FORM RATING: 9/10


STRUCTURE:

TV structure differs greatly from film structure.

With film - the Hero's Journey structure guides the story. 

In TV - there are less defined beats that are necessary to hit to have a successful show. 

By the end of a film it is important to have resolved the main character's flaw, in a TV series, it is often the main character's flaw that is the driving force behind the series. When you resolve their flaw, you've resolved the series. 

Can you imagine if Dexter resolved his innate urge to kill serial killers. You'd have no show. 
Or if House wasn't an asshole, what kind of show would House be?

So the hero's journey is not applicable to the TV format the way it is to film.

This begs the question - what is the structure of TV?

Well firstly, for most pilots - there is the TEASER - a short opening hook that sets up the main player and conflict in the series. This is followed by four acts of roughly equal length. 

Each act is best served if it ends with a hook, or a cliffhanger to pull the viewer into the next act to find out what's going to happen. 

The one thing I've noticed with successful TV shows is that CONFLICT drives the story. 

TV structure breaks down to the scene level. If you have a scene that has no conflict, you're going to have a dull lifeless scene. Put too many of these back to back and you're going to have an unwatchable show. 

Doesn't matter what genre you're writing, if EVERY scene doesn't have conflict of some sort, your script will bomb.

Conflict is something that this script does really well. Almost every scene is loaded with conflict, and consequently, the story is compelling and pulls you along. 

STRUCTURE RATING: 8/10

THE TAKE AWAY: Inject conflict. Go through your script - be it TV or film - and if you have a scene that has NO CONFLICT - re-write it until it does. 

CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE

Again, this is another aspect of the script that is well executed. Every character here is unique, and well defined. 

Dialogue is fine, but I'd say this is the only part of this script that didn't pop. Every other part of this script was really well executed, above par, but the dialogue, while it feels well done, it's not as good as all the other aspects. 

There's a great dialogue test you can do. Remove all the character names from your script, then give it a read. If this were the first time you'd ever read the script, could you tell who was speaking simply by the way they're talking?

If you can't, then go through and look at working in a specific way for each character to speak. This is a fine line, as you don't want to inject too much eccentricity into your characters or they won't feel real. Just give them enough uniqueness to make them stand out from the others.

CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE RATING 8/10

THE TAKE AWAY: Characters are often defined by the way they speak. You have a great control over how the audience will perceive the characters by the way you make them talk. 

Are they fast witted? Are they reclusive and hence mumble? Do they say what they're thinking when really they should be discreet with their thoughts? Use the way your character speaks to define their personality  

VOICE:

This writer has a great voice. This comes from just how well executed the story is and just how well it is written. Voice is the sum of all the individual parts of your story. The stronger the parts - the stronger your voice.

PRODUCTION:

Relatively easy to shoot. Set in a small dessert town, with minor special effects. I can see this pilot going to series easily. 

OVERALL TAKE AWAY;

Work on your IDEA FIRST - until it pops. Until you can be sure you're working on something unique.

Secondly, work on your CHARACTERS until you have really well defined players.

Next work on your structure. Write it and re-write it in a basic form until you have every scene outlined.

Then and ONLY THEN start writing...

And when you do - make sure that EVERY SCENE has conflict and that EVERY SCENE starts as late as possible and ends as soon as possible.

AND don't ever write a character walking through a door, up a set of stairs, or driving up to a location UNLESS that action is used specifically to show us something about the character or to introduce conflict.