Screenwriting : Outline before writing a pilot or fly by the seat of your pants? by Aray Brown

Aray Brown

Outline before writing a pilot or fly by the seat of your pants?

I didn't write one before I started writing this pilot, which was prolly a mistake. I'm on Act Two and having minor writer's block, where you rack your brain to find out what to write next. I say minor cause it's not major (thank Jesus) . I could write a script on the fly but that was a screenplay and not a TV spec...and it was at night. There was a time I hated outlines but now I've come to revere them.

Marvin Willson

Outlining is very important part of the process, especially on a pilot. How can you deal with character/story development without one?

Aray Brown

it's based on my novella

Marvin Willson

Okay, so I'm confused. If it's based on existing material that you wrote, why are you having writer's block?

Vince Conside

If you have a foundation too work off, that's fine. Butt highly recommend outlining a TV pilot.

Arran McDermott

I've discovered that I have to outline everything I write meticulously or it turns into a complete train wreck. That doesn't mean I don't make changes to the story later on, but I have to have a solid beginning, middle and end in place before I write page 1. I really envy writers like Quentin Tarantino or Stephen King who can make it up as they go along and actually produce something good to great.

Jody Ellis

I rarely write down an outline, but do keep one in my head.

Aray Brown

@Marvin - it may be just me getting in my own way. The pilot is half based on the book, the beginning of the story is based on the idea i had for the prequel to the novel series. I pretty much know where I want it to go but it is not detailed

James Drago

As a script coordinator, I have worked with writers who write Fade In and just get rolling and those who actually storyboard with stick figures! It's your own process and everyone is different. For me, every script I write is different. Some get a broad stroke outline, some get a full outline and some get no outline.

Jody Ellis

Sometimes I will actually do a loose outline after my first draft. Once it's all out there and I can see where the holes are, then I sit down and figure out what I need to add/delete.

Bill Taub

I wrote this so writers avoid exactly the situation you find yourself in. http://www.billtaub.com/automatic-pilot/

Dan MaxXx

If Rene Balcer vouches for Bill, I'm in! thanks Bill

Jeff Lyons

Should you outline???? Think about how TV shows get written. Writers sit around in a writers room and break story (i.e., outline)... and then write scripts. They do this for a reason... no on-the-fly writing allowed :).

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Never "by the seat of my pants" ---- I outline on a yellow pad. Then I scribble on index cards. Like going on a journey in a car -- you map it out first, eh? Good luck.

David Levy

Only once did I write a pilot script without any notes or outline. It does help to have it done, I can see the camera shots and story in greater detail when I;ve written an outline.treatment first. I;ve played the story.concept in my head so man times where I can see what I want to write, that makes it easier to edit for me. The more I have written before writing the pilot, the more details I see and can change depending on how the story is coming out.

Shawn Speake

Outline

Shawn Speake

Don't forget about the monthly webinar THIS AFTERNOON with RB! See you there :)

Dan MaxXx

u are spinning in mud, writing blind, going nowhere if u do not write a solid outline. Do not waste your time and creative energy writing additional episodes. If your spec pilot sucks, no one will read the other "episodes" or treatment. They got people with fancy titles like " head of development". That is their job, to develop. Just write a great spec TV pilot. Thats all people want to read . Bibles, treatments can be done later by pros, Emmy Writers.

Aray Brown

@Shawn - I willbe there :) got the webinar app on my tablet

Aray Brown

@James - I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone has a different way of doing things

Aray Brown

@Dan Max - just writing the pilot. No additional episodes. The spec is the prequel, if (I mean when) it gets picked up and does well then it will go into my existing material

Bill Taub

@arayBrown The spec pilot is NOT A PREQUEL. My advice is not to write s 'premise pilot'...where the series starts when the pilot ends. Think of the pilot as the sixth episode. What is a typical episode going to look like. Whatever you write as prequel will wind up as a montage behind opening credits. The hard part is figuring out how you want to execute the series from week-to-week. When I work with writers and producers on pilots they don't start writing the script until they've figured out all their options BEFORE hand -- which can always be changed. https://www.stage32.com/blog/Stage-32-At-the-WGAW

Aray Brown

Bill, the pilot is based on the idea I had for my novel series, which i'm writing anymore cause I'm working on spec with that same foundation in mind. It starts at the beginning (Alex/Henry's past) One name he was born with and the name he was given after he was stolen. It's pretty much where it all started. The readers will know where he came from, will see his character development from a young boy to an adolescent to a man,, will see what makes him into the person he is/turns him into the person he is (not all in 61 pages)

Jody Ellis

I hate outlines in the same way I hate people who "warm up" before a race when I participate in runs. Why waste all that energy?! Lol. Just write. Or just run. Get 'er done for God's sake and don't waste time dithering with notecards. I'm all about the shitty first draft.

Bill Taub

What makes you think it's a series and not a feature? It's fine if you want to try it -- I don't discourage anybody from trying anything they want to. Is it all told in flashback? Is this a mystery? Who stole Alex? What is the POV of your series? Who are we tracking? The kidnapper and Alex? The parents and officials? Both? Who are the Main Characters? How long is Alex/Henry going to be a baby - how long will it take him to grow up? The various stages? (in episodes? Seasonal arcs?) If not in 61 (or 120) pages, then how long at each stage? Three of my favorite movies of all time are "Little Big Man" -- "Forrest Gump" -- and "Benjamin Button" .Not sure I see them as series. Have you figured all this stuff out? A series has it's own demands. Whether it be traditional or new media. Personally, what I know so far, I think you have a movie on your hands. Nothing wrong with that!

Aray Brown

There's nothing wrong with that at all, Bill. I thought that myself but there is so much story a 120 pages just won't fill...and I'm not done with the characters. I've actually thought about turning it into a series way before I even started even writing it.

Bill Taub

That's fine. All I'm asking is 'what's the series?' - You're not done with the characters. You haven't answered my questions about POV - Structure, etc. -- I will assume you have that all worked out. Series are less about story and more about character. Character drives plot. I'm just trying to help you. If you had all that figured out, you wouldn't find yourself in mid-air -- lost. But I'm rooting for you. And believe we should all 'write what we want to see' - it's just a question of what platform are we working in. I wish you all the best with it. And look forward to watching the series...

Aray Brown

Thanks for the advice Bill :) and I appreciate the help. Maybe I send it to you when it's finished?

Aray Brown

Bill, I didn't want to give too much away before it's done but it's a learning experience in order for me too pitch effectively. It's a dark thriller series about the secrets of a dark man's past that collide with his future (working on the logline) the POV shifts from Alex/Henry's father and a dirty cop. It begins with Alex/Henry's father rushing his pregnant wife to the emergency room. it progresses with the doctor telling him his wife died giving birth. The father falls becomes depressed and opts to commit suicide but then turns the gun on his son, blames his son for her death. That's when the dirty cop comes in, gets an anonymous call about a disturbance, finds the father holding the gun to his son's temple, the dirty cop shoots the father but doesn't kill him, files a fake report stating he murdered his son. The dirty cop takes him and raises him as his own. My main characters are William, Frank, Zoe, Medina And Isabel. How long will Alex/Henry stay a baby? I'm thinking about doing a time jump between Season 1 -2 where he's in college and there's a pivotal moment that makes his character. (It's not told in flashbacks by the way)

Dan MaxXx

how does a cop file a fake murder report?. where is the 'fake body'?

Aray Brown

He produces one

Dan MaxXx

Im familar with city cops and procedures. how does a cop (beat cop?) "produce" a murder report at the crime scene (alone? No other cops showing up), , somehow has an extra 'dead body" ( baby body?) , does a body switch, and this 'fake murder' all happens random?

David Taylor

A Screenwriting Fake Body Problem? (Happens all the time). Watch the TRUE STORY - 'The Man Who Never Was' - 1956. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049471/

Aray Brown

He's a detective. Dirty cop.

Aray Brown

The father supposedly shot him and cut him open, piece by piece. He produces a child's body parts. Gets evidence against him, the fathers gun for example, a knife that's registered to him. Has photos of the fake crime scene.

Jody Ellis

Hmm. While I get that we can stretch the boundaries of what's normal, I will say that a cop a) wouldn't go into a disturbance alone and b) detectives are called out immediately and they photograph the crime scene. Probably varies a bit by cities, but that's generally how it works. And I'm not sure how he could produce a child's body parts? Because the medical examiner can determine time of death so he would have to kill another child, or produce an infant body that is very recently dead.

Aray Brown

@Jody - the world i'm creating is bordering on corruption, and it will be become very dark and ugly as it progresses. I get that i have to make it as realistic as possible, unless it's a dark fantasy. what power he has as a detective he uses that to get what he wants, saving the baby from the father when the baby needs to be saved from him. As a dirty pig, does he have any leeway ?

Bill Costantini

Aray - I think your problem regarding realism could surface in the eyes of the reader who might say "hmmm...that's not the way it's done." If that happens, that could sink the chances of your script. With the issue you stated, though...procedures are followed in certain ways. You have to get your dirty cop out of that procedurial way...like maybe he gets a phone call on his cell from one of his snitches, which directs him to go to the scene of the crime. But it has to be an appropriate call that would preclude him from following procedure - like maybe he's directed to an illegal operation of sorts in the apartment next door....gets there...takes the money....and as he's leaving...he hears a ruckus in the other apartment, and intervenes. That might work, and is even a nice additional element of surprise. You also might want to consult with someone who is a subject matter expert on police procedures. There are ex-officers on this very website who do that, and there are also sources for writers on the matter as well. Good luck! And yes...outlines...index cards...tape recording before outlining...brainstorming...roleplaying/becoming the characters....consulting the Ouija board....or others....observing...questioning...probing....listening to what the fox says....all work for me.

Aray Brown

Thanks for your advice Bill!

Aray Brown

I definitely need to talk to someone

Dan MaxXx

Yup, talk to a cop! (Dont call them pigs :) ). From what i read , your police " scenes" dont make any sense compared to a real world murder crime scene( Ive seen real murders, dead gangbangers missing face. Gruesome but good for writing) But Youre writing a mAke believe world. Anything is possible as long the " rules" of your world is established.

Aray Brown

There will be gruesome shit, just not all at once. Gotta tease

Dan MaxXx

Buy a police scanner, spend a week at night scanning for murders, shootings.

Marvin Willson

It's interesting that you have not yet fully answered Bill Taub's salient questions. What is the series and what are we going to be watching each week? Remember for someone to buy your show, they have to envision 10 seasons of engaging TV. If you cannot answer those question clearly and succinctly, you may struggle.

J Medina

always outline. it helps to focus your work. if the spine is strong, no matter what changes you make, your script will be good.

Aray Brown

it's a thriller series about the secrets of a man's dark past that collide with his future, while facing the corrupt world around him and the choices he makes that transform him into the monster he will become. What you'll be watching every week is Alex/Henry's character development as he morfs into this Jekyll and Hyde persona when he later discovers letters from his real father and finds out the truth about the dirty cop and himself. There are three stages in his life, when he's a little boy, an adolescent and when he's a man, which it will be in each season.

Marvin Willson

Aray - The issue you are going to encounter is having the audience sticking with your character at different ages. They may follow him as a child, but may not like the casting as an adolescent, unless you stay with the same cast throughout, it may prove difficult to get someone to commit this to series. These are just my opinions, but I've been in meetings where these things are discussed. Premise pilots are risky, but they can and have worked, mainly in Sci-Fi where world building is crucial. However I've never seen a prequel pilot and this might create a problem to execs who have to pitch your show up the ladder. You have to remember you are asking a studio to commit millions of dollars to your show.

Aray Brown

I appreciate your feedback and your sage advice, Marvin. But please don't call it a prequel pilot. it's just a pilot.

Marvin Willson

I'm sorry, I'm only following what you wrote... Aray Quote - "@Dan Max - just writing the pilot. No additional episodes. The spec is the prequel, if (I mean when) it gets picked up and does well then it will go into my existing material"

Marvin Willson

Kate - WOW! That's a lot of pages. If you're trying to sell a show, only write 30 pages for a 30-min and 60ish for a 1-hour. No need to write additional episodes.

Dan Guardino

I never read a TV series but I did write a trilogy and optioned it twice but nobody wasted their time reading part 2 and 3 so writing all 3 parts was a waste of time. However they could all be made separately and I have a well-known director attached so I might market them separately and see if I can get one of them made.

Aray Brown

Cheers Katie! I couldn't imagine writing 500 pages

Aray Brown

I'm going to have to bite the bullet and do the damn thing..outlining in progress

Aray Brown

@Marvin - maybe i should backtrack :)

Marvin Willson

Hey Aray, back track on what exactly??

Aray Brown

about the whole statement of the prequel pilot. since I'm not continuing on with the novel series or mentioning that it's inspired by or based on ( a little stupid of me to only put the first series out there)

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