Sunday, September 27, 2009

Script to Screen: Flash Forward pilot


Last week I reviewed the Flash Forward pilot script, then broke it down. Today I'm going to talk about the differences I noticed from the written script and the pilot that aired this past Thursday.

I will try to keep the spoiler level low, but there's no way to talk about differences between page and screen without revealing some stuff, so... SPOILERS!!!

Most of the changes I noticed seemed to be do to cuts or streamlining, and largely affected the stories of the secondary characters. There were also a few things moved around or truncated, and my guess is that this was done to raise the energy a bit (by cutting back and forth) or create tension. The big tension-creating moment happens right up front, and I'm not completely sure how I feel about it.

All of you who watched the premiere on Thursday know that the pilot begins with a horrifying scene of mass destruction. Joseph Fiennes' character, Mark, wakes up upside-down in the aftermath of a car crash, only to discover that every car on the 101 (I know the freeway only because of the script, but I'm going to pretend the aired episode meant it to be the 101 as well) has crashed, people are screaming, and several buildings on the horizon are in flames. Then, as the horror sets in, we cut to black and a title pops up: FOUR HOURS EARLIER. And the next 10 minutes are all about getting back to that crash that we just saw.

Holy crap, right? Now you're invested, and you want to see how we get to that point and then figure out what happened. That, I'm sure, is exactly why they did this, and I think it's quite effective.

However... the pilot script worked just as effectively for me (albeit bringing a different energy) by beginning at that FOUR HOURS EARLIER point. Not that it began with those words, because what wouldn't make any sense, but the first dozen or so pages of the script are spent building up the normal lives of the characters and what they're doing. It's all about getting to know these people. So when the rug is pulled out from under them and this huge, crazy thing happens, it's just as sudden, shocking and confusing for us as it is for them. Plus, I felt like I genuinely cared about these individuals, rather than being worried about the event I knew was coming.

If I had to choose, it's probably pretty obvious I'm a bigger fan of the choice the script made here, but I didn't dislike the change in the pilot. As I said, it just brought a different, more tense energy to the proceedings. I do wonder, however, if some of the complaints critics have made about not caring for the characters, and how they feel like chess pieces being moved around to serve the plot, can be attributed to the decision to show the incident first and work back toward it rather than organically coming to it linearly.

Similarly, the written pilot and aired show ended on different notes. While the script decided to end on more of a character beat, with Mark receiving the friendship bracelet from his daughter and allowing her to put it on him as his dread mounts... the aired pilot chose to go out on the A-story beat of the discovery at Comerica Park (Tigers Stadium) in Detroit. I'm trying to minimize spoilers as much as possible, guys.

Both script and aired pilot made choices that worked for the type of story they were trying to tell. I think the script was more of a character study of how these people would react to such a crazy thing, so beginning and ending on character beats seems smart. For the aired pilot, which seems more concerned with setting up the central conceit of the show and the plot mechanisms, it only makes sense that they end on a meta-plot twist after beginning with the horrifying meta-plot disaster. And I have to say, I do think the meta-plot reveal was a stronger hook to end on, so I can't fault it.

Other changes are not so drastic, and mostly involve not revealing as much to the audience about some of the secondary characters' stories. For example, in the script we learn what Bryce saw in his flash forward, and that the female FBI agent who saw herself pregnant had bigger reasons to question the validity of the vision than "I don't even have a boyfriend." Not so in the aired pilot. The stuff in the script was intriguing, but to be honest I didn't miss it.

The one thing I do think really suffered was the story of Dominic... or was it Dmitri in the aired pilot? I felt like I heard both names. Kal Penn's character. The one who sees nothing in his flash forward.

The aired pilot has his story basically come down to him saying, "Come on, man, we're both thinking the same thing..." before talking about his theory that no flash forward means he'll be dead in six months. In the script this is drawn out a bit more, with Mark deflecting Penn's worries as first. Then, later, Penn gets a surreal, terrifying phone call. In her flash forward, a woman tells him, she was reading a newspaper story... about his murder. After the initial shock, Penn starts asking her for as many details as she can give him about his murder. Where? When? How? Who?

To me that's the coolest thing about this show. No matter what big and crazy thing happens, the characters get through it, then calmly and rationally start breaking it down, just the way we would in real life.

I have to imagine the above bit was cut for two reasons: one, because they needed a time cut and felt like they could get the "I think I'm going to die" stuff out more efficiently (true, though that aired scene played a little hokey for me); and two, because it's more fun to tease this murder information out slowly rather than giving it away in the pilot. Am I right about this? Who knows? But it makes sense.

Overall, I really like both versions of this pilot. One is a bit more character driven, while the other relies heavily on the mystery and plotting, but both retain the strengths of the core concept and create interesting, unique character conflicts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Break It Down - Flash Forward Pilot Script


Yesterday I finally got off my butt and reviewed the Flash Forward pilot script. Tomorrow I'm going to do a Script to Screen and talk about some of the changes made between page and the finished pilot that aired last night. There weren't too many, but I did find one change very interesting.

Episode 101 - No More Good Days

Short Description


Everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, during which each person sees what is happening 6 months into their future. In the aftermath, they must deal with the repercussions of what they saw and try to figure out what happened and why... and maybe... who caused it.

Story Threads

A-story - The Investigation/Mark's FF
B-story - Mark and Olivia
C-story - Olivia/FF
D-story - Dominic/FF
E-story - Bryce/FF
F-story - Aaron/FF
G-story - Nicole/FF

I find this somewhat difficult to break down in the usual way, because arguably the A-story is the event itself, and it doesn't occur until the end of the first act. You could also argue that Mark's story is simply his FF and the investigation, and the story I've labeled "Mark and Olivia" should be with her FF, but I'm separating it this way for now...

Length and Breakdown

Act I - 12 pages, 12 scenes
Act II - 8 pages, 5 scenes
Act III - 11 pages, 7 scenes
Act IV - 11 pages, 5 scenes
Act V - 8 pages, 4 scenes
Act VI - 8 pages, 5 scenes

38 scenes in 58 pages. At first glance, it appears that Flash Forward has the opposite structure of most shows, throwing you into the action with a bunch of quick scenes, then slowing down for the rest of the show. In some respect, I guess that's true (there are quite a few longer scenes after Act I where the main characters are puzzling out what happened and dealing with the repercussions of their flash forwards), but 12 scenes in 12 pages is deceiving for Act I. The reason there are so many scenes is because Goyer and Braga decide to reveal character to us by showing actions rather than using dialogue-heavy scenes, which naturally just take longer on the page.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - The Investigation/Mark's FF (16 beats/scenes)
B-story - Mark and Olivia (12 beats/scenes)
C-story - Olivia/FF (5 beats/scenes)
D-story - Dominic/FF (3 beats/scenes)
E-story - Bryce/FF (3 beats/scenes)
F-story - Aaron/FF (3 beats/scenes)
G-story - Nicole/FF (3 beats/scenes)

What's interesting to me is the economy of the smaller stories. Four of them with only 3 beats! And for once I actually feel pretty good about the way I've labeled the letters. The investigation definitely feels most important, followed by the general scenes about Mark and Olivia's relationship; secondary to those general relationship scenes is Olivia's FF and the people connected to that... and then so on and so forth for the other stories. What's great is that the number of times we come back to each story backs up that feel. Awesome!

Act I - B, B, B, F, F, E, G, D, A, A, A, A
Act II - A, E, G, A, A
Act III - A/B, B/C, A, C, A, A, A
Act IV - A, B, A/B/D, A, C/E
Act V - G, B, F/B, D
Act VI - B, B/C, C, A, B

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C and so on is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

45 story beats. In 38 scenes. For the most part, each story gets to live on its own, especially in Act I, where it seems more important because we're just being introduced to this world and these characters. Also, the beats reflect the way I felt about the opening as well -- you meet these characters in their normal lives and just start to get to know them a little bit and get invested (all the B and below storylines you see dominating Act I) when WHAM! this huge event changes everything (represented in the four A-story beats to end Act I).

Pretty cool stuff. Tomorrow (or Monday, maybe?) I compare the script to what actually aired. And I've gotta say, reading over it again today to do this breakdown, more changed than I actually realized...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

(Auto) Pilot: A review of the Flash Forward pilot script


I made a promise a while back to review a bunch of the one-hour pilot scripts I read for the fall shows now premiering, and so far I've been really bad at following through on that promise. But better late than never, right? Maybe?

Today, in honor of its premiere tonight, I'd like to review the pilot script for a little show I like to call Flash Forward. Because that's the name of the show.

Anyway...

When I heard the premise for Flash Forward (that everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, during which each person sees what is happening 6 months into their future), I wasn't interested. It didn't seem like an idea that could sustain itself. I mean, 6 months, really? Next I saw the trailer... and came away similarly tepid. Generally I'm a huge fan of speculative fiction, but this just wasn't doing it for me.

Then I got my grubby little mitts on a bunch of one-hour pilot scripts for new shows this season. Flash Forward was, hands down, the best written and most interesting. Goyer and Braga remembered the one thing I had forgotten about TV, the thing that unites almost all great, classic shows: it's about the characters.

Duh, you say? Well, of course, but thinking about the premise had pushed that to the back of my mind, and for whatever reason the characters just didn't come through to me in the previews.

Thank goodness they do in the script, where Goyer and Braga spend the first four pages letting us live with Mark and Olivia Benford as they go through their normal lives: the morning run, fixing breakfast for their daughter, repairing the garage door, going to work, etc. The couple even have the too-cute habit of telling each other they hate each other as a way of saying "I love you." Schmaltzy? Yes. But oddly endearing as well.

Over the first ten pages we're introduced to the rest of the main characters, most going about the mundane tasks of daily life (even if, for Mark and his partner, Dominic, daily life includes stakeouts and dangerous criminals). Only Bryce Varley is shown to us at any truly important moment of his existence -- as we first see him, he stands at the edge of a pier, about to shoot himself.

But regardless of what they're doing before, it's about to be an important moment in the life of every single person in the world. Because as Bryce starts to pull the trigger on his gun, and Mark and Dominic dodge traffic in that car chase you've seen a million times in action movies -- it happens.

We FLASH to another time and place, and Mark sees what's he's doing 5 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days into the future. He knows the date precisely because he notices it on his desk calendar. Future Mark is working on a case involving things his present-day self knows absolutely nothing about, but he's clearly anxious and "been through hell." And that's before two masked men appear with guns and...

And we're back in the present, where the car chase has morphed into the largest, most horrifying traffic accident ever. Every single car on the freeway has crashed, and people are screaming everywhere. Fires dot the landscape as Mark climbs onto a car to survey the damage. Was it a natural disaster? A terrorist attack?

Over the course of the rest of the episode, we learn that every single person in the world blacked out for the aforementioned 2 minutes and 17 seconds. Anyone driving at the time crashed their car. Planes fell from the sky. Patients in surgery died. Carnage and disaster everywhere. We also learn that it wasn't really a black out, because Mark's experience was not unique -- people everywhere saw 2 minutes and 17 seconds of their future. And all of them who happened to see the date and time confirm that it was exactly the same as the date Mark saw.

More importantly, we learn what future each of our main characters saw, and how it affects them. Mark will be driven by the mystery of the case he saw himself working on. Olivia will be haunted by the knowledge that she won't have a life with Mark in six months. Bryce will take what he saw as a second chance at life, and a reason to keep going. And perhaps most interesting is Mark's partner, Dominic -- he didn't see anything in his future. Literally. It was just... black. Does this mean he's asleep in six months? Dead? Does he really want to know?

Questions like these are what made the script so affecting for me, and finally answered my unspoken question about why I should care about the show: because I'm invested in these people figuring out their lives and trying to live with their newfound knowledge. Are they trapped by "fate"? Can they change things now that they know about them in advance? Are the things they saw even real? Will their relationships survive, knowing what they know? Or at least... what they think they know?

And as everyone deals with the emotional repercussions of these revelations and chooses to accept or deny what they saw, Goyer and Braga throw another curve ball at the audience at the end of the script that advances the mystery of the phenomenon and calls into question everything we've seen. I won't give it away, but suffice to say it's an intriguing bit of info that could take the plot in many interesting directions.

As much as the characters and plot drew me in, I would be remiss as a writer if I neglected to mention how good the actual words on the page are. The dialogue is crisp and affecting. Characters react in believable ways. The act breaks actually feel dramatic, the way they are supposed to. And, since this is my own personal pet peeve, the action does what action is supposed to do and DESCRIBES WHAT THE AUDIENCE SEES, rather than falling into the trap of novice and uber-successful professional writer alike: telling us what we're supposed to see. I'm looking at you, J.J. Abrams.

Here's hoping the Goyer and Braga have a monster hit on their hands, because I'm incredibly excited to see where they take this story.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Forecast is Cloudy, but with a side of really good reviews

So far, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS is getting 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and 66% on Metacritic. Go Chris and Phil!


And go all of you... to the theatres so that it makes lots of money and keeps my friends and former coworkers employed.

Not convinced? Check out some fun viral marketing featuring Bill Hader, Neil Patrick Harris, and Andy Samberg:








Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'll be watching


There's actually quite a bit of TV I'm excited about this upcoming season. Below I'm going to put together an awesome fall schedule for you... of the TV Jul and I will be watching. Whee!


If you want a full schedule, go to a cooler site like The Futon Critic. Really. Their schedule is comprehensive and clearly laid out.

But anyway. Below is my schedule. I'm organizing by night and time, and I will mark new shows with an asterisk.

MONDAY

There's nothing on!!! But I guess we might do...

8pm - Heroes (sigh)
8:30pm - Accidentally On Purpose* (I've heard good things)
9pm - Greek (despite the fact that they didn't "want a writers PA who wants to be a writer." Uh, okay.)
10pm - Castle (it's nice to have there on the DVR for fun)

TUESDAY

This night will either be very good or really boring, with lots of newness.

8pm - V* (but not until Nov. 3)
9pm - NCIS: Los Angeles* (we'll try it)
10pm - The Good Wife* (the pilot script came very highly recommended); Sons of Anarchy (liked -- but didn't love -- the first season)

WEDNESDAY

Things start to get crowded, but could end up like Tuesday if the new shows suck or don't last...

8pm - Mercy* (Grey's Anatomy with nurses, right?)
8:30pm - The Middle* (you'll hear this a lot, but... I hear good things)
9pm - Friday Night Lights (we might actually get DirecTV in our condo... if we get our condo); Glee*; The Beautiful Life* (I know, I know, but reviews are good); The Modern Family* (reviews)
9:30pm - Cougar Town* (good reviews)
10pm - Eastwick* (the trailer left me less than excited, but...)

THURSDAY

The best show of the fall? Maybe? Hopefully?

8pm - Flash Forward* (I'm soooo excited...); The Vampire Diaries* (...that I'm even willing to try this)
9pm - Grey's Anatomy; Fringe (I'll give it another shot); The Office
9:30pm - Community*/30 Rock (Community looks hilarious, and 30 Rock IS)

FRIDAY

Poor Betty.

9pm - Dollhouse; Ugly Betty

SUNDAY

Double D night. Yes, I'm lame.

9pm - Desperate Housewives; Dexter

Final tally, 13 returning shows we're still willing to watch, and 14 new shows we want to try. Also, this doesn't include things like The Prisoner or Spartacus that definitely have me interested, so that really pushes the balance toward new shows.

What are you going to watch?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Well, folks, it's been quite a month


Actually, the real time frame is probably a bit longer than a month, but since the end of July...


1. Jul and I opened escrow on a condo. Consequently, we've been spending much of our free time (and some of our not-free time) reading hundreds of pages of documents, signing things, faxing things, calling and emailing people to understand what the heck is going on, and generally worrying ourselves over this big, looming thing that we're not even sure will happen. Which is great.

2. Jul's parents visited. Hence the last gay post. I like Jul's parents, but having people visit always adds stress, even when it's fun too.

3. I flew home to help my mom move over a weekend. She doesn't have a phone yet, so I have no way to contact her. But I'm sure she's fine.

4. We laid a big fat egg in most of the contests we entered... though there are still several to go... and our Pushing Daisies is supposedly in the semis at one place, if I'm to believe the email we received over the website itself, which still doesn't list us.

5. I suddenly had a week to finish up my job on the movie, which was totally unexpected and at first really scary. I had been slowly archiving and wrapping things up because I knew I had another month, and then -- BOOM -- no time. Except not really. Other than transferring the reins over to someone else on the production and putting them in contact with all the people they needed to know, it turned out that my fear was misplaced. I had to close out everything so quickly because...

6. ... I'm now assisting the awesome showrunner of a new animated series coming out... actually, I don't know when it's coming out. Scripts are being written, hundreds of boxes of office equipment from one of the studio's recently cancelled animated series are being opened and sorted through, and I'm settling in and trying to figure out my role.