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.


tommy said...

John Cho plays Dmitri, not Kal Penn. You mixed up your Harolds and Kumars. IMDB, friend...

Josh said...

Ha. Whoops. Now Sulu's probably going to fence me to death for my mistake.

Philip Palmer said...

Great analysis...I personally loved the way they did it in the broadcast ep, ie all action. I like to know the genre of the thing right up - THEN slow build. It's what they do in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The first 10 or so mins are totally irrelevant to the story of the Ark, but they get you used to the idea this is going to be action-packed.

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