Monday, April 26, 2010

Break It Down - The Good Wife pilot script

So, why am I breaking down a pilot script for a show that is almost finished with its first season? A few reasons.

1) It's been a long time since I've done a "Break It Down," and it seemed like it was time to get back to it.
2) The show is good.
3) Related to #2 -- we're about to jump into speccing it.
4) We don't have scripts from any other episodes to look at, so breaking this down is as close as we can get to deconstructing the show... at least from an actual script.

Without further ado:

Episode 101 - The Good Wife

Short Description

Starting with "one of those press conferences," The Good Wife tells the story of a politician's wife who becomes a lawyer to support her family after her Chicago D.A. husband resigns in a sex scandal.

Story Threads

A-story - Alicia's court case of the week
B-story - Alicia and Peter
C-story - Life at the law firm
D-story - Family stuff

If the way I label those stories sounds generic, it's mostly because, by and large, that seems to be the structure of every episode of this show -- though sometimes there is ONLY "Alicia and Peter" or "Family stuff," not both. However, despite the generic labels, the specifics of each of the stories is anything but.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 16 pages, 10 scenes
Act I - 13 pages, 10 scenes
Act II - 15 pages, 11 scenes
Act III - 10 pages, 6 scenes
Act IV - 10 pages, 7 scenes

44 scenes in 64 pages. Relatively typical structure, albeit with a LONG teaser... but in this case the teaser works much like a first act, starting with the inciting incident for Alicia -- her husband's betrayal -- and taking her through her first day at work, getting a trial, and the first stressful day of that trial. Way more packed than your typical teaser. The rest of the show is more in line with shows of this sort, with each act more or less getting shorter and scenes coming at a more rapid-fire pace. Or at least rapid fire for a court show.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - Alicia's court case of the week (31 beats/scenes)
B-story - Alicia and Peter (8 beats/scenes)
C-story - Life at the law firm (11 beats/scenes)
D-story - Family stuff (6 beats/scenes)

Not surprisingly, the case of the week gets the lion's share of story time. B and C get interesting in this one, though. I stand by calling "Alicia and Peter" the B story here, because his scandal casts a giant cloud over everything and infects every part of her life. Those 8 beats could just as easily have been 15, but I tried to only pull out the moments that were unequivocally about Peter or about Peter and Alicia's relationship. The "Law firm" stuff, too, gets a bit tricky, bleeding into the case of the week and sometimes involving Peter and/or Alicia's family. Again, I tried to only count those beats that seemed to very clearly be about office life/politics. "Family stuff" is pretty straightforward.

Teaser - B, C/D, C/A, C, C, A, A, D/A, C/A
Act I - A/C, A, B, A, A, A, A, D/C, B, B/A
Act II - A, A, A, A, D, D, B, A, A, A, A
Act III - A, B, C/A, A, A, A
Act IV - A/C, B/A, A, B/A, A, A, D/C/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.)

56 story beats. In 44 scenes. The A-story is the one that gets to live on its own the most, and it more or less takes over the story from Act II through most of Act IV. The B-,C-, and D-stories mostly pop up as elements in the A-story or in a scene where they share the spotlight with each other, just like the final scene, which has beats for B, C, and D together. Basically, the message is that the case of the week is God, and if the others want to stick around they need to huddle together and tell their stories efficiently. Lucky for us the writers are good at doing just that, because those B, C, and D stories are the reason to watch this extremely well done show.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Circalit Screenwriting Competition

Because the contest organizers asked that I pass this on (and because I don't have anything to post today):

I thought readers of your blog might be interested in hearing about a free Circalit-hosted monthly screenwriting competition in connection with the BBC, Hollywood producer Julie Richardson, and a number of other industry professionals. Please see the details below. We've also prepared a short guide for writers to learn the best ways of protecting their screenplay from copyright infringement which you might be interested in having a look at here. Do let me know if you have any questions.

Kind regards,


The BBC and Hollywood Producers to Judge Monthly Screenwriting Competition on Circalit.

Screenwriters across the globe are posting their scripts up at where BBC and Hollywood producers are now reviewing winning scripts with a view to production. The competition takes place monthly and is divided into television scripts, feature length screenplays and shorts. The winning scripts are decided every month by public vote and are then sent to BBC and Hollywood producers to be reviewed and potentially produced. The BBC will be reviewing the winning television script each month, whilst Julie Richardson, managing member of Imaginarium Entertainment Group and best known as the producer of box office hit “Collateral” will be reviewing the winning short (any screenplay under 60 pages). Meanwhile, feature length screenplays are being judged by Hollywood scriptwriter, Tom Lazarus, and Europe’s premier script development organisation, The Script Factory, in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia and a host of other major production studios.

Tom Lazarus, screenwriter and director, author of nine produced features, Master Class instructor at UCLA Extension Writer's Program and International Film Consultant, commented, "Circalit is a welcome addition to screenwriting community and a good place for writers to network and make industry contacts."

Briony Hanson, Co-Director of The Script Factory, commented, "We're very excited by Circalit's project to offer writers the chance to find support for their screenplays. The site is clear, user-friendly and it seems like only a matter of time before Circalit becomes known as one of the essential places for the industry to look for new screenwriting talent and we're happy to be working with them to help screenwriters."

To enter your script visit
Anyone know anything about Circalit? It's not one of the contests I'm really familiar with.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rewriting? Whoa, not so fast, let's re-outline first

Once we're "finished," Jul and I aren't great with the rewriting.

Let me explain what I mean a little bit.

The way our writing process works as partners, we break the story together -- literally sitting in the same room and writing things out on different colored Post-Its so that we can shuffle the pieces around and really, beat-by-beat, know exactly where our story is going and make sure (in theory) that it makes logical and thematic sense. And we're pretty thorough. We start with concept and characters; figure out what the beginning, middle, and end needs to be for our MC (tip: not Master of Ceremonies); then we break the storylines down (into A, B, C, etc.), beat them out, and weave them together into a cohesive whole. (Okay, obviously I'm describing the best case scenario of our process, but this really is what we attempt to do.)

Once we have that incredibly thorough outline as a guide, the actual writing of the scenes is kind of like a paint by number drawing... but a whole heck of a lot more fun, since of course the writing is where you can really make things come alive. The way we do the "actual" writing is by divvying up scenes, each writing one or two, then exchanging and revising each others' work as we go. Usually after some arguing and hurt feelings and reconciliation, but you can leave that out if you want.

Because of this "rewriting as we go" process, generally we end up having a "first draft" that's pretty polished and cohesive and, well, "finished."

Why do I bring this up? Because though our most recent pilot, Castrati, was very well liked by most everyone that read it, we knew it had one big problem that seemed to be holding it back: people read our very dramatic teaser that focuses solely on the main character and became extremely invested in his journey... then become confused when the first act throws him into a new set of circumstances with a bunch of new characters who each have their own B, C, and D stories. Stories which are much more lighthearted and romp-y.

Yes, it was a tale of two different pilots: the one that we wrote and the one that we set people up to read. In other words, a problem.

Unfortunately, everyone loves the teaser, so we kept trying to leave it intact(ish) while injecting a bit of humor to match the tone of the rest of the script... and find a way to introduce those other characters (those of the B, C, and D stories), so it's less of a shock that we later spend so much time with them. And nothing worked.

We learned rather quickly that trying to make the castration of a little boy humorous is not an easy task. And that showing snippets of four characters' lives in the teaser to get their stories going just felt weird and confusing. And that about a dozen other tricks we tried just didn't work either...

And so we brought it to our new writers group. Maybe they could give us an easy idea we just hadn't thought of. A magic bullet, if you will. Maybe we'd been killing ourselves trying to solve something that would only take a few seconds once we discovered the right words... or maybe not so much.

Instead, they made our heads spin a bit with an idea that just might work, but could drastically change the structure... and just maybe even the story. Which is scary, because we're talking about a script that just about everyone loved. That we were able to get people excited about just from telling them the idea. That a professional writer friend liked so much he recommended it to his agents and manager. Changing it too much...

But, like I said, it just might work, so we're going to go back to the drawing board (i.e. outlining) to see just what reverberations this change really will cause.

It's so hard to revise when there's new stuff to be written. Le sigh...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


A really, really informative blog entry that will make you really, really depressed. Seriously. Read it.

Life of a Pseudo Writer

Friday, April 9, 2010

Starting from character? Pining for kraut? Jane is back!

This is old news for many of you, I'm sure, but the godmother of TV writing blogs is back posting on her site with all new advice and tales of eating.

That's right: Jane Espenson is posting again! Huzzah!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Here's a nicely put together promo reel for the show I'm working on. Premieres in June!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm a Transmedia Producer! Who knew?

According to Deadline Hollywood, the Producers Guild of America voted on and ratified "Transmedia Producer" as a new credit on Monday. The newly minted title acknowledges producers who develop cross-platform storylines in Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, and Mobile.

For example, Lost has a series of web videos that are separate but supporting the mainstream TV series. Supernatural also has a series of web videos that is a spin-off of sorts featuring the Ghostfacers, minor characters from the TV show . The producers involved in those series -- and many, many others -- now have a special term for their work.

And, since Josh and I are working on a series (headed by the talented Emmett Furey) which utilizes comics and short web videos to tell the story of Fury of Solace, we can now use the title "Transmedia Producer" to refer to the producer work we do for the series. However, since we aren't getting paid for the gig, we can't yet parlay that into Producers Guild of America.

One step at a time...