Friday, August 17, 2018

Writing a spec episode - Part 10: Act Five Scenes

Part 1: Finding the Concept
Part 2: Character
Part 3: Story and Theme Development
Part 4: The Break
Part 5: Act One Scenes
Part 6: Act Two Scenes
Part 7: Act Three Scenes
Part 8: Act Four Scenes
Part 9: When your lead character demands a rewrite

Download the first draft script here.

We start here at the bottom of p. 46.

INT. CLAY'S HOUSE - BEDROOM - MORNING - This scene has a simple purpose - remind the audience that Justin and Clay are living under the same roof, with Justin being Clay's adopted brother in this timeline.

SERIES OF SHOTS and EXT. TONY'S NEIGHBORHOOD - This is a lot of narrative shoe leather and connective tissue. I needed to honor the reality that Clay would have gone to school that day, but I didn't have any story I wanted those scenes for, so I skipped through it. After that, the scene in Tony's neighborhood is just there to allow Clay to connect some dots.

INT. BAKER'S DRUG STORE - Another scene that's pretty self-explanatory. It made sense to me that Tony would have sought out help from Olivia, and it made equal sense she'd do what she could by giving him a place to crash in New York.

I'll admit that with some of the plotlines, I tried to project a trajectory for them across 13 episodes, just because it forced me to think of this one episode in a larger context. When it came to Tony's plot, I didn't come up with much beyond the notion he'd probably be back in town within a few episodes.

When it comes to the rest of Clay and Olivia's interactions, though, I did have a few ideas. I think that at some later point in the season, Clay would have tried to use his connection to the other Hannah as a way of bringing some peace to his Olivia. I hadn't worked out what that was. Maybe Clay would eventually tell Hannah what he's experiencing and tell her that his Olivia needs some peace of mind. Perhaps Alternate-Olivia has reacted badly to Hannah's suicide attempt, either becoming over-protective, or maybe she's furious with her, or humiliated, or she's overwhelmed with guilt and in trying to deny it.

However it came out, Alternate-Olivia would have been in a bad place, but through his connection to the other Olivia, Clay would be able to provide Hannah with what she needed. That's a bit abstract, but it's the start of an idea.

There's an important moment here where Clay knows something he learned in the alternate timeline and it turns out to be something true in the "real" timeline. This lends some credence to the idea that both worlds are equally real. Clay certainly seems to think that's the case, as the odds of his dream inventing something that's actually true are pretty long. But it's hardly conclusive and there's room to assume Clay might have heard something about Aunt Laura before, and his subconscious brought it out in the dream.

It's early in the season, so I couldn't give Clay a clue that was TOO definitive, just one that seemed very suggestive, while being explained away with a little effort.

INT. DR. LIZ DUFFIELD'S OFFICE - There's one big objective here - show Clay passing on the chance to treat the Alternate Timeline like a delusion he needs serious treatment for. We know he's pondered that he might be crazy. Now he's in the room with a trained professional and he won't tell her the truth. Maybe some would read this scene as him not wanting to sound crazy, but I was going for the subtext that he doesn't want to be cured of his delusion.

INT. CLAY'S HOUSE - BEDROOM - I initially thought I'd go out on the scene with Clay talking to his therapist, smashing to black as we reveal he's embracing the alternate timeline. But I had trouble landing that beat in a succinct line that would provoke a smash-cut to black. So I added this scene of Clay preparing for another timeline shift. It also is a subtle echo of the end of the pilot, which concludes with Clay finishing one tape and then putting on the second side.

Usually when I finish a first draft script, I blast it out to five friends. I mostly use people who've read a lot of my stuff before (and who's own work I've read) and so by now, I'm familiar enough with each of their style of notes that I'm able to decipher what the "note behind the note" is.

"Note behind the note" is an acknowledgement that what people say isn't necessarily what needs to be fixed. Their viewpoint is valid but their diagnosis could be wrong. And by now, I know that there might be certain readers who get particular buttons pushed by something.

My point is - I give it to five people I know and trust. That's enough to get a sense of consensus. I don't always go by majority rules, though. If four of them LOVE something and the fifth picks something apart but does so in a constructive way that makes me realize, "Fuck. I can't ignore THAT observation," I'll probably take that lone reader's advice. On the other hand, if one reader thinks the mystery was too obvious and the other four totally fell for my red herrings, I'll be relieved that a majority took it the way they were meant to.

Then after those five sets of notes come back, I do a rewrite and then blast it out to another four or five people. This is important because it gives you a fresh read on the changes. Go back to the same five people and subconsciously they might still remember the old version. This means they'd have to intellectualize about if the changes really work. Give it to new readers and they don't know what changed, so they're more accepting of everything as a whole.

If I do a rewrite off of these notes, I might send it to a couple people in the first group, hoping that the longer time between them and the more massive changes will make this different enough that it's almost fresh for them. Otherwise, I just suck it up and accept I won't get a totally fresh read.

Eventually, a draft emerges that I'm happy with.

This has been a fun blogging journey over the last two weeks. I hope you guys have gotten something out of it, and I've enjoyed all the comments and tweets from people who enjoyed the script. Feel free to comment further on the script. For now I think I'm done with this, but should inspiration hit and I do any substantial rewrites, I'll detail the process here.

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