PODCAST – STRANGER THINGS (Part 2)

STRANGER THINGS – Part 2 – Writing A Pilot That Sells

By Jacob Krueger

Stranger Things - Part 2 - Writing A Pilot That Sells

This podcast was taken from our vault, if you are interested in finding out more please check out our upcoming TV Comedy Class with Jerry Perzigian or our TV Drama Class with Steve Molton.

In the Part 1 of this podcast we discussed Stranger Things, the concept of the Series Engine, and how it relates to the pilot episode and the Show Bible of your series.

This week, we’re going to dive deeper into the Stranger Things pilot, to see exactly how it was constructed, and how it contains the blueprint not only of the Series Engine, but also of the Show Bible that could have been used to sell it. And then we’re going to talk about how you can apply these ideas to writing and structuring your own Series Pilot.

If you haven’t yet seen all of Stranger Things, don’t worry. We’re primarily going to be talking about the pilot episode in this podcast.  However, if you haven’t yet seen the pilot, you should be aware that there will be spoilers ahead.

Also, as you may know, October 5th through 9th we’re going to be holding our first TV Writing Retreat up in Dover, Vermont as part of the iTVFest Television Festival. It’s going to be an incredible event. We’re bringing our entire TV Writing faculty, including Jerry Perzigian (former show runner of Married with Children, The Jeffersons & The Golden Girls), Steve Molton, Karin Partin, and of course me. So if you’re interested in learning more about TV and Web Series writing & pitching in a real TV Writers Room environment, make sure to take advantage and sign up at our website.  Because the retreat happens as part of iTVFest, it also includes a special VIP Creator Pass only for our students, to get you into all the iTVFest parties, networking events and screenings.

 As we discussed in Part 1, when you write a series pilot, you have to do a lot more than just tell a great story. That’s because TV and Web series work in an almost completely different way than feature films. When you’re writing a feature film, you’re really just thinking about one story. Sure, you may have a sequel in mind, especially if you’re working on a super big-budget action movie franchise. But for the most part, you’re writing a self-contained unit, whereas a series needs to have the ability to replicate itself; it cannot exist in a vacuum.

So, when you write a pilot, you’re not just showing that you can tell a great story, you’re showing that you can tell a great story that can be replicated. You’re showing that you can tell a great story that can run for five seasons, maybe ten seasons. You’re showing a blueprint: not just for what this episode will be, but for what the entire franchise will be.

This is what we mean when we say engine. And of course, engines are an incredibly complicated concept. The engine is the foundation of series writing. When a series is working, it’s because you’ve got a great engine. And when a series is not working, it’s because you don’t.

And if you don’t have a great engine, or if you have a great engine but it’s not in your pilot in a way that your producer can see it, the truth of the matter is you’re not going to sell your series. And the reason you’re not going to sell your series is that your producer’s going to be afraid that it is going to run out of steam. So, when you create your pilot, what you’re really doing is demonstrating your engine.

We’re living in a Golden Age of Television writing, and this is one of the reasons that it is such an exciting time to be a TV or Web Series writer. If you’ve been watching any television at all, you’ve seen that the quality of television writing has gone through the roof in the last couple years, and a big part of that is driven by a huge demand for new and challenging material.

It used to be that this kind of quality writing was primarily seen on premium networks like HBO, but what we’re seeing now is a proliferation of new media outlets, all of whom are desperate for high quality content. This makes it such an exciting time to be a television writer, because there is a tremendous demand for this kind of high quality material.

backglassnewTen years ago, if you wanted to sell a TV show, you were better off writing a procedural like CSI. But today, if you want to sell a TV pilot, you’re much better off writing something like Stranger Things. That’s because the television writing that is in the most demand today is no longer driven by formula, and it’s no longer driven by plot. The TV writing that is in demand today is driven by character.

That means the structure of our television shows also needs to grow from character. The engine of our television shows needs to grow from character. So, what we need to do in the pilot to get that engine running. We need to get it running through our characters, and that begins with the very first moment of your pilot.

Page one of your pilot is the most important page, just like page one of your screenplay is the most important page in the entire screenplay. Page one introduces the feeling of your pilot, introduces the world of your pilot, introduces the genre experience the audience is going to have when they watch your pilot.

A reader of your pilot is not hanging on with bated breath to see if you get to something cool by the end. They want to see if you’re on to something cool from the very beginning.

Similarly, your audience needs to see that you’re at something cool from the very beginning. Because there are a million different shows out there on a million different networks, and a million different scripts sitting on every producer’s desk, and it is really, really easy to click away.

So in the very first image of the very first page, you are not only selling your reader, you are also selling your audience. You’re saying, “Hey, this is a show that you want to stay and watch.” And the pilots of these kinds of TV shows are actually designed to make you binge watch. They’re designed structurally to make you keep clicking for that gratification. And as we’ll be discussing a little bit later, the structure of the pilot, and the structure of the episodes that follow, is actually designed to inspire you to binge watch.

So, let’s just talk for a moment about the very first image of Stranger Things. And notice how that image already feels like the series. The very first image of the Stranger Things pilot (and this should not be surprising for you if you’ve watched multiple episodes of Stranger Things) is all about the light.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-11-54-pmWe are in some kind of laboratory. There is a doctor who is running for his life. The lights are flickering on and off, on and off, on and off. He rushes towards an elevator. He’s frantically pushing the button. He can’t quite get in. The lights are disorienting. He finally gets into the elevator, and as the doors begin to close, he looks up at a strange strange sound…

The entire first sequence is all about the light and all about the sound. Because the world of Stranger Things is all about the light and all about the sound. In fact, the visual language of the piece is all about the light and all about the sound.

So what do we see? We see a scientist dashing through the halls of some laboratory. The lights are flickering on and off. It’s disorienting. There’s even a strange jump cut in which it feels like he was running in one direction, then he’s running in the opposite direction. (And you can see, even there, that’s thematic for where the series ends up going). He’s dashing for the elevator, and there’s something out there, we get just a glimpse that he can barely see in the darkness. He looks up. There’s the strangest sound, and then whoosh! He disappears.

And you can see what this scene does for the series. First off, it gives us a sense of the world. This is going to be a psychological horror series. And you can feel the horror elements from the very first scene.

600full-dawsons-creek-posterIf you were looking to produce Dawson’s Creek right now, and you were reading Stranger Things, you’d say, “Okay, I know this is not for me.” But if you’re looking for this kind of psychological horror, you know what world you’re in. You know you’re going to read something or watch something that’s going to give you the kind of feeling that you wanted.

And this is so important, because audiences come to a TV series for a feeling. It’s that feeling that makes us binge watch. It’s chasing that feeling that makes us keep coming back for more.

This is the way we want our series to work: each episode needs to feel different, but it also needs to feel the same.

It needs to give us that feeling again and again and again. Because if there was ever an episode of Stranger Things that didn’t give you that feeling, you would be hugely disappointed.

That feeling begins from the very first scene. Not only the feeling, the visual language that goes along with it. The feeling of something out there that we can’t quite see. The visual language of the light bulbs which are going to become so important in future episodes of the series. The world in which the series is going to take place, and the tremendous sense of threat and danger that’s going to lurk everywhere.

In fact, it’s that very first sequence that makes the next sequence work, because what we’re going to get to next is actually a very light little scene. It’s a Dungeons and Dragons scene between four kids.

e96083c8acde3c990e04aa292ab0cc47Just imagine for a moment if Stranger Things had reversed that order. If we had started with that long, beautifully written little character driven Dungeons & Dragons scene, which is all about the relationships between these kids and mom and dad and sister, all about family, and rooted in such a mundane world. If we had started there, as opposed to starting with the horror sequence, the truth of the matter is, someone who is looking for Dawson’s Creek would probably have been delighted, but someone who is looking for Stranger Things probably would’ve stopped reading before they ever got to the thriller stuff.

The reason that the writers are able to get away with this extended Dungeons and Dragons scene is because of the tension lingering from the previous scene, because of the implicit threat that these little kids are going to be in danger. And that allows us to fall in love with them, without losing the tension.

But there’s another trick happening in this sequence as well. The other thing that’s happening is a technique called vignettes. And if you have listened to my podcast or if you’ve studied with me, you know how important vignettes are.

Vignettes are the way we introduce our characters, and, oftentimes, writers go astray with the way they introduce their characters. Oftentimes, writers think that introducing characters is  about “setting things up” for the audience or “establishing” the kind of character they are: demonstrating the traits of their world.

But that’s not true.

Movies never stand still. Movies move. And TV and Web series move even faster than movies. And that means you want to introduce your characters right in the middle of the action.

So, rather than having an “establishing” scene, to “show” that these kids love each other and “establish” that they play their Dungeons and Dragons game, we come in right in the middle of the campaign. And we actually come into that campaign in a way that relates to the theme.  The characters are trying to make a decision about what they’re going to do in the face of this Demogorgon, this horrifying creature of their imagination that they are terrified by.

If you’ve seen the whole series, you already know how important thematically that scene is going to become. But even if we weren’t aware of where the series was going, we’d already feel that we’re in deep thematic territory here. We can already feel it because of the previous sequence. And what we’re watching is each character demonstrate their dominant trait as they try to deal with this very pressing problem. In fact, some people have suggested that they’re actually expressing the dominant traits of very specific Dungeons & Dragons characters.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-21-12-pmDustin, of course, wants to cast a protection spell, because he’s the cautious one of the bunch. He’s the smart one of the bunch. He wants to play it safe.

Lucas, of course, wants to fireball the Demogorgon. Because he’s impulsive.

Mike, as the leader and Dungeon Master, wants to push his friends to work as a team, wants to force them to make a decision together.

And Will can’t quite make a decision on what to do, but finally decides to go for the fireball even at a risk to his own character. Because Will is brave. Then, by the end of the sequence, Will makes an even stronger decision that demonstrates his bravery: to tell the truth. Will ends up rolling a seven, a roll of the dice that’s too low. And even though Dustin and Lucas tell him that if Mike didn’t see it, it didn’t happen, Will ends up telling the truth. He tells Mike about rolling the seven, even at the cost of his own (character’s) life: “The Demogorgon got me.”

And again, if you’ve seen the whole series, you can see how in that very first moment, the writers are already establishing the rules of the world that are going to carry on through the next eight episodes.

c9c43ba56da22bf695e209707ef2So, in the very first sequence, we have the genre of the series, the in-your-face psychological 80s throwback horror: the play of light and darkness and sound. We have the feeling of the monster that you can’t see. It’s torn straight out of Jaws: you see the fin instead of the shark and it’s one hundred times scarier.

And then, in the second sequence, we see the other side of Stranger Things, the more relatable side of Stranger Things. The part of Stranger Things that’s about family.

Because what we’re about to watch over eight episodes, you can already see in these first two scenes. What we’re about to watch is a series about a campaign. We’re about to see a series about a bunch of different kinds of friends coming together as a team, and making sacrifices of themselves in order to confront a horrific Demogorgan.

The rules of the world are not just set up by the end of the series, they’re set up by the end of the first two scenes.

But the Duffer Brothers don’t just deliver the feeling of the series in those first two scenes, they also deliver the hook of the series, and the engine of the series: the driving force behind each episode.

You can imagine starting the engine of your series like starting the engine of an old lawn mower. You’ve got to pull that rip cord to get the lawn mower started, to get the engine started.

One way you pull on that rip cord is by creating characters with strong wants, and the other way you pull on that rip cord is by launching them immediately into the events of the story. You can’t waste your time setting stuff up. You’ve only got 30-60 pages. You’ve got to launch them into the action.

By the end of that second sequence, much more than the Dungeons & Dragons campaign has been launched into motion. The campaign of the series has also been launched into motion. The Demogorgon has gotten Will. There’s been a wonderful chase scene, again with that creature that we can’t quite see. We’ve seen Will rush through his house, we’ve seen him try to call someone on the phone. We’ve seen him race out to the barn, we’ve seen him try to grab the gun, and then we’ve seen the creature come from the other side and Will disappear.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-45-16-pmAnd you can see how the engine of the whole show begins at that moment. Because what we’re going to watch for the next eight episodes is the search for Will. We’re going to watch all these characters (even the teenage sister who doesn’t want anything to do with her brother and his friends) come together on their campaign to find Will. And, in the process, we’re going to watch those characters deal with their own demons and deal with who they really are.

And, of course, the sequence that starts this engine also ends with a light bulb. Just before we go to the opening credits, we see that last image of that bulb that gets brighter and brighter and brighter, and then goes out.

So you can see that, by the time we’ve gotten to the opening credits, not even ten minutes into this piece, we have not only gotten the feeling, the genre, the main characters, we’ve also gotten the engine started on the whole series. We’re not even ten minutes into the series and we can already start pitching the series to ourselves.

We already know what the central problem of the piece is going to be. We already know who the central characters of the piece are. We already know the feeling of the piece, the feeling of psychological horror mixed with family drama, of light and darkness, of creatures in the shadows we can’t quite see. And a campaign where somehow these characters are going to have to come together to defeat a Demogorgon and get their friend back.

We know this before we’ve even gotten to the opening credits.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-51-47-pmWhen we come back from the credits, we meet Chief Hopper, played very beautifully in this piece by David Harbour. And Chief Hopper also gets introduced with a beautiful vignette.

We’ve seen a million cops in a million different TV shows, but this cop is vignetted in a different way. The first image that we see as we meet Chief Hopper is actually a child’s drawing, and as we pull back from that drawing, we see this man sprawled out on his couch. We see his morning routine: his morning cigarette, his morning beer, his first joint as he brushes his teeth. And then, we get the wonderful surprise that this guy is the Chief of Police of this little Indiana town as we see him put on his uniform.

A few scenes later, we’ll see Chief Hopper show up for work, and there are all of these pressing concerns. His secretary is telling him about all the stuff going on, and he doesn’t want to deal with any of it. He just doesn’t care.

And by the end of that sequence, Hopper’s story has been launched as well. Because there in his office, the last thing he wants to deal with, is Joyce, demanding his attention with the problem of her missing son.

And once again, we’re now pitching ourselves the series, but we’re pitching ourselves the series in an even stronger way. Who’s going to find this kid? We’re now realizing that the most unmotivated mess of a cop, in a little town where nothing ever happens, is somehow going to have to stop this supernatural Demogorgon before something horrible happens to these children.

You can see how, with each character that’s added, we actually end up pitching ourselves more of the story. And in a way, this is exactly how a Show Bible works.

We hear all the time this concept of Show Bibles, and oftentimes writers spend a ton of time trying to develop TV Bibles, without even realizing what they actually are, or what they actually are supposed to do.

tv dramaI was recently talking to Stephen Molton, who teaches our TV Drama classes, about the way that the use of Show Bibles has changed in the modern industry. Steve is a Pulitzer Prize Nominee, a former executive at HBO & Showtime. And we were talking about how, until a few years ago, nobody asked for a Show Bible. The concept of a Show Bible as a selling tool didn’t even exist, because the idea of a Show Bible before the series had run for many years didn’t exist.

Back then, a Show Bible was simply something that was used for new writers who were coming onto the show. After the show had been running for many years, an assistant would compile all the details of all the previous episodes: the format of the show, the way the episodes worked, the things that could happen and could never happen, and the things that already had happened.

An assistant would compile all that so that when the original writers left and new writers came in, the new writers didn’t have to watch every episode. They could simply read the Bible and know what the show was about.

And an interesting thing happened: A bunch of screenwriting gurus, many of whom had never sold a screenplay, heard about this thing called a Bible and started teaching it as a screenwriting tool. And in an interesting example of the tail wagging the dog, new producers who were coming into the industry who were reading these screenwriting books started to think about Bibles in those terms, as opposed to the terms for which they were originally invented.

And what happens in today’s market when you show a producer your pilot is that they’re not just asking for a pilot, they’re asking for a Bible.

But it’s important to know that the Bible that a producer is asking for is an entirely different document. Because the Bible that a producer is looking for is not a detailed description of everything that can and can’t happen in the show. The producer would get bored out of their mind and stop reading that by page 2! The Bible that a producer wants to see is really a short sweet statement of the engine, masquerading as a Bible.

The Bible that a producer actually wants to see is really a pitch document. Or, at least, I should say, the Bible that’s going to help you sell your pilot is going to have to be a pitch document.

It’s also important to note that if you are a new writer, if you are not already a huge showrunner, you are not going to sell your script from a Bible. You’re going to need the pilot. Just like you’re not going to sell your feature film in today’s market off of a treatment.

The Bible is either the document they read before the pilot, that makes them say “yes, I do want to read this pilot.” Or the Bible is the document that comes after the pilot, after they’ve read the pilot, that helps them say, “Yes, I get it. I already thought that the Pilot could work, but now I know that the whole series can work!”

And the truth is, the Bible is designed in almost the exact same way that the pilot is designed.

You start your bible with a nice strong logline that gives a brief statement about what the story is. And you can see in Stranger Things, before the credits even start, you’re already pitching yourself the logline.

st_pub_stills_601_r

A Bible then moves into an introduction of all the characters in the piece. And just like the pilot of Stranger Things, with the introduction of each character, the concept of that initial logline gets complicated.


In other words, the character descriptions don’t exist to
describe the characters, but rather they exist to deepen the structure.

So, in the first two sequences of Stranger Things, we already understand that this is a series about a group of kids who are going to go on a campaign to help save their friend from a Demogorgon. And then, as we introduce the next character, Chief Hopper, we start to understand that, “Whoa, it’s much more complicated than that.” That, in fact, this jaded, doesn’t-give-a-shit Police Chief in this Podunk little town where nothing is ever happening, is somehow going to have to get involved in saving this kid from the Demogorgon.

And you can see that this trend continues. That, with each character that gets introduced, the plot thickens, the conflict thickens, the problem of the piece thickens, the theme of the piece thickens.

1335042The next character we meet is Joyce, played by Winona Ryder. And Joyce is already her flustered, neurotic self before she even knows her son is missing. When we first meet her, she’s looking for her keys, and Jonathan, the loyal son, is already dutifully cooking for her. Another example of fantastic vignettes.

But again, the scene doesn’t get set up. Instead, we get catapulted right into the action when Joyce realizes that Will didn’t come home last night. And worse, that Jonathan wasn’t there for his brother like he was supposed to be.

This is yet another pull on that rip cord that sets into motion Jonathan’s guilt, his feeling that he wasn’t there, that’s going to motivate his actions over the course of the series as he tries to save his brother. And of course it’s also an introduction to Joyce’s guilt and Joyce’s need to reconnect with her son, that is going to drive hers.

This introduction of Joyce works in tandem with the scenes that follow: the scene between Joyce and Hopper in his office, which we’ve already discussed, and the scene between Joyce and Jonathan when they’re looking for the right photo for the Missing Person poster, and we find that they share the exact same guilt. Joyce apologizes to Jonathan for not being there for him, and he starts to cry because he should have been there for Will.

And, by the end of that sequence, the supernatural story and this family’s story have also dovetailed. The phone rings, and Joyce becomes convinced that she has heard her son’s voice. The shock of electricity fries the phone, and Joyce has her first total hysterical meltdown: the beginning of her belief that her son is communicating with her.

And then, of course, there’s the little girl, Eleven.

stranger-things-elevenWe watch the scientists, lead by Dr. Brenner, go down in their hazmat suits. We see this strange door covered with goo, again this thing we can barely see in the darkness, the images of those flashlights coming at us. We hear Dr. Brenner say, “It must’ve come through there,” and then somebody says, “And what about the girl?”

Dr. Brenner responds, “She can’t have gone far.”

And you can see again, with Dr. Brenner’s introduction, that yet another pull on that rip cord happens. Another little piece of the engine is pulled into focus for us.

We now understand that Dr. Brenner is probably the bad guy. We understand that there is something truly supernatural happening here. We understand that Dr. Brenner doesn’t totally understand it himself. And we understand that he’s looking for the little girl.

And you can see that that’s going to be the engine for his journey: that just as our heroes are looking for Will, he’s going to be looking for this little girl.

——-

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-1-31-25-pmAnd, thematically, we have yet another piece of cohesive glue between these disparate stories. We have the story of mom and friends looking for a little boy. We have the story of Dr. Brenner looking for a little girl, and we also have the story of Chief Hopper, who’s looking for both.

Because, as the search party starts, we find out that Hopper has also lost a little girl, and that he doesn’t want to admit, even to himself, that she’s gone. We start to understand what that drawing meant, as he tells a member of the search party that his little girl lives out of state with her mom, only for someone else to explain that, in fact, his little girl is dead.

So thematically we have yet another piece of glue. We have a mother looking for her child, we have a bunch of friends looking for their missing friend, we have a doctor looking for a little girl, and we have Hopper, who is looking for both, not just thematically, but structurally. Because, over the course of the next few episodes, Hopper is going to think he’s on the track of the little boy, but in fact be on the track of the little girl who he doesn’t even know exists. (And if you have seen the whole series, you already know how that imagery ends up affecting Hopper’s journey in the “Upside Down.”)

So we have this thematic idea of loss. The desire not to acknowledge loss. The desire to think that those who died are still somewhere out there for us. And on the structural level, we have that theme playing out in the characters’ journeys, as each of these characters goes on a campaign that externalizes that internal desire.

And of course, this is when we meet the little girl. The first image of her bare feet on the ground. Her shaved head. We see her steal the French fries from Benny’s restaurant. We see this unexpected bond between between this kindof scary-looking man and this little girl to whom he’s kind.

And we start to see the extent of the power that Dr. Brenner has, when a woman pretending to be with Social Services shows up and assassinates this kind man. We’re going to learn that things are much more dangerous and much darker. We’re going to learn that nobody is safe in this world.

Dr. Brenner and his very terrifying henchmen show up and try to abduct the little girl from the restaurant. And, by the end of that sequence, that little girl has used what turn out to be some very supernatural powers of her own, to kill the people who are trying to abduct her.

So you can see, once again, a character is added. And, once again, we’re pitching ourselves an even more complicated show.

Now, it’s not just a story about a bunch of people going on a campaign to save a little boy from a Demogorgon. It’s also a story of a terrible father-figure, chasing a little girl who has supernatural powers of her own.

stranger-things-bicycle-lights-childrenAnd just in case we weren’t fully aware about how these stories were going to come together, we end on a last image where those little boys who have defied their parents, and defied Chief Hopper, to go out looking for their friend, only to end up finding that little girl instead.

And you can see that this is the kind of cliff-hanger that forces that binge-watching reaction.

By the time we get to the end of this pilot, we’re not only pitching ourselves an increasingly complicated, dangerous story. We’re also left with a piece that we don’t quite know how to pitch ourselves. A piece that makes us wonder, “What next?”

And if you’ve watched the rest of the series, you can see that this model is replicated throughout the entire series. That every episode in some way is going to be about these disparate people coming together.  

In each episode, we’re going to watch the campaign develop to find this missing boy. We’re going to watch the relationship grow between these kids and this magical little girl. We’re going to watch the terrible father try to hunt her down, and we’re going to watch Joyce and Chief Hopper go on a journey of their own…

We’re going to watch the Demogorgon in the shadows slowly start to more and more terrifyingly emerge. We’re going to watch the lights as a little boy tries to communicate with his mother from the other side. We’re going to watch a play of the things that you can see and the things that you can’t see, and the way that the things you can’t see make the things you can even more terrifying. We’re going to have juxtaposition of action and horror sequences. Of sci-fi moments juxtaposed against real-world family drama. And most importantly, we’re going to have characters that we can really believe in and understand going on journeys together that change them in relation to the theme.

This is how you want your pilot to work. And this is how you want your Series to work. And this is how you want your Bible to work.

So how do you develop a Series, an Episode, or a Bible like this?

Well, the first thing to understand is that series television doesn’t get developed by just one individual. Because the truth is that no one individual is really smart enough to figure this all out on their own. TV pilots and webisodes are written by teams.

And this is one of the reasons that, here at the Studio, we teach our TV writing classes very differently than our screenwriting classes. Our TV writing classes online, at the studio and at the retreat, are run like writers rooms. They’re taught in a way that fosters creativity and collaboration. Because learning to be a great TV writer isn’t just about learning how to write a great script. It’s also about learning how to function in a group, and how to draw upon the creativity of an entire group to build a great engine, and a great episode.

The next thing you can think about is the idea of compression. TV series happen in a much shorter format than feature films. A web series can be as short as two or three minutes. A series like Stranger Things is approximately a forty-five minute episode. Many shows are in a half hour or hour-long format.

But just because the format is shorter, doesn’t mean less happens. In fact it usually means more happens: that we have to compress all that action into forty-five minutes.

And that means that we don’t have time for characters to sit around establishing themselves. We have to find that engine, and that action, and that structure in our piece from the very first scene.

A big part of that is simply by beginning with characters who are turbo-charged with really strong wants. And you can see that this is the one thing tying all these different elements of Stranger Things, tying all of these characters, together.

stranger-things-winona-ryder-christmas-lightsMike and Lucas and Dustin want to find their friend, and they’re not going to stop no matter how dangerous it gets. Jonathan wants to save his brother. Joyce wants to save her son and to communicate with him in the “Upside Down.” Chief Hopper (who starts the series not wanting to deal with anything), wants to find that little boy before some other parent has to suffer what he once suffered. Dr. Brenner wants to track down that little girl. And Eleven wants to escape Dr. Brenner and escape that terrifying creature that she doesn’t want to face.

This is the structure of Stranger Things, but more importantly, this is how you can think of your own series pilot in a structural way.

Ask yourself: How does the introduction of each character give a pull on that rip cord of that engine, complicating the plot and the theme and the concept? How does each character and each element you introduce deepen the structure, the drama, the conflict, the irony and the theme of the piece? How does each element you introduce dovetail with all the other elements, putting pressure on all the other elements around it and allowing us to pitch ourselves an even deeper, deeper, deeper piece?

And finally how does the structure of the pilot serve as a blueprint for all the episodes that are going to follow? How do you establish a pattern that you can replicate in all the other episodes?

So if you haven’t completed watching Stranger Things, watch it with the concept of engine in mind. And notice how each episode after the pilot replicates the elements that the pilot set in motion.

I hope that you enjoyed this podcast. This podcast is provided entirely free and with no outside advertising, so if you enjoyed it, please subscribe to us on iTunes and write us a review; it really does make a difference.

 

2 Comments

  1. Warren Shuman 5 years ago

    Hello Jake: I can’t thank you enough for this “Stranger Things”, podcast that I have Read with intense interest. You helped me to make a decision regarding the 1st scene of my e-novel; “Body Scavengers”; to shift a scene , from it’s current position, to the opening scene. So far, I have gone from screenwriting, to treatments, e-novels, and now to TV where I actually spent more than 20 years in marketing and management, since I retired 9 years ago, when the writing bug bit me. It has been a wonderful learning curve. I will watch the episodes of “Stranger Things”. I would be your oldest pupil if I still lived in the Big Apple. Stay well…

    Warren.

  2. Dona General 5 years ago

    Hi Jake – How refreshing to find strong screenplay analysis, how to write a screenplay, how not to write a screenplay with terms defined and illustrated. Impressive. Way-to-go, Jake. I’ve signed up for your online class, Write Your Screenplay, in October-November to get more of a very good thing. Thanks for the opportunity. 🙂

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