Sunday, May 15, 2016

Starting a pilot

For years the popular thinking was comedy spec scripts had to be from existing shows. Now producers and agents are asking for spec pilots. Pilots present their own set of problems and traps. Setting up the characters, situation, exposition, story, tone, and comedy in the first few pages is the most daunting task. I’ve had many requests for a sample of a pilot first scene. So here’s one David Isaacs and I wrote and produced for Fox a couple of years ago called SNOBS. Paget Brewster played Beverly. A young actor named Aaron Paul played Clay. And another young actor, Kat Dennings played Isabel.   Hope this helps, or at least you find amusing.

ESTABLISHING

EXT. RESIDENTIAL STREET – SAN MATEO, CALIFORNIA – EARLY MORNING

WORKING-CLASS SUBURB OF SAN FRANCISCO. TRACKING SHOT REVEALING MODEST, TRACT HOMES. FINALLY, WE REACH A HOME LIKE ALL THE OTHERS, ONLY DIFFERENT. MORE ORNATE, MORE MANICURED. THIS IS THE MALLARD HOME.

CUT TO:

INT. DINING ROOM – EARLING MORNING

THE TYPICAL MALLARD BREAKFAST: FINE CHINA SERVICE FILLED WITH BREAKFAST CONDIMENTS (GOOSEBERRY JAM, APPLE BUTTER), LITTLE SERVING SPOONS, PASTRIES, FRESH ORANGE JUICE AND COFFEE. KARL MALLARD, DRESSED FOR WORK, ENJOYS COFFEE AND A SCONE AS HE READS HIS NEW YORK TIMES.

BEVERLY MALLARD ENTERS DRESSED SMARTLY IN A DONNA KARAN SUIT.

BEVERLY
Karl, I don’t have time for a formal breakfast this morning.

KARL
Well, you’re certainly not going to eat a protein bar like some animal. Please, Beverly, sit.

SHE DOES.

BEVERLY
Oh, I suppose I could have a macchiato and a pain au chocolat.

KARL
That’s my girl. We have to keep it civilized in here. Because there’s nothing we can do about (WITH DISDAIN) out there.

BEVERLY
Have faith, honey. Someday we’ll have a home that will live up to our furniture.

KARL
That someday is here, Bev. If tonight’s party goes well, I’m done teaching community college and we’re on our way to… (WITH REVERENCE) Stanford.

BEVERLY
A home in Palo Alto.

KARL
Just think of it. A neighborhood where people park their cars in the garage instead of on the front lawn.

ISABEL MALLARD, 15, ENTERS, CARRYING HER VIOLIN CASE AND HER CAT, HEIFETZ.

ISABEL
Morning.

KARL
Good morning, Isabel.

BEVERLY
What time did you go to bed last night?

ISABEL
I didn’t. (BEAT) You’ll be so proud of me, Daddy. I was practicing my Mendelssohn for your guests this evening.

BEVERLY
But all night? Honey, the therapist said not to put that much pressure on yourself.

ISABEL
But Daddy said it was the most important night of our lives. He told me if I don’t perform this piece perfectly he won’t get the job at Stanford and we’ll be doomed to short brutish lives in this blue collar hell.

KARL
Isabel, that was a “daddy/daughter private talk”.

GORE MALLARD ENTERS. HE’S 12, AND LIKE MOST BOYS HIS AGE, DRESSED IN A TOM WOLFE STYLE VANILLA-COLORED SUIT. AD LIB “GOOD MORNINGS” FROM BEVERLY AND KARL. GORE HANDS THEM EACH A THICK REPORT.

GORE
Here. Read and please respond.

BEVERLY
What is it, Gore?

GORE
35 reasons why Isabel’s cat should be put to death.

ISABEL TAKES A SHEET OF PAPER OUT OF HER NOTEBOOK AND HANDS IT TO GORE.

ISABEL
I anticipated this. My rebuttal.

HE QUICKLY SCANS IT, THEN:

GORE
Unacceptable.

KARL
Children, I won’t have you fighting like this!

BEVERLY
Yes, and I don’t want to see any of this tonight in front of Dr. and Mrs. Shapiro.

KARL
That man holds the future of this entire family in his hands.

ISABEL
I’ll be ready, Daddy.

GORE
What a kiss-ass.

BEVERLY
And Gore, as for you tonight, let’s go over this one more time. People are entitled to their opinions.

GORE
Oh, really? What if our (MAKES AIR QUOTES) “guests” like the Baroque period, or Creationism or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?

KARL
We will respect what they say… and make fun of them afterwards.

THE DOORBELL RINGS. KARL CROSSES TO ANSWER IT.

KARL
I’ve gone to great lengths for tonight: the right wine, the right flowers, the right music. Everything will be perfect.

KARL OPENS THE DOOR REVEALING A YOUNG MAN, CLAY, 17. HE’S SCRUFFY, A SLACKER.

CLAY
Are you Karl Mallard?

KARL
Yes. What can I do for you?

CLAY
It’s me. Clay!

KARL
Clay?

CLAY
Your son.

KARL
My son?

CLAY
New Orleans? (BEAT) 1986? (BEAT) How many illegitimate kids do you have?

18 comments:

Carol said...

And then what? Don't leave us hanging!

VP81955 said...

Its essence is "Frasier," reduction ad absurdum. But making these characters sympathetic would be a Herculean task.

DonBoy said...

In context, the name "Gore Mallard" says it all.

Roseann said...

I'd watch. At least the first 3 epi.

Earl Boebert said...

re: VP81955' s "But making these characters sympathetic would be a Herculean task."

I dunno. I think it would work if Clay wasn't the son at all, but a street-smart hustler who learned about the Mallards from the internet and decides to con his way into their lives. Then his humanity surfaces, and he takes pity on their shallow and pretentious existences, turning his manipulative skills toward getting them to join the real world.

Lots of arcs possible from Ken's beginning ...

VP81955 said...

BTW, that should be reducio ad absurdum. Your fictional characters would mock me, but I'm certain they wouldn't have a 1.000 fielding percentage with autospell from cellphones, either. (Though I use a Galaxy S6, which to them probably is the equivalent of getting a degree from a mere state university.)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

A little reminiscent of THE POWERS THAT BE, which featured a long-serving US senator (John Forsyth), his ambitious, high-class wife (Holland Taylor), highly neurotic daughter (Valerie Mahaffey), and suicidal Congressman son-in-law (David Hyde Pierce, very much proto-Niles)...who early on is tracked down by the senator's illegitimate daughter (Robin Bartlett), who then goes to work in his office (where she joined Peter McNichol and...I forget her name, but she was wonderful).

That's not a complaint; I loved THE POWERS THAT BE.

wg

VP81955 said...

And whatever happened to Valerie Mahaffey, her generation's Lindsay Sloane?

VP81955 said...

Interesting observation, Earl. In that context, I could see Clay as sort of a Godfrey Parks type, although the Mallards don't have the screwball zaniness of the Bullocks.

BTW, I'm part of a six-person writing team helping set the bible, so to speak, on a 90-minute time-travel pilot that through individual scenes, could function as anything from a group of webisodes to a feature film. Perhaps that doesn't quite mesh with your image of me as a writer (if indeed I have one!), but this will include all sorts of elements, from action to comedy. Think the Rob Tapert "Hercules" and "Xena" series.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Interesting cast in that they went on to bigger and better things. What year was this pilot?
BTW, you really should write a book on sitcom writing, dropping in examples of your own experience with heavy doses of your observational humor.

Earl Boebert said...

VP18955 said:

"I could see Clay as sort of a Godfrey Parks type, although the Mallards don't have the screwball zaniness of the Bullocks."

Agreed. But you could have them begin with the agenda that they're going to transform him into something like them, going back and forth with each other like a pair of foodies discussing how they're going to cook a rack of lamb. Except he's got his own agenda, which starts as exploitation and gradually turns sympathetic, so he ends up transforming them. And of course the audience would be in on his scheme, and starts out thinking "cool, let's watch this kid screw these pretentious a-h*les," and then you draw them in to the sympathy that grows within him. Would take a helluva cast to pull off.

Cap'n Bob said...

What's next, you ask? A commercial, of course.

Andrew said...

Wow, you discovered Aaron Paul?!
Thanks for the script, bitch!

Anonymous said...

Would have been picked up and become a hit show if the line were how many illegitimate kids do you have, bitch?

Diane D. said...

Let's see. In one hilarious scene, you have introduced all the main characters, revealed their personalities, and introduced the story. You have also used the name Gore Mallard (omg), who is a smart ass 12 year old. And Gore says, "What if your "guests" like the Baroque Period, Creationism, or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." (OMFG!!). I am still laughing. That particular piece of dialog has made me completely absolve you for your delinquincy regarding the "Sam and Diane together at the end" issue. Well, maybe not completely, but almost.
(Oh, and Aaron Paul as Clay. Perfect!!)

And let me get this straight---the people you sent this to weren't interested?

Thank you for sharing this. I would love to have seen this series.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The opening scene is reminiscent of Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Todd Mason said...

2003 pilot. At least the announcement from FBC was that year. The years do tend to collapse in on each other.

sophomorecritic said...

This is listed as a 2003 TV movie?! how bizarre.
Definitely more than a couple years.