How to Write a TV Pilot: Free Drama Pilot Seminar (Week Four)
You're halfway through. Surprise us. Show us why we should finish reading.
Welcome to week four of the Free Drama Pilot Writing Seminar. It's time to harken back to the problems you planted in Act I and begin to wrap up the storylines you opened in Act II. This is where things come to a head and we learn what your characters are made of on the inside and outside.
It's going to be a helluva ride.
If you're just joining us, go back to week one and write until you catch up.
If you've been following us every week, good for you.
Let's get going.
How to Write A TV Pilot (Drama) Mission Statement
Over the next six weeks, we're going to break down the TV drama pilot. Your commitment is to yourself and your story. I'm asking you to write ten pages a week. If you fall behind, take your time. If you want to work ahead, go for it. The whole point of this class is to just offer free information to writers.
We did a similar Free Screenwriting Seminar for features that worked out well.
I'm excited to have you join us every week for this journey.
Now let's get to it!
Writing Screenplay Pages 30-40 in your TV Pilot
As I mentioned in the opening, we're about to enter pages 30-40 of your script. This is the homestretch. You have to be really excited by taking the audience in for the landing. Audience control is one of the more underrated aspects of writing. You need to keep in mind that people reading this have to be entertained in order to buy it.
And people watching the pilot need to care enough to watch episode two.
These pages have to "wow" them and excite them for what is to come in the series.
So where should you be structurally speaking?
This is roughly Act IV of your five-act structure. Let's reflect back to our five-act structure guide.
- Act 1: p1 to p6
- Act 2: p7 to p20
- Act 3: p21 to p32
- Act 4: p33 to p41
- Act 5: p42 to p55 (END)
Pages 30-40 takes you through most of Act IV. In this act you're going to focus on the reveals you spent Acts I, II, and III planting. We're also going to start closing the loop of the show. You want to fulfill the promise of the premise here. What's this show about? Why are people tuning in every week?
If Act V is the landing this is the descent.
People should be extremely excited when reading these pages.
Let's take a look at Deadwood (you can read it here). Deadwood is one of my favorite pilots because it does a ton of work world-building and introducing us to characters, without taking away from our understanding of where the world will go and what's in store for the series.
The opening scene shows us there's trouble in town.
But Act IV is about dealing with that trouble. Plus, we get to see people's problem-solving skills at work. This act is used to ensure Swearengen has a deal with Driscoll. We start to see Swearengen's master plan of obtaining land and money come into play. And we learn just how nefarious he can be.
We also see how easily the Garrets are fooled. They're rich, unused to the people in Deadwood, and we can feel their problems coming to a head.
Deadwood's pilot is centered around lawlessness and violence. Act IV is about people guaranteeing their own survival.
Let's look at a few other examples to see how Drama pilots use these pages to build out their plot and characters.
Pages 30-40 TV Pilot Examples
Another pilot I think strongly sells the series in pages 30-40 is Freaks and Geeks (read the pilot here). While this pilot has different pages that match different acts, we're going to talk about the general sentiment of Act IV here.
We know from the opening acts that Lindsay feels like an outsider, and wants a place with the freaks. These planted emotions take off in the later pages as she pursues being their friends. Meanwhile, Sam and Neal are still trying to get in good with the cheerleaders.
The pilot is about each of the Weir kids finding their place in high school. This act is about them learning who they are and where they fit in. Sam might be a nerd, but he has his friends. And even being a geek has its advantages.
We see that Lindsay is willing to snap at teachers and take chances to become who she believes in. This sets up her arc for the season as well.
From High School to fresh out of college, one of the most original shows on the air, Jane The Virgin (read the pilot here), has a pilot that puts an incredible twist on the coming of age genre.
This act in Jane the Virgin has Jane having to deal with Michael and her pregnancy. It's a total curveball which not only pays off what Jane has talked about with Michael in the opening acts but also sets the audience up for what the show will be week to week.
We're going to follow a pregnant Jane as she navigates life now that she's with child. And still a virgin. And desperate to start her life.
What's epic about this is that it allows us to naturally bring in Jane's crazy family and showcase how fun they'd be to watch AND we get the relationship hurdles Jane will face as the young woman prepares for motherhood and carrying her boss' child. This is all juxtaposed against some fun telenovelas that keep us laughing and payoff the relationship tensions set up in Acts I and II.
Life's not all laughs. And neither are pilots. Sometimes it's all about murder.
That's why Hannibal (read the pilot here) sets up such a nice procedural each week.
Hannibal the TV show does a lot of heavy lifting. As fans of the movie and the legend of the character, we have to not only be given a new twist in the story, but we also have huge expectations set outright. The pilot's writer, Bryan Fuller, does an amazing job using pages 30-40 playing off our understanding of Hannibal as fans, and subverting our expectations.
We see Hannibal counseling people, giving good advice to the FBI, and being generally useful to the investigation.
That's also when we have Hannibal and Will speak for the first time. And we center the show on the ongoing investigation.
These scenes promise a season-long payoff as Will tracks a killer, and Hannibal continues to kill. Viewers at home know they will get incrementally closer each week, with tension and flesh-eating around every corner.
Summing Up How To Write A TV Pilot: Week Four
So there you have it - I hope you feel invigorated to tackle pages 30-40 in your drama pilot. And that you have the tools to pull it off. Remember, these are the pages where you nail down the themes of the show and play off audience expectations. Keep the people guessing and engaged and you're sure to be picked up to series.
You're working toward your epic closing scene, so start thinking about a lasting image that will make the audience tune in week two and woe development executives as well.
I like to make them mirror our opening. But that's just me.
Writing can take you anywhere, and I'm excited to see what you come up with.
'Til next time....
TL;DR How To Write A Tv Pilot: Week Four
- What's going right for your characters?
- How can you call back the second act?
- Where are you taking us for the final conflict?
The How to Write A TV Pilot Playlist: Week Four