What were the big TV shows from your youth? The reasons you got into film and television? For me, the Smallville pilot represented the amalgamation of my two favorite things in the world: TV and comic books. It was a new origin story of my favorite hero, Superman, and it hit me right as I was coming of age.
The plotlines seemed to reflect the angst I was going through and really stirred my stratosphere.
So today I wanted to go over some screenwriting lessons from the pilot and talk about how you can incorporate them into your own writing.
Soar with me.
3 Lessons from the 'Smallville' Pilot PDF (Free Script Download)
1. Subvert Source Material.
One of the things we complain about when it comes to the hero genre is that all the stories feel the same. Well, that feeling was no different when Smallville premiered. Instead of just making another Superman movie, they reworked the source material so that it could fit in a much smaller setting. The big city was traded for the country, the huge paper was ditched for a school newspaper club, and even the main nemesis was flipped into an ally.
This made everything feel fresh. We sort of knew the story, but every beat surprised us even more. That created a hook that made the show a smashing success.
2. Embrace Your Genre.
Smallville was able to straddle two very different genres: coming-of-age and the superhero origin story. Sure, we were changing what people knew about Superman's origin, but we could lean into the pivotal stuff that makes up a young adult show; bullying, unrequited love, and a teen searching for his identity.
At every turn, the show made sure to hit these big beats and juxtaposed them against getting your powers, fighting villains, and even trying to keep your secret identity safe. Embracing both of these wildly different genres gave us a mashup where even tired tropes felt fresh in this new world.
3. Give Your Story Legs.
One of the smartest things Smallville did was introduce a world that could last 10 seasons. The way they did this in the pilot was to set up a meteor shower that delivered Clark to Smallville. Sure, that's from the comic, but what they changed was that the shower imbued other residents of the town with powers they never expected. In Clark's journey to find himself, we are presented week in and out with new people to fight.
Legs mean a visible way more episodes will happen. Well, with bits of meteor all over, we can see how Superman would have a new problem he had to clean up every week. And we also see that in his personal life, as Lex Luthor asks a lot of questions of him.
Does your story have situations that can last season after season?
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