29 July, 2007

Red Planet Prize Project - 8

While you're finishing up your character creation and your outlining, I'm going to talk about the first ten pages. As I said before you can tell how good a script is going to be by the first page usually.

As soon as the characters speak you can tell if they are underdeveloped or not. If the characters are underdeveloped the story will be too. If the story is underdeveloped then the plot will most likely be regurgitated from elsewhere and be over familiar. This in turn suggests, because they haven't done pre-writing, that they don't do re-writing either and you're most likely reading an unedited first draft.

Writers have got angry about only the first ten pages being read as they may have a brilliant climax in the last ten pages they were setting up. But, and I can't emphasise this enough, if the reader doesn't care what happens to the characters by page 10 then they're unlikely to by page 60. It doesn't matter if the climax is the most exciting climax ever, the set-up has to be just as exciting or at the very least make us curious to know what happens to the main character in the climax.

The first ten pages of a screenplay roughly amounts to the first ten minutes of a show. And while we might complain about only the first ten pages being read, how many of us would sit through a whole TV show we didn't like? Should your script make it to air, the viewers will also only be giving you the first ten minutes before they switch over to something else or pop a DVD in instead.

I've delved deep into my PVR to bring you the first ten minutes of two Tony Jordan TV episodes.


Series 1, episode 1

This is the script to the pilot of Hustle. The actual show packs a lot in but is lean and economical. You have subtle exposition but you also have blatant exposition that is given totally legitimately. The audience needs to know the information given but it's OK because the police and the grifters need to know the information as well.

Look how that is made visually interesting with the voice over (not narration) and the inter-cutting between the police and the grifters and the mark.

We need to check that exposition is being given for the benefit of the character and not the audience. I remember one Brtiish film where the senior detective was explaining to his junior that SOCO stood for Scene of Crime Officer. The writer was telling me because the detective just might have picked up that knowledge in the years training and on duty. Let's face it, if you've ever watched a cop show you would have picked up that knowledge. The information wasn't even relevant to the story. Such as it was.

The first ten pages of the script is certainly intriguing and makes you want to read more but look how much Mr Jordan cut for the final version. More crucially look at what he cut and try and work out why. It's not crap so why cut it?

The story starts before they introduce all of the regular characters. The baddie is being tailed and we know he's the baddie not because he says so or somebody else does but through his actions where he steals a tip intended for waitstaff.

Buy Hustle season 1 DVD


Life on Mars
Series 1, episode 5

This episode features a murder which may or may not be connected to an impending football derby. It has a teaser which is nothing to do with the main story until the very end but Mr Jordan makes it relevant by it taking place on a football field. This first ten minutes sets up the main story and also connects Sam's personal issues to it. So rather than just another murder, Sam is emotionally invested in the case and because of that the viewers are too.

We know the regular characters very well by now anyway but pretend you don't. What can we tell about the four coppers just by the teaser alone?

Buy Life on Mars season 1 DVD


So what I've got from that is:
  • start the story early
  • have characters reveal who they are through their actions
  • ensure the reader is emotionally connected and curious to read more
  • if you have to have exposition ensure it's information the character being told it needs and it's visually interesting if it's extensive

I recommend looking at other drama critically and reading the scripts in the Links section from the Writersroom as you progress your project.

Once I had entered another competition in which the first round required the first ten pages and the reader phoned me at about midnight. He said, "I know I'm supposed to wait until after the deadline and the finalists are chosen but that's weeks away, could you email me the full script now, please? I've just got to read the rest as soon as possible or I'll simply explode with frustration."

True story. That's the ideal scenario which only happens to a few of us but it's something we all can aim for.



First ten pages - Danny

Top 10 Clichéd Opening Scripts - Danny

The First Ten Pages - BBC writersroom

Your First Ten Pages… - The Unknown Screenwriter

The First Ten Pages - Barry Pearson

The Big Finish - Terry Rossio

"A Class Apart" script by Tony Grounds

"The Good Citizen" script by Ed McCardie



Far away said...

aha but did you win?

Robin Kelly said...

No, I didn't win. I forgot to mention that the reader was actually trying to get hold of another writer instead and got our phone numbers mixed up. But he did call me. I didn't lie.

Far away said...


mark alexander said...

Just wondered, do you know if the red planet prize is going straight from 2,000 entries to the six finalists before they asks for full scripts? ma

Robin Kelly said...

Mark, I believe there will be another couple of stages before the final six are chosen.

As I understand it there will be a long list (of about 100-150 scripts I guess) and then a short-list of about 20. That long list may get a little feedback and that short list may get a workshop with Mr Jordan.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info you are the Agony Uncle of the unrepresented. mark alexander x

Michelle Goode said...

Thanks for the advice! That is actually incredibly useful and pertinent regarding a project I have just embarked on.

I've never attempted a re-write before, and was a bit nervous about doing so for my pilot episode of a drama serial I've been working on, but now I know exactly what I need to target! Let the developmental re-write commence!

Thanks :)