Here are three more techniques to keep in mind: Sub-plot Free First Acts. A teaser or first act of a pilot can follow a single story line without introducing a single subplot. The teaser of the CSI pilot is almost all about one of the mysteries of the week. The seven minute teaser for Burn Notice, on the other hand, never strays from setting up the series premise. The mystery of the week didn’t show up till halfway through the first act. The Skins teaser is all about Tony’s character.
Storylines often come in clumbs of 3, 4 or 5 beats in a row. The Wire has strings of five A-beats followed by three Bs that allow you to follow the consequences of an action. Act Three of the Veronica Mars pilot devotes half its beat to the Wallace-Weevil storyline. Half of Act Two of Jekyll is through Jackman’s eyes, the other half through Hyde’s. Plots that Come in Late.
A pilot can also introduce quite an important story line very late in the game. Think of Bubbles’ entrance in the Wire. His storylines run through all four seasons of the Wire and he’s an important player all through the first season, but he doesn’t show up in the pilot until late in the third act. But then a rich little story develops around him, his young white side-kick and some bad counterfeit money. In CSI, Nick’s D-story about the trick roll trickles in with four flimsy beats in the first three acts and the meat of the story coming in the four beats in the fourth act.
The Wire, in the first season, loved to do that late episode story line.
Inspired by your break down of The Wire’s pilot I decided to try breaking down an episode of it myself and enjoyed it so much I kept going. About a week later I had a yellow pad full of the entire first season. One of these days I’ll probably do the second season as well.
Like I needed any more time wasters.
(yeah, I’m the same old anonymous and I’ll bitch about the Jekyll ending soon enough.)
I’m a big fan of late entrances, actually. If you have many characters introduced in the first ep, it helps to highlight a special one if he/she comes in late.
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