May 13, 2008 Jill

J.J. Abrams‘ series Fringe has been picked up by Fox, probably for mid-season. The series is a sci-fi cop show with elements of romance and plenty of action. The female lead is an FBI agent who investigates Fringe science phenomena:

OLIVIA: They gave him the resources to do whatever work he wanted, which was primarily in an area called Fringe Science. He conceived experiments meant to push the boundaries of possibility. And, some would say, ethics.

PETER: Fringe science– you mean “pseudoscience.”

OLIVIA: I suppose. Things like mind control. Teleportation. Astral projection, invisibility, genetic mutation, reanimation, fertility –

The script I read was titled simply “Pilot”. It is undated and has no draft number on it. It seems to be all A-story, with a few minor threads that service the establishment of character relationships. Almost every scene involves Olivia.

The script runs 113 pages broken into ten acts and a tag.

The first act is long: 17 pages. It opens with a 3 ½ page pre-titles sequence which is extremely exciting and sets up the first of the strange Fringe phenomena, which is extremely weird and graphically portrayed. At the end of this sequence, the script calls for the title of the series to appear as a “spooky” theme plays. Then we FADE IN: on the lead character, Olivia, who we meet in a personal, not professional moment. She quickly rolls into FBI investigative mode. The act ends with an extended action sequence and the curtain is a strong cliff hanger.

Acts 2-10 run between 7 and 12 pages each. The curtains are softer, but the story is gripping nonetheless. In two cases, Abrams cuts mid-scene, picking up where he left off after the commercial break. We’d call this a DPU in soap opera (Direct PickUp). Abrams opens the new scene with “RESUME SAME MOMENT” or simply “RESUME”.

The four page tag is used to set up the series premise; pull the characters together for next time and ends with a surprising twist that gives the script a true cliff hanger to end the show.

There are a number of things that struck me about the script. It’s incredibly well written and tells an exciting story that you don’t want to put down. Abrams uses lots of “fucks” and “shits” in his direction (not in dialogue). It’s quite effective. The writing is casual and he pauses to set up things that will become part of the series format; the way lettering will appear on the screen, how montages will work, etc.

The dialogue flows and is smart and effective. It’s normal people dialogue, not filled with clever turns of phrase or slang like a Juno or a Whedon script. Characters often have long, long stretched of dialogue or two speeches in a row.

Abrams uses underlining frequently to indicate parts of a speech that should be emphasized.

There’s also lots of times when characters speak simultaneously with two columns of dialogue side by side to indicate how and when they talk at the same time.

The script is riddled with typos, sometimes two or three on a page — letters left off the end of words or extra letters, for example. Nothing horrible that prevents you from following the story, but just a very surprising number. No one ran a spell check.

There have been a lot of references to the similarities between Fringe and X-Files. It’s a procedural about FBI agents and there’s sci fi elements. I thought it hit more of a Heroes zone tone-wise. It’s creepy, but the script didn’t feel as scary or paranoid as X-Files.

It looks like the series will be lots of fun to watch and I’m glad to see more and more sci fi coming our way.

Comments (2)

  1. hijinx

    You keep referring to “Abrams” as having written the script, but at this point the writing credit for the Fringe pilot has been given to Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Obviously, JJ had a lot to do with it and may end up being added to the writing credit (a la M:i:III) by the time it airs, but for now it is just Bob & Alex.

    Also, I believe I read the same version as you did, and I was told that it was a very early version of the script. There have been changes made, but I got completely sucked in with this draft – any changes I would have to assume to be made for the better.

  2. admin

    Interesting about the credit, because my draft had only one writer’s name on it. And yes, I’ve heard it’s an early draft — must have been given all the typos. Still, a good read.

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