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Talentville Bar & Grill : Television Writers' Lounge
Pilot buildup

Paul Mailhot
Posted September 2, 2013 10:37 AM
I don't spend a lot of time watching television, mostly because I hate waiting a week to see the new episode. Now that I have Netflix, I can watch entire seasons without the wait. I started with Breaking Bad. It doesn't have a logline line that interests me and I'm not big into drug culture, so it seems like a poor choice, but, it's always tops on everybody's list of series to watch. So I started, and I love it.

Let me be clear about this, there has not been a single second of playtime in the 1.5 seasons that I've watched so far that have been anything less than stellar. It's really quite motivating. In fact, I'm considering reworking my feature concept to try a drama pilot.

So I downloaded the Breaking Bad pilot script. I asked myself, what makes this so good? The answer, pacing. Vince Gilligan is in no hurry to bombard us with story action. He's more interested in the foreplay. It's all about character for him. How does he reveal his character? With conflict, of course. Yet not with the overt conflict directly related to the overarching theme of the series. no no no. It's about the little things.

The first 17 pages of the 1 hour pilot are lots of little things that paint the protagonist and his entourage quite vividly. There is nothing about drugs. There is no urgent need right off the bat, no immediate call to action, no explicit exposition. Nobody says "well dear, we need money because the baby is due soon." Instead, he passes a baby room and has an ongoing lie about working late, when he is actually working secret jobs to make more cash. He's stressed, but his pride forces him to act to provide for his family.

Nobody mentions an illness, but every now and then he'll consider his reflection in the mirror.

We get a complete sense of who this chap and his entourage really are without even touching the series premise. It feels as though nothing has happened in the first 16 pages, when in reality, it's chock full of everything that matters with zero fluff... zero.

In the end, what will prompt me to watch the next episode. Will I want to see what happens next? Nope. I will want to see how Walt deals with what happens next, because it's him that I've come to know and care about.

My sense is that nothing matters more than the development of your protagonist and each tiny conflict that defines him until he is eventually forced to deal with the grand series conflict, which is a grand but gradual shift in character from mild-mannered joe-shmo to the opposite, unthinkable end of the spectrum, a drug king pin.

Alex Moreno
Posted September 2, 2013 2:43 PM

Wait till you start seasons 1,2,3,4 & 5.
Apparently, VG has decided to call it quits- 4 more episodes to go...
So sad