Updated: Sep 17
August 25, 2021 by Atika Greene
When sitting down to write a pilot, you may have many questions and anxiety, but I want to encourage you to have patience with yourself. All great writers started somewhere, so enjoy the journey. Writing can be intimidating when first starting. There are many things to consider when getting your pilot off the ground.
Now let's get technical!
What is a pilot? A pilot is a standalone episode of a television series used to sell the show to a television network. Your pilot is the introduction to the world of your show. It is vital to grab the audience from the pilot because sometimes that is all you have before you lose a potential fan. The best pilots start with a compelling story and dynamic characters. We want to relate to the characters and find pieces of ourselves in them. As audience members, we want to journey with the characters and find excitement in their discoveries. It starts with your passion for this particular story. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling if your audience will love your pilot, but it begins with your passion and love for your script. Worry about yourself, then think about the audience. Does the story move you? Would you watch this pilot and be invested enough to watch the series in its entirety? Does the story have strong conflict? We are all attracted to a little bit of drama. Watching great television is a way to escape your own mundane life. We want to see characters on television going through extreme measures and fighting for what they want. When developing your character's internal/ external conflict think of, Person vs. Self or Person vs. Person.
Person Vs. Self is when the main character has a problem within his/herself. The character has to choose between doing the right thing or the wrong something. The character must overcome their own emotions and thoughts.
Person Vs. Person is an external conflict between two characters which can be verbal, physical, or emotional. It is often the Protagonist versus the Antagonist.
The more relatable your characters are, the more invested your audiences will be. There is always an underlying battle within self or with another person. This discovery highlights the conflict and creates the foundation of the story. There is always a beginning, middle, and end. To make sure you are following a pilot's structure, consider The Three Moments: Inciting Incident, Low/ MidPoint, and the Climax.
Let's break these down a bit: The Three Moments
The Inciting Incident is another word for the Big Event.
This event will set the main character or characters on the journey that will occupy them throughout the narrative.
Exposing some pertinent information about the character.
Changes the life of a character
Ask yourself, What’s the change of events? Reveal something new about the character that turns their world upside-down. Introduce the Inciting Incident in Act I (Exposure) of your pilot.
Then, we move on to the Low/MidPoint, which is the “All is lost moment.”
The audience roots for your character because it seems like there is no resolution for any of their problems.
A significant plot point that happens in the middle
Preventing your Protagonist from getting what they want.
What does rock bottom look like for your character? The Low Point should be present by Act II (Confrontation.) We want to identify the characters Global Drive. They are answering questions such as, What does the character want? And, What will the character do to get what they want? Create a Global Drive that leads to a climax, the most heightened piece of the action.
Lastly, we need a resolution, also known as the Denouement.
Act III will expose the final part of a story where strands of the plot become resolved. Characters experience partial resolution, but their story is just taking off. The episode should end with a Cliff Hanger where a component of the story remains unresolved. Leave your audience wanting more! We all love a show that makes us wonder, wait, what happens next? Or leaves us with the question, how could they end it like that? These are great responses to an epic pilot.
Keep this formula in mind when writing your pilot, An event occurs, then something life-changing happens; therefore, the character MUST..and repeat. It will help you stay on task as you break down your acts and develop your characters. Remember, the more you practice by reading successful pilots or watching some of your favorite shows pilot episodes, you will begin to develop a muscle that helps identify the key components when writing your pilot. Now, you have tools and resources to reference when writing your pilot. I want to encourage you to work on your pilot and fully develop your story. Then, have trusted people in your life read it or set up your readings with friends and colleagues. Sharing your writing or hearing it aloud can be helpful for writers. It helps take the words off the page and out of your head. Keep in touch! Bassett House Pictures is always looking for new pilots to consider for production and distribution. Stay calm and don't get in your head too much; start writing. I promise the words will begin to flow once you set your mind to writing. Happy writing, friends!
Use this pilot outline created by Studio Binder. It breaks down the pilot episode of "Breaking Bad." This outline gives a clear storyline and shows us how to break up the Acts in the pilot.
Utilizing the formula: An event occurs then, something life-changing happens, therefore, the character MUST..and repeat.