[*sung to the refrain from 'Panic' by The Smiths]
I came up with a great opening for the spec script I'm working on at the moment. Chock full of interlinking imagery, eye-catching moments and pulse-pounding punchiness. Would've worked a treat too, but for one tiny problem: it was bolted to the wrong script. It'll work fine later on should my pilot spawn a returning drama series.
But my wham-bang-thank-you-ma'am opening was wrong for the first ep. Why? It was all about the personal livestyles of my core cast, when the pilot needs to focus on what they do professionally in the series. If I'd kept it could've created expectations the ep wouldn't have met. Openings should hook you in, but mustn't lie to you.
How did I know it was wrong? That's a fair question, especially as I haven't written word one of the pilot script yet. But the wrongness became apparent as the format for my drama emerged during development [a process that to the uninitiated resembles staring a window, mostly because I tend to think while staring out a window].
The show I've devising focuses on three characters doing a particular job. My pilot needs to establish them within that arena as soon as possible - within the first three pages if possible. I simply don't have time to indulge in elaborate prologues set the night before in a variety of locations featuring characters who don't recur again.
If nothing else, the combination of numerous locations and a plethora of guest characters makes for a very expensive show. Now, the chances of my pilot ever getting made are somewhere between slim and anorexic. But it doesn't hurt to be realistic about how many locations and speaking characters you can have in a pilot ep.
You might well say I'm thinking too small, constricting my creativity. Maybe. But I like restrictions, they challenge you to be more creative IMHO. Why overwhelm readers of my script with a blizzard of non-recurring characters? If I can keep the focus tight on my core cast, it challenges to know them better - to write them better.
Took me a couple of days to reconcile my decision with the loss of my hyper-kinetic opening, but I've killed my babies and moved on now. Even if I never get to write the sequence, it lives on in my head and it informs how I write the core cast. I know what they did the night before my pilot, even if the events never get seen. Onwards!