When I first started to write the pilot episode for my book series about Jorge Hernandez and his foot soldiers, I was a tad overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start. I briefly considered taking a screenwriting course but the cost to learn this skill seemed a bit insane so I decided instead to look online to see what was available for free or, at at the very least, a more reasonable price. The first person I found was a lovely lady called Word Dancer (who I highly recommend to all writers regardless of their goals) who answered anything I could possibly ask regarding writing a script and getting into the film business. I literally watched every one of her videos and soaked it all in.
The best piece of advice from Word Dancer (although, there was freakin' tons of great information!) was if you want to write scripts, start off by reading scripts. I followed this advice and quickly found the pilot episode for some of my favorite shows including Ray Donovan, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Ozarks, Narcos, Dexter, and Sons of Anarchy. I studied them carefully, noting the formats while considering the advice in Word Dancer's videos. I made a lot of notes and then jumped in to start my script!
The first thing I noticed what that the pilot episodes requires a lot of from the writer. You need to capture and captivate immediately. You need to introduce your protagonist and give a strong sense of who he/she is, showing all dimensions. You need to have a lot going on so the viewer doesn't get bored. You need to have a unique voice so you aren't simply copying everything else out there (this includes dialogue). You have to demonstrate what kind of show it is so the audience knows what to expect. In essence, you need to grab the viewer by the throat and make them want more.
Since the pilot would start with my book, The Devil is Smooth Like Honey, it meant that the first scene would take place in a hotel. However, this concerned me because I thought this would stick the characters in the same place too long and I felt they needed to be in motion in order to keep things more lively and build up anticipation. In the book, Jorge meets Paige Noël in a provocative way and the chemistry builds between them through the pages. However, I felt they needed to move around in the pilot, so I had Jorge's attempt to seduce Paige when she suddenly has to leave to carry out an assassination that had to be done that night. In the book, I kind of feel this would've been too much too soon considering Paige was a new character in the series and it wouldn't give time to properly learn about her, however, in a television show, you would learn about her through her actions in each scene so this enabled me to demonstrate her strong, powerful side whereas, in the book, I would use Jorge's observations and conversation to do the same.
It's almost like in a television show or movie, you have to go to greater lengths to drive the point home. You can't be subtle but more like a bull in a china shop. You have to be a little louder, a little more forceful, a little more dramatic and a little more exaggerated. Why? Because it's captivating. It creates anticipation and excitement.
Of course, film and TV are known to cut out a lot from books they are based on, which I can already see I will be doing too. Now that I'm learning about the process, I think it's mainly because of time and budget restraints and also because certain scenes may fall flat on the screen. Also, in a book, you tend to tell the story more than on a show, where you're showing it.
Having said that, I do believe that a movie or television show based on a book should stick very closely to the novel or it simply pisses people off. I can think of one particular movie I watched (after reading the book) that infuriated me. A major, dramatic point in the book was completely changed in the movie, causing me to throw my hands up in the air with a major 'What the fuck!' moment. I know that a lot of factors play into movies (including who funds them) so I can imagine the script went through a lot of hands before coming to fruition.
I still have a lot to learn in this process so this is to be continued.....