TEASER – Inciting incident
Shock to the system, full emersion
The status quo has been seriously rocked.
The world must be righted.
There is a mystery… we have questions…
MUST DO: Establish tone, mood, theme, setting/atmosphere
This is where we either establish a new illusion of a perfect world, or blatantly shatter the one we already have very quickly.
The Teaser can include parts or all of the main of cast, but does not need to.
In a horror, action or crime, this is often where an innocent (or somewhat innocent) person/s bite it big time. We might find the body. Something strange and unexplainable might happen. Something valuable might be stolen. We might not have any idea what is going on, but instead are dazzled by the scenery.
In general, this is where the world has been upended, there is some injustice, and we’re as inflamed about it as the characters.
You have two to seven minutes to make sure your audience never wants to stop watching your show again, basically. Because most people who watch your pilot air will decide before your opening credits.
TIP: Open with a shot of something, a setting, a prop, a complicated scene that gives away more information than we realize, something significant to your teleplay, even if that significance is only in setting mood.
Give the first several seconds of your teleplay room to breathe.
The first page of your teleplay should have plenty of white. The art comes in establishing all of this in only a few pages while keeping those pages largely white. Most people who read your Teleplay will decide if they will read it by the first few pages alone.
FIRST FIVE MINUTES
What are the most important things to have in the first five minutes of a tv show? This is true to a degree for any show anywhere, either on cable or network, but especially true of 1 hour pilots. If your pilot doesn’t have at least a few of these things in the first five minutes, you might want to do a quick re-write.
1. Establish genre and or tone. Sometimes these overlap, sometimes they do not. It may be a comical sci fi, for example, or a dark medical drama. Don’t just tell us it is a sci fi, also show us it is going to be funny. Don’t just tell us it’s about doctors, show us a taste of how dark it’s going to be. The Knick (2014) comes to mind. But for an example of unusual setting extreme tone watch Utopia (2014).
2. INCITING INCIDENT: for a murder mystery, you are probably going to want to show us a body. A crime drama? Give us some crime! Let us know what is sparking this show into being. Why we should keep watching. This often overlaps with #1, but not always. The inciting incident shouldn’t just start your characters off into the world of the show, but it should start your audience off into the world of the show as well. Keep them hooked. You have the first five minutes to do so. Make them count. The inciting incident doesn’t always have to be in chronological order either.
3. You should probably give us some characters. It isn’t hard fast that all your ensemble cast be introduced in depth in the first five minutes, but you should begin fleshing out who your main cast will be from the get go. So, if you are detailing a gruesome murder in an orphanage in London, leave enough time to introduce your protagonist, the beautiful heiress that lives next door to the Queen’s Cousin too. If you have a large ensemble cast that share the screen rather equally each episode, you might want to consider a clever or creative opening that gives more than one of your characters some personality in the first five minutes. Also, you might want to make us like your characters. Even your bad ones. And if we are supposed to hate them, you should really, really, makes us hate them. British crime drama Glue (2014) opened with a scene of most of the principle characters on a daring drunken rendezvous. We don’t get to know the characters very well, yet by the first five minutes we are well established in the world of the ensemble cast. There is also some pretty weird shit going on, so it hooks us to the screen.
4. Establish the overall theme, look and feel of the entire show. I know, that sounds intimating, doesn’t it. But it is super important, and shouldn’t be too hard if you’ve done some planning and plotted out your story arcs and know your main themes. Consistency is clear. Even Twilight Zone, despite having wildly divergent story lines in each episode, was still consistent in it’s own way. So don’t open your tv show with a long voice over if you never plan to use it again. I mean, you could, if you were really good and made it work. But you might want to try following the rules before you break them! The first five minutes of True Detective turned the 1 hour serial cop show on it’s head. It broke genre rules left and right, yet it included everything on this list and more, setting up an extremely complex plot in what seems like only a few strokes.
5. Establish Need/Want/Desire. Everyone always says, the best stories establish a clear motivation, clear desire for your characters, clear needs, wants, or desires. While they may not be SUPER CLEAR like, I see all angles of this plot device clear, but you should begin establishing this early. This can and probably will overlap with the Inciting Incident, oh and can be used effectively with making us like your characters. A dead body is pretty straightforward. Like that of Laura Palmer’s in Twin Peaks. A young innocent has been needlessly slaughtered, the world must be righted, this is an obvious albeit implied motivation. Sometimes the motivation is less than obvious. What does Sarah Manning actually want in the first five minutes of Orphan Black? Well, she wants something, to talk to Kira, but we don’t know who Kira is not really, nor anything else that is going on. And then, shit really hits the fan…The exact details are not provided for us, but the desire is clear in the writing acting etc. Sarah Manning wants something. Pretty damn badly.
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