SECONDARY CHARACTERS IN SPECS - Complications Ensue
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Friday, July 01, 2005

Q. So basically...can a LOST spec involve an "Artz" as the A story?
Bumping up a secondary character to the A story is one way to pitch a LOST spec, I guess. You'd have to make what's happening with that character not only urgent to himself but also urgent to the main players. Because what you're showing in a spec is not how original you are, but how original you can be within the template of the show. You're showing that you can write the Skipper and Mary Anne and-- oh, sorry, wrong show. The most important thing is that it feel like a bonafide episode of the show.

If you look at the show, some apparently minor characters have got their own episodes, on their way to being more important. Hurley didn't seem like he was crucial to the plot until "his" episode. Then he became more central. So the template does allow you to promote minor characters.

Anyone else want to weigh in on this? LOST seems like a particularly awkward show to spec, yet it's a popular spec, I'm told. Has anyone written a LOST spec?

14 Comments:

I was told to never spec a show like Lost, 24, or Desperate. People ultimately look for a spec that can be an episode, and those series move so fast that by the time poeople are reading the spec, its out of date, which reflects poorly on the writer. I have learned to try and avoid series that have intense, long-running, melodramatic story arcs (like who killed Mary Alice, etc).
P.

By Blogger Patrick, at 10:53 AM  

It seems to me that if drama writers stay away from writing specs for shows like LOST, then all the specs out there will be some retread of CSI or L&O. It might not be easy, but there's got to be a way to approach these other shows.

By Blogger Your gracious host, at 11:44 AM  

I'm currently working on a Lost spec. (I want to write for serial dramas, since they're my favorite kind of television, so it seems I don't have a choice but to spec them.)

I agree that the format allows you to base a spec around a minor character, as long as you have one plot involving the regular cast. In fact, it might be a way to keep your script fresher, since they're less likely to have an episode revolving around Scott (or Steve - which one died?).

Mine's going to be focused on Sayid, so I run the risk of getting my script Jossed (or would it be JJed?) if they do more backstory on that character. But he's got an interesting backstory to work with.

By Blogger Emily B. Langton, at 1:31 PM  

I disagree:
Its true that no one wants to spec procedurals because they are boring to write and boring to read. However, speccing a LOST or DESPERATE is dangerous and complicated, as mentioned. There are plenty of series out there that do not rely so much on long-running story lines, like OC, WEST WING, NIP/TUCK, THE SHIELD, SOPRANOS, RESCUE ME, HOUSE, MEDIUM, MONK, etc, not to mention all the half-hour one cameras out there that are breaking new ground.
The key is find a series that has great characters and is fun to write, but that doesn't rely too much on crucial long-running story lines. Otherwise, you are writing with one hand tied behind your back, because you just don't know how those story lines will develop week to week.
Patrick

By Blogger Patrick, at 1:33 PM  

LOST gives you a ton of freedom in terms of being creative and trying new things. You don't have to write an episode that solves the mystey of the island etc. You could simply write one that involves two characters getting lost in the jungle.
Now that is not the most creative idea but I've been told by more than one manager/agent that if they read a really good LOST spec...regardless of where the current show timeline is...they'de be more impressed than if you wrote a really good C.S.I..

They said that because there are so many gaps in what happens on the island over a season....you could even write an episode that takes place in this past season...the guy gave the example of one that centered around Boone(eventhough he's dead)...you would just have to fit it in to the storyline of the season...and it would have to be well written.


Every episode of Sopranos and Rescue Me advances the season long storyline with each episode.

By Blogger Bryan G, at 4:24 PM  

true, but those storylines are not as prominent as "who killed Mary Alice" in desperate or the backstories of each character in Lost.

By Blogger Patrick, at 5:01 PM  

Dead Zone is not a bad one to spec since you can focus on oner episodes outside of the series long arc. Plus, all of the scripts and the bible are online. I would imagine that you could do some nice oners for Battlestar Galatica also.

JDC

By Blogger John Donald Carlucci, at 5:23 PM  

Not sure if Dead Zone or B.G. are good shows to spec. I know from the managers/agents that there are usually a certain number of shows that they recomend their clients spec and it changes each season.
But they could be wrong.
I've always heard for dramas..good ones are C.S.I. , Law and Order, Without a Trace, LOST, Desperate Housewives, HOUSE, Six Feet Under, and of course Sopranos.

By Blogger Bryan G, at 7:23 PM  

"Anyone else want to weigh in on this? LOST seems like a particularly awkward show to spec, yet it's a popular spec, I'm told. Has anyone written a LOST spec?"

I have not written a LOST spec, but it seems to me to be an easy show to write for just the reason you cite: you can take a minor character and show how he/she relates to the others. Since flashbacks are part of the structure of any episode at any time you could work anyone into it. That allows you to shake things up quite a bit.

Certainly there has to be an episode where one or more of the background characters comment on the actions of the leads, providing a different perspective to actions, arguements, etc...there has to be one of the survivors thinking, "why are they always going off into the jungle and leaving the rest of us behind?"

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 10:51 PM  

isn't writing a TV spec the same as a movie in the essence that you are just showing off your writing style? that you can do it? Abrams probably has 3-4 irons in the fire warming up so maybe he reads your Lost spec and recognizes your talent may be put to better use on one of his other shows? so it is better to go ahead and do the Lost spec as a business card submission

By Blogger The Moviequill, at 10:55 PM  

Yeh, that is my reason for doing it. I just thought I might as well try for something that sticks out from a atypical LOST spec like "Shannon and Sayid go fishing etc".
I'm the one who sent the original question, because I was worried that I might waste a month 1/2.
The idea/concept for the spec can only work using one of the "nobody" characters who we've only seen but not heard from or learned about. I know for a fact using it with a main character would be compeltly against the rules and a complete joke.

I figured the "background" character could always cease to exist at the end of the episode. Then the template of 14 main cast members would still be constant. I
I know the creators have said they want to keep it at just 14.

Anyways..thanks for all the feedback. I'm not even sure I can pull it off without it being a piece of crap but might as well try.

By Blogger Bryan G, at 12:18 AM  

I got a job in part because of a Lost spec and I am skeptical about centering a Lost spec on a character like Arzt, who showed up for only a couple episodes before dying. In an average episode of Lost, I'd estimate that 20% is flashback, 40% focuses on the A story on the island involving the character featured in the flashback, and 40% is on anything else going on the island. If you were to choose a character like Arzt, 60% of the show would be centered on an irrelevant character. If you want to prove you can write Lost, that includes writing for the regulars. There are over a dozen characters, and you can pick and choose which ones to emphasize in the spec.

And I wouldn't classify Hurley as a minor character in the same way that Arzt was a minor character. One's a regular who's played supporting roles in many stories throughout the series, and the other was a guest star for a couple of episodes. Hurley's not a lead like Jack and Kate, but he's no Arzt, whose greatest impact on the story was his death.

By Blogger Jeff, at 1:03 AM  

I just completed a Lost spec focussing on one of the main characters. I set it in between two eps of the first season.

It took a lot of prep work. I downloaded all of the scripts here: http://www.twiztv.com/scripts/lost/
Then I made a chart based on how long each act was and how the flashbacks fell. An episode usually has a flashback in each act, and sometimes a flashback in the teaser, but almost never in the tag. Sometimes an act has more than one flashback, but no episode has more than five total.

Just make sure that when you do the spec, you pay attention to the existing rules. Do the research.

By Blogger emily blake, at 10:51 AM  

Yeh...this will be my third LOST spec so I have already done the research etc. Got all the scripts from ABC.

By Blogger Bryan G, at 4:03 PM  

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