Sanctuary pilot - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watched a bit of the SANCTUARY pilot. Hunter and I turned it off about half an hour in because we were just too frustrated with it. We felt like there was one hour's worth of plot padded out to two hours; many of the complications were there just to make things take longer. We felt like the hero was reactive and passive.

(MILD SPOILERS)

For example, after the hero spends ten minutes trying fruitlessly to convince his fellow cops that the killer is not the thug who's been framed, the Chief Monster Hunter approaches him on the street. In what felt like a three minute conversation (by which I mean Unutterably Long), she tries to get him interested in her. She spouts generalities in the "there are more things on Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" line -- and he brushes her off.

Why? Not because it makes any sense for his character, who needs a break in the case just now, but, I felt, because the Refusal of the Call is in the hero-writing handbook, and so he can have a three minute up-and-back with his ex-girlfriend, after which he does the obvious thing and calls up the Chief Monster Hunter, as we knew all along he would.

For God's sake, Sanctuary is a show about monster hunters. We know that going in. So we are hardly going to be worried that he'll never hook up with her. Your job as a screenwriter is to make it fun how he does.

The hero has been established as an obsessively brilliant observer. He already suspects the murder victims weren't shot to death. Just have the Chief Monster Hunter come up to him on the street and say, "You didn't find any bullets in the victims, did you?" Then walk away. He will follow her. Because she knows what he wants to know.

Or, better, use that inevitable hookup to establish his character -- and make him a proactive hero. Chief Monster Hunter doesn't want to have anything to do with him. He keeps running into her as he conducts his rogue investigation. She keeps brushing him off, until she realizes that he has the clue she needs. And then when they solve the case together, she's about to vanish off when he tells her he knows she's some kind of monster hunter -- so she has to invite him to join her organization because it's the only way to keep her secret.

The hero is us. If your Chief Monster Hunter pushes herself on him, then he's being passive and reactive. We're not being pulled into the story; we're having exposition pushed on us. Pulling is better than pushing. It's always going to be more fun if the hero figures things out than if someone explains it to him.

Needless to say, having Chief Monster Hunter deliver five minutes of exposition in her Batcave before showing him, and us, the critters in her basement, is a big bore.

But we gave up on the show only when the Chief Monster Hunter, her Badass Lieutenant, and the hero proceeded to instantly solve the initial mystery -- the kid on the run -- in the next five minutes, without complications or doing anything clever. Obviously we could no longer trust the screenwriter.

This two hour pilot wanted to be two hour episodes, one entirely devoted to the kid on the run, the second hour to the Evil Tall Guy. I wanted to spend less time on the setup, and more on the individual episodic mystery. Come on, for heaven's sake, we KNOW it's a show about monster hunters. We need very little explanation about that. Just tell a good story and let us -- and the hero -- figure out what kind of organization it is!

Your show doesn't exist in a vacuum. Your pilot doesn't even exist in a vacuum. People are tuning in because they know what it's about and they like it. We know Buffy is a vampire slayer in the Buffy pilot, 'cause the show is called BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. She may not know it, but we do. And if your show is about monster hunters, we already know it.

Try to give as little exposition as you can. Let the audience pull themselves in. They are smarter than you think.

That does not mean "skip over the revelation." You could profitably spend the whole first episode with the hero tracking down the real killer -- and, inadvertently, the Chief Monster Hunter -- allowing us to learn about the monster hunters in an active way, the way the hero is learning about them. The reward, in the end, is the revelation of the monster hunting society. But it does mean use the audience's expectations; don't ignore them.

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2 Comments:

"Just have the Chief Monster Hunter come up to him on the street and say, "You didn't find any bullets in the victims, did you?" Then walk away. He will follow her. Because she knows what he wants to know."

If memory serves me right... that's kind of what happens in the webisodes. Guess they got it right the first time.

I've seen a ton of bad reviews of the show, which surprises me because from what I saw of the webisodes (the first few), they were pretty good.

By Blogger Anon, at 7:51 PM  

I totally agree with you. They stretched that story out like crazy and that's what gave it a slow pace and made it boring. That and the on-the-nose dialogue. There were some scenes where I wanted to cover my face and sigh. The premise of the show is really interesting, too bad actually watching the show isn't.

I forced myself to get throw 2 and a half episodes then I gave up on it. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn't.

By Blogger SolShine7, at 6:46 PM  

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