Thursday, March 17, 2011

Zombies and Teenagers

Remember how this is my Internet notebook? Ha! It don't always make for good reading. Well here are my notes:

So I've been thinking about how I'm going to make this TV series. I even picked up a copy of Crafty TV Writing (Crafty Screenwriting is one of my favorite screenplay books). And I've been watching a lot of Buffy on Hulu.

That should be enough, right?

So I'm thinking the two natural elements that provide instant drama.
Teenagers and zombies.
Making a story with teenagers in it means that any amount of drama can happen. Teenagers specialize in the stuff. The fascist zoo that is High School is prime breeding ground for drama. Going from child to adult is really really emotionally rough. It would be rough even without the hormonal catastrophe that's being a teenager.
How does Buffy not turn into a soap opera? There's plenty o'drama, interpersonal relationships, but... it goes somewhere. And that's what I like. The seasons each lead up to killing a "big bad" and each season explores more about Buffy and her friends. And her friends are fascinating. You want to hang out with them.
And not only do you care about their problems, their problems are going somewhere. This is something that drives me nuts about soap operas -- the actors don't even know if they're lying in a scene because they don't know what direction they're going in.
I'm also thinking about the movie Brick which set it's noir environment in a modern California high school and it just made so much sense. Emotionally that was just right.
My series will be more like X Files I think. More "monster of the week". But the through-line must be as put together as Buffy, which is pretty much the model of TV shows that have 7 real seasons. The story in X Files wasn't all that awesome. But seeing Mulder and Scully fight supernatural crime was pretty awesome.

The other thing is that I don't want to do all this work myself. I want a writer's room.

And lastly it seems to me that 44 or so minutes of TV show is just a wrong amount of time for a show. I also think that 22 episodes a season are too many. Law & Order does a nice save on the 44-minute timeline. They do two different shows. One is a bit longer than 20 minutes -- that's the police procedural part. The next one happens in the last third where the show becomes a courtroom drama.

And there are some Buffy and X-Files episodes which just aren't very good. And even in the middling ones you can tell they're juicing for time. And that just doesn't happen in Law & Order. But also L&O shows are completely self-contained, they can be shown in any order.

So the teenager device with Buffy works great. And so does the overall arc of the show. There are enough characters to keep up a 44-minute show (although 22 episodes a season is just too much.)

Ephraim Hoffman, Vampire Hunter
Ephraim O'Connor, Vampire Hunter
Zombies make for instant drama. You can add zombies to any story and instantly the stakes are higher. You can make a zombie tale inside of almost any other genre. And no, I'm not talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Gotta say I agree with this article. Being the smallest of the micro-studios, and actually being faced with the same problems albeit on a vastly smaller scale, I have a lot of sympathy for the big studios and the way they make their decisions.
I heard from... er... a source -- that even NuImage gets complaints from buyers about using the same stars in their movies over and over. Good grief, if they get complaints, what about us?


Lindsay Stewart said...

Hey Drew, very interested in this idea. So I'll play some devil's advocate. Zombies are a weak foe to hang a teen protagonist TV series on for the simple reason that they are mindless. Buffy worked so well because the through-line villains, the vampires, were intelligent and had individual agency and a sense of culture. They were part of something larger but still self directed. Zombies just want braaaaanes. They're a symptom of the story but they never drive the story, there always needs to be an external force or cause to set them in motion.

I really dig the idea of a monster of the week angle with a larger arc. But it needs to be a fresh angle. My pitch, a group of kids thrown together in a decaying city where the dark forces have been able to bubble up and take root by bonding with the lawless culture of the gangs. I'd also like to see something supernatural that isn't religious. Why the hell should a vampire fear a cross, what if the vampire's an atheist?

The protagonist needs an element of darkness, a gang leader who's been ousted for being unwilling to side with monsters. Buffy was a fallen cheerleader forced by circumstance to hang with the nerds. You need that tension in your ensemble and the conflict within your lead. The other thing you'll face in a zombie-centric piece is a direct comparison to Walking Dead, especially in the area of effects make-up. If you can't beat that level it's a fools game to play.


Andrew Bellware said...

Ha! See? I don't make any sense on my internet notebook. ;-)

My TV show idea is neither a teenager nor a zombie idea. It's the two things I'm not doing.

Atheist vampires are good.

Vampire-hunting cowboys who are partnered with vampires is the way I'm going though.

See? I'm still not being coherent.

Lindsay Stewart said...

And note how I failed to click through to the actual idea you're promoting. Damn. I don't make any sense on your internet notebook either. D'oh!

Andrew Bellware said...

It's this blog all by itself that doesn't make any sense.
That being said, I like your idea. The notion that the kids have to take care of themselves, that there's no adult supervision, is very interesting.
Of course, in most tales like this the first step is to kill the parents.