Chapter 2: The Pitch
must have the best job in the world,” my sister-in-law once marvelled.
“You just sit around all day making stuff up.” Yes, I’m sure this
is how some envision the writing process: the writer, furiously tapping
away at his or her laptop, turning the ideas on and off like tap water.
But the reality is scriptwriting can be a long and arduous process replete
with delays, disappointments, and dispiriting setbacks. And the very
first step in this difficult (yet wholly satisfying!) exercise is that
kernel of an idea, that brilliant notion that makes you sit bolt upright
in bed at three in the morning and shout “That’s it!”, scaring the beejeebers
out of your sleeping wife. But coming up with the brilliant ideas
is only half the battle. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to
share these magnificent concepts with the rest of the writing department.
Sooner or later, you’re going to have to…“Pitch to The Room”.
A blow by blow
breakdown of the production process from concept to finished episode
Room”, I mean the writing department. In this case, the season 7
writing department that gathered in Robert’s office over the hiatus: Robert
Cooper, Peter DeLuise, Damian Kindler, Paul Mullie, and myself. The
nice thing about being on staff is that you don’t have to go it alone.
If the premise you are pitching happens to possess even the littlest something
that connects with someone, you can count on everyone helping to “spin”
it into a workable idea. Brad Wright, our former Executive Producer,
was a master at this. He’d always joke: “You want to do a story about
a monkey and dog? Okay. Let’s go!” If you felt passionate
enough about an idea, he’d find a way to make it work. And that’s
really the beauty of working on Stargate. You can always count on
your fellow writers to help you flesh out a concept. (The same, of
course, does not apply to freelancers. No half-baked ideas or vague
notions for these outsiders. They must come in and prove their worth
with fully developed, well-researched story ideas. Sometimes, they
– as in the case of Damian Kindler whose pitches for “The Other Guys” and
“Cure” earned him a staff position. Other times…well, I remember
a freelance pitch in season 5 that went something like this: “SG-i visit
a planet and are separated from Tee-alc.”
Time: Hiatus. Sometime between seasons 6 and 7.
Place: The Bridge Studios.
Studios in Burnaby, Vancouver, where Stargate SG-1 is filmed
armed with our ideas for the upcoming season. Robert, the show’s
exec-producer, starts off with a general overview of where we’re headed
in season 7 and where we want to end up. We’ve got a big bad uber-Goa’uld
to tackle, the character of Daniel Jackson to bring back, and a now symbiote-less
Teal’c to deal with. We then address some production considerations.
Amanda will be directing an episode this season, so we will have to come
up with two storylines that can be Carter-light to allow her the time to
prep and shoot (Check out “Prodigy” and “Double Jeopardy” when we were
faced with a similar situation re: Michael directing). Given Rick’s
tight shooting schedule, we are going to have to come up with some stories
in which the character of Jack O’Neill is present but not necessarily the
driving force (a la “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Forsaken”).
we begin tossing out the ideas. Robert wants to do a story that ultimately
dispels Carter’s “Black Widow” tag, focusing on her relationship with a
new boyfriend who doesn’t know anything about her work at the SGC. This
relationship will be tested by the secret she keeps and, over the course
of the episode, the boyfriend will become increasingly suspicious and attempt
to find out what she is hiding. Maybe he will unwittingly become
involved in some SG-1-related situation despite Carter’s best efforts.
But what is the situation? Well, Robert also wants to do a story
that reunites Daniel with Osiris. Maybe there’s a way to combine
the two stories. We discuss, throw out ideas, and the story is filed
away under the working title: “Black Widow Carter”.
the best things about these initial pitch sessions is the ridiculous place-holder
titles we’ll often come up with to remind ourselves of a given story. “Black
Widow Carter”, “Young O’Neill”, “Bubble World”, and “Felger Gate Screw-Up”
are just a few of the episode titles, worthy of America’s Funniest Home
Videos, you’ll never get to see. Remember Season 4’s “Ad Infinitum”?
Season 5’s “Teal’c Interrupted”? Season 6’s “Ice Woman”? Didn’t
think so. Suffice it to say we eventually come up with a proper title
for the episode. Often this can be one of the most frustrating aspects
of the script-writing process. But more on that in the next instalment.)
And on we go.
4's "Ad Infinitum" aka "Window Of Opportunity"
sit in the room for hours, the five of us, tossing, turfing, and transforming
ideas. Robert is the master-spinner. No one is his equal.
He has the incredible ability to come up with plot developments that will
send the simplest story into wild, new directions. Everyone else
in the room will be in the midst of discussing when Robert, silent up to
this point, will suddenly interrupt with: “What if…?” What if the
wonder-drug these people are using is actually made of ground Goa’uld symbiotes?
What if O’Neill can’t trust the former Black-Ops buddy who is supposed
to be watching his back? What if Daniel does try to stop Anubis,
but gets “taken away” before he can act?
is The Master-Spinner, then Paul earns the title of Commander Logic.
If the story makes sense to him, then it’s as good as “go”, for Paul is
extremely adept at picking out the potential story flaws and iffy science
that can make or break a prospective episode. Nothing puts the brakes
on a spinning session like Paul suddenly interjecting with his trademark
foreboding: “I just realized something…”
meanwhile, is our SG-1 oracle, a font of Stargate mythology. As we
build on the idea, he’ll offer up backstory elements that neatly tie the
story into existing canon. Maybe the Goa’uld who first started the
research was Imhotep from season 5’s “The Warrior”. Perhaps the queen
supplying symbiotes for the tretonin turns out to be Egeria. Damian
and I, meanwhile, adopt a similar low-key “pitch room” tact – carefully
picking our spots and throwing out ideas, objections, or tearful recriminations
an idea about SG-1 visiting a planet where the people live under the rule
of a benevolent Goa’uld. As it turns out, the only reason he’s benevolent
is because his memory has been wiped and he is unaware of his true nature.
But when the planet comes under threat from another Goa’uld, the only way
to save its inhabitants is by reawakening his long dormant memories.
– Sadly (for me), the pitch doesn’t engender much interest. Crash
seizes the opportunity presented by the return of Daniel Jackson to pitch
another Unas story. Its something he has wanted to do for a while.
We spin the idea and come up with a good starting point. “Unas Story”
is put on the list.
by Peter DeLuise, Daniel's "Unas Story" will continue in Season 7
wants to do a story focusing on Carter’s relationship with her father,
perhaps an episode in which Carter is placed in a dangerous predicament
and must rely on Jacob to save her – only Jacob’s desire to save his daughter
is opposed by his symbiote Selmak who feels they must sacrifice her for
a worthier cause. It’s an intriguing premise that holds a lot of
promise…and gets shelved for the time being.
to do a one-off story where SG-1 visits a civilization trapped on a toxic
planet. SG-1 wants to relocate them but this is easier said than
done because the people hide a horrible secret! Alas, Paul bumps
on the backstory. But Robert has an idea and spins it in another
direction. Maybe…SG-1 wants to relocate them but its easier said
than done because the people hide a (different) horrible secret!
Now, we’re talking! The story is added to the list.
on we go, through lunch and into late afternoon – pitching, spinning, rejecting,
and proposing over salted dry ribs and spicy dynamite rolls until, finally,
we look at the list. We have twelve episodes! Well, twelve
titles at least. We divvy up the spoils. Rob, finishing work
on part one of the opening two-parter,
will get started on “Heroes”.
Paul and I, finishing work on the second part of the two-parter “Homecoming”,
will tackle “Bubble World”
and “Felger Gate Screw-Up”.
Damian gets “Young O’Neill”
and “Space Race”.
Peter is handed “Unas Story” and “Orpheus”.
Brad Wright, our designated hitter, will write the Daniel Jackson tour-de-force
“Voices”. The other
stories will await whoever has the time to write them.
you have it. The idea has been approved, everyone has had their say,
and now all that’s left to do is write the script. Right?
Going from pitch to first draft is a license granted to the privileged
few – the ballsy, the brash, the - Brad Wright. Time and again, this
fearless individual, has thrown caution to the wind, tempting fate by foregoing
the all-important next step in the process and coming back, weeks later,
with a top-notch script. For the rest of us mere mortals, however,
it’s back to our offices to hammer out a blueprint for our respective scripts,
a document we affectionately refer to as “the outline”.
NOW is when we’re going to have to end things for the time being.
next instalment, I’ll focus on how the story is built, from a lowly idea
into a lofty précis, like an architectural marvel meticulously constructed
to weather the test of time (or occasionally come down like a house of
Joseph Mallozzi is a Writer
and Executive Producer for Stargate SG-1
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