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Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Four

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 16:44 min

Shonda discusses act four of the Scandal pilot and the importance of quickening the pace of your action.

Shonda Rhimes
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The next thing we see is Quinn in that bathroom crying, I think. Yeah. And she questions it. And it's really wonderful to have this moment where Quinn is questioning how can Olivia be this person. Is she really good? So Quinn cries in the bathroom, and Huck basically becomes the voice of reason. It was brilliant, actually. When I read it, I saw that you had originally written it with Olivia. And I loved that it changed to Huck. Because once again, it gave us an opportunity to hear about Olivia in the third person. Rather than have her as a person standing there saying you can't cry, there was something very powerful about hearing Huck say that and speak from his place. What was important to me when I changed it was when you have a character tell you about themselves, they are not reliable narrators. They never are, because we don't know them well enough. But to have somebody come from the outside and say here's the deal, here's what I think-- especially someone like Huck say we're all stray dogs, this is how this works-- they're basically saying-- he's saying she's as mythic to me as she is to you. I'm as messed up by this as you are. Deal with it. But he's been there longer. So he's a voice of experience. And it allowed Olivia to stay this mythic figure to realize that that's who she is for all of them. Did you also want to use that spot? Because obviously, Quinn and Huck ended up having a very serious relationship going forward. Was that in your mind at the time when you were doing that? Absolutely not. Oh, interesting. I had no idea. And I think when the pilot aired, that's the one thing we had to cut out. It was a little bit long. And I had to lose-- I think I had to lose one scene, and I think that's the scene we lost. And we put it in the DVD, and it's in all the-- if you watch it on streaming or anything, it's always there. But it wasn't in the original pilot that aired on television. Oh, wow. Because it's such a powerful scene. Yeah, I know. It was my favorite scene. It was my favorite, scene and it killed me that it wasn't in the pilot. And it was really important to have it in the script as well. Because for the reader, you really weren't sure where you were emotionally. So to have Quinn question who she is in the end of the script, in the end of Act III-- Quinn questions who she is at the end of Act III. And then at the top of Act IV, she is questioning Olivia, her place here, and whether or not she wants to even stay. And Huck basically lays down the law. You still don't know whether or not you feel good about it. But for some reason, I feel like you feel comforted. That was my goal, anyway, to make sure that you felt a little comforted by this. Then you go to Olivia, which I really love. This is another scene I really love, and this falls under the Amanda Tanne...

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I giggle at your ability to pulse out the brilliant yet workable ideas in the script. Also, pulling on the imagination of what is actually good into bad, into bad into good character development scenarios is impressive. You are doing the real work, trusting what makes a story click psychologically, is impressive. You are consummately exquisite in understanding how to help your audience use their own beliefs for or against each of the characters, I love your process, and I am far from alone on that!

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Shonda has established that her heroine is a cheat, a person of enormous responsibility who has poor judgment, and the cause of an innocent girl's suicide attempt. She has involved Quinn in a crime, had her falsely reassured by the totally meaningless professions of Huck, and yet we are expected to feel that this behavior is acceptable because Olivia is special? And the President of the United States is a liar who is cheating with two women while in office. We have no reason to like this man or respect him, and yet being asked to understand that Olivia, who is apparently "deeply" in love with him is reassured that he started the affair with Amanda because Olivia wasn't working in the White Horse anymore. A slew of sleaze bags, for which we the audience are expected to care.

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It's a great and humbling exercise to "deconstruct your house" so that others know how you built it. It's like revealing your secrets and passing on your knowledge. However, there is always something unpleasant about somebody telling you how good her writing was, how proud she is of this scene or that character she created, or that amazing piece of dialogue... I'd rather see her dissect "West Wing" or something else she did not write. Don't you guys think?

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