Chapter 16 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act One

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Shonda breaks down the first act of the Scandal pilot, revealing why she structured the opening scene the way she did.

Topics include: Scandal Case Study

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So we're talking about the script of "Scandal"-- the pilot script of "Scandal." And one of the things I think is helpful for anybody who's thinking about writing a pilot script is to take a pilot that you know well-- for me it was the "West Wing" script-- and break it down, and figure out what the beats of it were. And just examine it and you dissect it, so then you can understand how it was made in a lot of ways, how it was put together. And it's something that-- it's sort of reverse, unwriting a script, in a weird way. And it helps you when you're trying to figure out how to write your own script, because then you can see why things happened the way they did and how something was built. It's almost like taking a house apart piece by piece to see how they put it together. And so, I thought we would do that with the "Scandal" pilot, because I thought that would make for a nice example of how things are done. Because I know how it was done. So looking at it, interestingly enough, if you look at the-- we have a board here. And I think using a board is always the best way to do this, because it's a nice, big visual, and it helps you. So we divide it into five sections. And each section represents an act of the script-- five acts. And you write each one of your beats going down. Who's going to write on the board? I'll do it. Perfect. Let's do it. We only really have-- this story really only has-- it has three storylines, I suppose. So we'll give each of the storylines a color. Does anybody know what the three storylines are? Really, do you--when you look at it-- what do you think the three storylines really are, the threads of the stories are? Well, I think there's the storyline with Amanda-- finding out about Amanda, which then leads into the storyline and the reveal of Olivia's relationship with the president. Mhm. That's one. That's one. And then I would say the other one is probably the Sully, the Captain Sully storyline, which is Olivia and her team investigating-- or rather trying to handle his issue, as far as what happened with his crime that was committed. Yes. And I feel like more of a C story would be Stephen proposing to Georgia. Yeah, I really always say the C story is life at the shop-- in a weird way-- which is Quinn's entry into the world, how Quinn feels about the world, the Stephen stuff, the fact that Abby has feelings for him, those small beats. So those are exactly right. So let's give each one a color. You can choose whichever color makes you happy. Oh, perfect. Interestingly, enough act one only has three scenes in it, really. If you look at-- if you think about the scene that takes place inside Olivia Pope & Associates-- which we call OPA-- it's just one big flowing scene. The camera never stops moving. OK, so looking at this, you have the opening scene-- which I feel like, oddly enough, while...

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Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television