Chapter 12 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Writing a Script: The Pilot

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When it comes to television, the pilot is everything. Shonda discusses the key ingredients to what makes a great pilot, including discussing her alternative opening scenes for the show Scandal.

Topics include: Opening and Ending Scenes • Choices for a Pilot • Case Study: The Opening Scene of Scandal

When it comes to television, the pilot is everything. Shonda discusses the key ingredients to what makes a great pilot, including discussing her alternative opening scenes for the show Scandal.

Topics include: Opening and Ending Scenes • Choices for a Pilot • Case Study: The Opening Scene of Scandal

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Shonda will also respond to select student questions.

Reviews

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Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Loving the class, need to spend more time, but busy performing right now Rock Choir chick.

The best writing one. Clear, precise, concrete. In one word : useful.

Bring a notebook and get ready for a crash course into making a TV show. Shonda Rhimes knows that she knows what she's doing. I agree!

What can I say? It was a pleasure watching and learning from Shonda. I love when she says she is a story teller, this is what I always tell people about me, so I immediately felt a bond there.. Thank you!

Comments

Jonathan S.

This is so important what she's saying about having to write a number of different opening to Scandal. I wrote 6 different 1st chapters to my Sci-Fi thriller "N-hanced*." You need to introduce your main character just right, and you may not figure out the best way on the first try. This also calls attention to the fact that everything doesn't have to come out of your brain just right. No need for writer's block: just write something. As you write, you'll learn things about your characters and that will help you figure out how to introduce them. When you've done that and give yourself a little time, you'll know whether the scene is right. Sometimes saying "no" to a scene helps you understand what the "yes" needs to be. It's like a silhouette: the outline tells you what the object in the middle is supposed to be. But you can't do that without writing those scenes, without drawing that outline. *Not to plug my book, but if you're interested: https://amzn.to/2PKAxwE

Donna S.

I like how she says that we are with the characters on their journey rather than behind them.

Celeste R.

All of the lesson to this point were all very informative. Reading through the the first script I was completely lost, I mean falling asleep lost. The first two scripts I had to force myself to read. The last one was much easier for me to follow. I have found myself binge watching my favorite television shows, not that I have many. It has been really surprising how I am paying attention to things while watching television, that I've never noticed before taking this class.

Hector V.

When I first wrote; "ClownTown", the sheriff was a man and Bo Rodgers was supposed to be his foil. I wrote a similar female sheriff character for another film project that was rejected. I superimposed her into this script. She was supposed to be the focus of the series. As Ms. Rhimes mentioned; Bo Rogers was the 'need to know' character that everything had to be explained to therefore, clueing in the reader. Little did I know, the supporting lead, Bo, would become the iconic character in this series. Sometimes, the story takes on a life of itself and you become just a 'journalist' who writes the events as they happen.

Makhabbat S.

I think death of Mary Ellis in Desperate Housewives can be considered as the death of main character in the pilot episode.

Ryan L.

Even at the time, I was just plain confused when I heard the ABC execs wouldn't let Jack be killed in the Lost pilot. How were the feelings of "betrayal" they were worried about not a good thing that would let the audience know exactly what kind of show they were watching? Though we also have Oz, which was able to kill the apparent main character in its pilot back in 1997, and everyone loved it.

Bruce L.

Tell the story through the eyes of someone who does not know the story. How cool is that tip!

V M.

I went back and watched the Scandal S1 E1 so that I could see the way she explained the opening. I really appreciate having a point of reference for these lessons.

Janet P.

I'm writing a comedy pilot. I'm sure there are rules that are consistent when writing either a comedy or a drama but wonder some of the specific differences.

Angela J.

My script is only the opening scene and not the full pilot which is the intro scene

Transcript

Every pilot is different. Every pilot has incredibly different elements. Every pilot, especially now with so many shows on the air, there is no one pilot, which is really amazing and great. You can do almost anything. All bets are off. However, I think every pilot needs to have compelling characters, a compelling story, compelling dialogue, a great opening, something that's really going to pull the audience in. Attention spans are shorter these days than ever. You can turn and watch anything. So you want an opening that's going to make somebody say, you know what, I'm going to sit here and I'm going to watch this. Not for any reason other than it's good. So in order for that to work, you really need to feel like the opening is special. And you need an ending that suggests that what's to come is going to be interesting as well. And you really need to think about those things when you're doing it. [MUSIC PLAYING] I used to think that there were mistakes that could be made in a pilot. You know, really-- and I think a lot of people think that there are these big mistakes that can be made in a pilot like killing off a character or having someone move completely. I think that there are expensive choices that people can make. I don't necessarily know that they continue to be mistakes. Killing off one of your main characters in a pilot used to be something that was never done. I think you can do it now and I think it's interesting. I think, famously, Lost had a character that was supposed to die really early on and-- in the pilot- and they didn't kill him and-- because you're not supposed to kill somebody-- and the pilot was still great either way. But that was a pilot in which that character was engineered to die in the pilot and I think it would've been cool to see what would happen if he had. Now you could probably kill that character and get away with it. I think doing something where you use a really expensive set, and a really expensive location for your pilot that then, you somehow transport everybody someplace else for the next episode, is a problem unless money is not an issue. So there are expensive choices. Are there choices that are just wrong? Maybe not anymore. [MUSIC PLAYING] What I think is interesting about the shows, even the ones that are in-- Grey's is in a setting that people know. People-- everybody thinks they know what a hospital is like. But I feel like we're doing what I call back of the house work at Grey's. Nobody knows really what it's like to be in an OR. Nobody knows what the doctors are talking about while you're out and under the knife. That's what we're showing. We're showing this stuff that you're not supposed to see. And Scandal is basically based on the premise that all of this stuff is the stuff you're never supposed to know about Washington. One of the things that we try to do in or...