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Essential Reading – Screenplays and Pilots

A curated list of produced screenplays and TV pilots chosen by Script Pipeline staff. All scripts are linked to third-party sites and are copyrighted by the original author/s. They are (obviously) for educational purposes only.

Dolemite Is My Name – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Over the past few decades, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have carved a niche for themselves in Hollywood. Although they’ve written in other genres, they’ve found the most success writing biopics about off-kilter or notorious individuals. The tone of these movies combines sharp social commentary and tragicomedy to create some of the best examples of the genre. Their scripts Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes, and The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story have all attracted A-list talent behind and in front of the camera because of the strength of their writing, the allure of their movies’ subjects, and the relevance of their stories’ themes. Most recently in this line of biopics is Dolemite Is My Name. Set in the 1970s, the film follows comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy, in his best performance in years) as he sets out to find his…

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Us – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

We were huge fans of writer-director Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we also loved his recent follow-up, Us. Unlike Get Out, which was equal parts horror movie and caustic social satire, Us’s script focuses primarily on genre thrills. That’s not to say that the film is devoid of commentary, mind you. It’s just that the themes and metaphors are less transparent. While Get Out took its influences from The Stepford Wives and its message was a condemnation of a very specific type of racism, Us has more in common with horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Night of the Living Dead: The social commentary exists, but it’s obliquely referenced and open to interpretation (though we definitely have our theories). But the primary driving force instead comes from character, plot, and the typical set pieces inherent in the…

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Search Party – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

So many elements go into a screenplay that it’s difficult to say which one is the most important (though that hasn’t stopped us in the past). Different genres require different things to succeed, but for a screenwriter just starting out, perhaps the definitive make-it-or-break-it element is voice. “Voice” is that vague almagam of dialogue (how the characters speak), description (how the screenwriter describes the character’s actions), and theme (what the screenwriter has to say about the world at large) that makes the screenplay feel unique. It’s something that writers develop after putting in tons of time and effort, but it’s the thing that elevates a good or decent script to the next level. It’s how writers get repped, get staffed, and get hired. One of the best recent shows with a strong, unique voice is Search Party. Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, the show is perhaps…

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The Ring – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Because of Halloween, October is the unofficial horror movie month (though, really, it’s our opinion that you can—and should—enjoy them all year round). Released in 2002, The Ring kicked off the early-aughts trend of PG-13 adaptations of Asian horror movies, and it remains one of the scariest movies of this century. Directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Ehren Kruger (with revisions by Scott Frank), The Ring is an Americanized remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu. The story follows Rachel Keller (an always amazing Naomi Watts), a reporter who investigates the origins of a cursed video tape after her (and, later, her son) watch it and receive the creepiest phone call of all time: A raspy voice whispering, “Seven days.” What follows are a series of well-executed set pieces that rely more generating dread than surprising its audience with empty jump scares. As a screenplay, The Ring is perhaps the best…

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On Becoming a God in Central Florida – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

To be completely reductive, every story is about desire. A character wants something so much that they will do whatever it takes to achieve it, and the alternative is inconceivable to them. When writing dark comedy, things become more difficult: The main character’s goals tend to be less than noble, but the audience still needs to care about their journey. If the audience doesn’t empathize or sympathize with the characters, then what’s the point of watching? Set in the early 1990s, On Becoming a God in Central Florida, created by Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky, walks that fine line. Krystal Stubbs wants stability. She grew up poor, and now that she and her husband have infant daughter, she wants to make sure there’s food on the table and a roof over their heads. As she tells her husband, “I won’t be poor again.” About her husband: Travis wants more. He…

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Fleabag – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Character, character, character. At its heart, every story is about character. Characters who have wants and needs and flaws. Fleabag has wants. They mostly revolve around sex. Fleabag has needs. Love, specifically. And Fleabag has flaws. Oh my, does she have flaws. Fleabag, created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the title character, is an equally hilarious and tragic character study of a single, perpetually horny British woman. She doesn’t get a name in the show, but she’s known to the audience as Fleabag. In the pilot, she describes herself as “a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist,” and although she’s being overly critical, she’s not far off. Despite all this, Fleabag comes across as charming, in no small part because of Waller-Bridge’s perfect performance. She’s one of the few actresses who can tell you exactly what they’re thinking with…

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The Martian – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Story is conflict. It should seem obvious, but in order to have a compelling story, the characters need to face conflict and overcome obstacles with stakes high enough that the audience roots for the characters to succeed. The Martian takes these basic fundamentals and ratchets everything up to an 11. Based on the novel by Andy Weir and adapted by Drew Goddard, The Martian follows astronaut and botanist Mark Watney’s fight for survival after he is accidentally stranded on Mars. The premise is simple (and high-concept!) enough—it’s Castaway on a distant planet. From there, everything that can go wrong does. He’s running out of food and has to find a way to grow potatoes on Mars, he has to fix pretty much every piece of equipment including the base he’s living in, he has to find a way to contact Earth with outdated and outmoded technology… it’s the ultimate fight for survival. Weir…

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Big Little Lies – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Melodrama is perhaps the most derided genre there is. Often, critics use the word as a euphemism for entertainment with poorly written, on-the-nose dialogue and exaggerated emotions and performances. But when done right, melodrama draws audiences in and establishes an irresistible tone while exploring narratives with rich themes. Written by David E. Kelley from Liane Moriarty’s novella, Big Little Lies certainly has large emotions. At certain times, it feels like scenes exist solely for the murderers’ row of actresses (which includes—deep breath—Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, and Shailene Woodley) to chew every piece of scenery in sight. However, every emotion is grounded and true to character. The show’s central characters—later dubbed the “Monterey Five” in season two—each has her own issues and conflicts to work through, including rape, spousal abuse, and bullying. Big Little Lies deals with these themes sensitively and insightfully, elevating what could have been…

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The Favourite – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Perhaps the biggest surprise at this year’s Oscars was Olivia Colman taking the Best Actress trophy. In the lead up, most pundits assumed the competition was between Lady Gaga and perennial nominee Glenn Close, but Colman managed to swoop in and nab the prize. It was an unexpected moment, but one that was incredibly well-deserved. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite takes historical figure Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and uses her life to craft a compelling story of loss, romance, and the pursuit of power. Davis and McNamara place Anne at the center of a love triangle as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s estranged cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) compete to curry Anne’s favor. Sarah is the Queen’s current “favourite”—she’s Anne’s righthand woman and also lover, and Abigail envies her for it. What pursues is a…

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

It’s always nice when the Oscars get it right. It doesn’t happen every time, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s Best Animated Feature win was incredibly well-deserved—it was one of last year’s best movies, animated or live-action. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman and written by Phil Lord and Rothman, and based on Marvel’s Spider-Verse comics, the story follows Miles Morales as he explores his nascent spidey-powers after (spoiler) Peter Parker’s death and helps other Spider-People from elsewhere in the multiverse return to their respective universes. One issue superhero movies can run into is stakes. Unless, for example, Chris Evans wants to retire from the role, you’re not gonna see Captain America die (apologies for the potential Avengers: Endgame spoiler). So it’s necessary for writers and directors to include compelling relationships for the hero to raise the stakes. In Into the Spider-Verse, Miles’ relationships with his father and…

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The Other Two – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Perhaps the most important element for every television show is concept. Unlike movies, television shows need to convince audiences not only to watch the pilot but also to watch two or three or more seasons. This means combining a high-concept premise with compelling characters. Breaking Bad had that “wow” factor, as did stuff as diverse as Weeds, The Wire, and Killing Eve. But perhaps my favorite recent example is The Other Two. Here’s the premise in a nutshell: Imagine a teenager who becomes famous overnight after his Youtube music video goes viral (not unlike Justin Bieber). The show isn’t about him; it’s about his two older siblings, who are well into their late twenties and are not even remotely successful. It’s about them—the “other two.” Written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, the pilot’s teaser does an excellent job depicting that disparity. The show opens with 13-year-old sensation Chase Dubek…

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Russian Doll – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

When it was released in 1993, Groundhog Day became a critical and commercial success, but its real legacy is its narrative. In the years since, countless movies and TV shows have played with the temporal loop structure Groundhog Day helped establish, in such diverse works as Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day, Run, Lola, Run and at least one episode of nearly every sci-fi show the last two decades. The second most-recent example (barely beat out by Happy Death Day 2U—now in theaters!) is also the one that best exploits the premise from a thematic and philosophical perspective. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll takes the basic Groundhog Day premise and exploits it for all the existential dread it can muster. Although ostensibly a comedy (there are plenty of laughs to be had at the expense of NYC hipsters and with the dark comedy death…

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Crazy Rich Asians – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Romantic comedy can be one of the most difficult genres to write. Sure, the ubiquity of mediocre romcoms might imply otherwise, but truly great movies in the genre are rather rare. For a good romantic comedy, the audience needs to not only care about the characters but also care about the stakes and believe that those stakes have real weight and real consequences. Over the summer, Crazy Rich Asians burst into theaters and became an immediate sensation—in equal parts because it provided much-needed representation of a group Hollywood often underrepresented and because it’s a damn good story. Directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim from Kevin Kwan’s novel, Crazy Rich Asians, the story follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who travels to her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) hometown in Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding and meet his family, who are crazy-rich and…

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Sorry to Bother You – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

It’s difficult to summarize Sorry to Bother You. Written and directed by rapper Boots Riley (his debut film as both writer and director), the film is easily the most original of 2018, and it’s got things to say. The story follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who really needs a job. The only place that’s hiring (and will also hire anyone) is a local telemarketing firm. At first, everyone Cash calls almost immediately hangs up on him, which is not so great since Cash works on commission. Eventually, he takes the advice of his coworker Langston (Danny Glover) and begins to use a “white voice,” which sounds exactly like David Cross. (Cross’s voice was dubbed over to hilarious results.) Soon, he becomes the firm’s number one telemarketer, and his life begins improving. That is, until the fratty CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) takes an interest in Cash. From there, things quickly…

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Annihilation – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

There’s always that one movie you meant to watch in theaters but just never got around to seeing. I knew I had to see Annihilation after watching the trailer, with its beautiful visuals, unique synthesized score, and amazing cast. But for whatever reason, I didn’t make it in time, and honestly, missing it was a huge mistake. Written and directed by Alex Garland (whom we’ve talked about previously) and based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, the movie starts with a simple premise: There’s a mysterious and expanding sci-fi anomaly called The Shimmer in the southern United States, and every team the government has sent in has disappeared, except for one man, who mysteriously shows up a year after his trip inside. His wife Lena (Natalie Portman), a cellular biologist and military veteran, volunteers to go into The Shimmer with a team led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). From…

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