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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.

Awake – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Yes, it only lasted one season, but for fans of the 2012 NBC show Awake, it started off with a spectacular pilot episode–and one worth reading for aspiring TV writers. With a network landscape inundated with procedural dramas, a refreshing take on the genre was a next-to-impossible task. But the unique spin was such an original hook: a detective living disparate realities after a deadly car accident, one where his wife survived and one where his son survived, must figure out how to resolve this seemingly mental disparity while juggling his career and life in two separate worlds. What producer wouldn’t want to read that script? Again, a project that hits the “familiar-yet-different” zone, making for what must have been an easy pitch. Conceptually, though, it would have been equally as simple to ruin the plot. Two timelines? Two interrelated stories? The same protagonist leading different lives in a procedural crime/drama? Seems like a structural nightmare….

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Dallas Buyers Club – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Often, a film cannot realize its potential without flawless casting–and such is the case with Dallas Buyers Club. But across a current landscape of adaptations, big-budget action, low-budget horror, remakes, remakes of remakes, and derivative premises meant solely to entertain, the McConaughey drama serves as proof that digging deeper into a story and its themes, its narrative heart, will result in something special. Throughout a screenplay that prides itself on a plain, unabashed glimpse into the relationships between vividly-drawn characters, co-writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack serve up what is arguably a masterpiece. Incredibly well-written for its genre, it’s one that may serve as a model for all that comes after. Yes, films are nothing without incredible actors. Yet incredible actors are nothing without a bold script that pushes dramas to an almost hypnotic level. Read the Dallas Buyers Club Screenplay View More Produced Scripts

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Mad Men – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

It’s a show that defines an era. Only not our era. Mad Men drips with glossy 1960s charm–or shameless 1960s indulgence, depending on your perspective. A soap opera, ironically, for the 21st century. The series perhaps over-dramatizes the evolution of the mid-century advertising world, but offers something in terms of unique character development that breaks our notion of what to expect in a period drama. If you’re a part of its fan base, you have the benefit of retrospect when reading the pilot, and will immediately recognize how well Don Draper is established from the start, setting us up perfectly for what will be an intimate and profound character arc. Is Mad Men nothing more than an exaggeration? A hyperbole of those living in the most tumultuous decade of the modern era? Sure. But it’s the type of grounded glamorization that rips it out of the cliche, a style we…

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Game of Thrones – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

For the lavish, and often-times hopelessly brutal, HBO show Game of Thrones, the pilot is surprisingly rather timid–a word no fan would quickly associate with the most epic television series in recent memory. The writing is direct and descriptive, lacking unnecessarily flourish, yet maintains a vivid sense of time and place without falling into the common trap of many period (or pseudo-period) pieces: overwritten narrative description and equally overwritten dialogue. Not the case here. It’s a script that’s accessible to the most casual of script readers, a remarkable achievement given what must have been a knee-jerk inclination to glean too much from the George R.R. Martin spectacle. There are, of course, many ways to successfully pull off a script of this nature, stylistically speaking. But for such a sprawling fantasy/adventure, introducing us to Westeros in the most straightforward way possible without losing the unique energy of the plot is a…

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Homeland – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Not only a stellar example of plotting and character setup, the script is a paradigm for style–quick-paced, vividly detailed, and absolutely compelling from scene to scene. Claire Danes’ incredible talent as an actress, the character of Carrie Mathison is so uniquely drawn, she almost carries the series on her back, creating a refreshing take on the genre. A female protagonist who is neither an over-the-top stereotype, nor what has soon become a 21st century cliche: putting the focus on a woman cast as a hero previously reserved for males. Because that’s not what this story is about. And this realism (or apparent realism) brings a certain authenticity to the first episode, setting a suitable framework for the tone of the series. As great as its predecessors were (24, most notably), this is a political action/thriller for the next generation, a rare example where, judging by the pilot alone, it’s no…

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Sideways – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

On the surface, it’s a story about relationships and useless babbling about wine. Beneath the surface, it’s one of the most relevant character studies in the history of dramedies, touching upon so many issues plaguing the modern human condition it’s like one, big cinematic therapy session. In a way, Sideways changed how audiences perceived independent film as a whole–that “indies,” for whatever definition you prescribe, can be the best of both worlds. While the film is not quite a romantic comedy, there’s an underlying idea here that romance is, by definition, imperfect. So are careers, and marriages. And life. Yes, that’s all obvious. And a little stale. But the way Alexander Payne and Rex Pickett detail these two men, Miles and Jack, as wayward heroes who are neither heroic nor anti-heroic lends a certain realism to the whole story, and in the process, sort of skews the genre. Each scene…

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Bridesmaids – Screenplay

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Screenwriting 101 teaches you short dialogue is good dialogue. Brevity over talking heads. Dialogue-heavy scripts can only work if the dialogue is. . . well, good. Bridemaids fits the bill–and then some. The film was critically-acclaimed as one of the best in its genre, due in part to an all-star cast that helped (further) advance the careers of its stars, prove the otherwise sobering Rose Byrne (Damages) is an incredibly talented actress, and establish Kristen Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo as a legitimate force for female screenwriters. Not only female screenwriters in general, but those who can write broad, mainstream comedies, rejecting the “chick flick” stereotype branding female writers. Acting talents aside, the comic timing on the page is apparent, with each scene consistently showing the wit and heart of its characters. The result: a modern primer for students of screenwriting. Consider this Advanced Comedy Writing 201. Read the Bridesmaids Screenplay View…

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Lost – Pilot

By Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

It’s overwritten, far too long for a typical one-hour pilot, the writing itself is dense, the whole thing reads like a novel. . . and yet, it’s absolutely gripping. The pilot for Lost at first seems to defy everything you learned in TV Writing 101, but at the same time, gives the reader a clear expectation of where the show is going, who the major players will be, why this would not be the typical disaster story, and such a unique sense of tone and atmosphere, it’s no wonder Lost ended up becoming one of the greatest–if not the greatest–one-hour dramas of all time. All bookended by the first of many (many) cliffhangers, and a line that would sufficiently sum up the series as a whole: “Guys–where are we?” Read the Lost Pilot View More Produced Scripts

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