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Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

Stranger Things – Bible

By February 5, 2020August 13th, 2020No Comments

For this column, we typically focus on produced screenplays and teleplays to give aspiring writers a sense of what the standard is for professional screenwriters. The scripts we choose typically have strong characters, poignant themes, and — it should go without saying — exceptional writing. Although a well-written screenplay is still the best calling card an aspiring writer can have, focusing solely on the script doesn’t fully reflect the reality of the film industry. It has become increasingly common for producers, managers, and especially TV execs to request a bible or pitch deck before even reading the script, and perhaps the best example in recent years is the pitch document for Stranger Things.

We’ve written about Stranger Things before, and needless to say, we’re big fans of the series (as is everyone else on the internet). This pitch deck was written before the show was picked up (the original title Montauk will probably clue you in on that), and the first thing you’ll notice is the style. The entire document is presented as a worn paperback book, almost reminiscent of a Stephen King novel. The document goes on to describe the show, giving the barebones of the plot without getting too bogged-down in details. That’s the key — a good TV pitch tells the audience just enough to know who the characters are, what the series looks like, and where the story goes past episode one but leaves out anything extraneous.

So far, I’ve been using pitch deck and bible somewhat interchangeably. That’s a mistake but it’s also kinda sorta not really? Because both documents can be more expressive than a screenplay, they don’t have rigid formats. The major distinction is that bibles tend to be text-heavy while pitch decks are more visual. Content-wise, this document for Stranger Things probably straddles the line between the two of them but is more visual than most bibles. Apart from the paperback presentation, the Duffers’ pitch deck extensively uses images from classic movies like E.T., Poltergeist, Stand By Me, and A Nightmare on Elm Street to give a sense of the show’s tone and visuals. However, while the presentation is a major element, it doesn’t distract from the content.

(It should also be noted that I’ve been talking about pitch bibles here. “Bible” also refers to the document a showrunner and/or writers room puts together, mostly for continuity purposes on a show. It’s basically the same as a pitch bible, but the main differences are that it typically goes into greater detail than a pitch bible and, most importantly, you get paid to write it.)

As screenwriters, we’re always thinking about how to best present our work after FADE OUT or END OF PILOT is written. Although this may be out of reach for anyone who isn’t a professional graphic designer, this pitch document for Stranger Things is a perfect example of what we can aspire to, and it’s a great reminder that style can be substance if done correctly.

Read the Stranger Things Bible

Michael Owens is a screenwriter from Long Beach, California, and graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with a degree in screenwriting. As a writer, Michael tends to pair contemporary themes with character-driven stories and an off-kilter sense of humor, and he currently reviews screenplays and other creative material for Pipeline Media Group as a Senior Development Executive.