Story Analysis: SCREAM (TV Series): S01E01: Pilot

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SCREAM (TV Series): S01E01: Pilot

I’m a huge Wes Craven Scream fan, have been one since that night all those years back in high school when I sat mesmerized in the theater, ducked my head low, stayed in my seat and snuck a second viewing on opening night. And I’m still a Scream fan. I couldn’t be happier with the Weinstein-backed MTV series, especially episodes penned by the amazing Jill Blotevogel.

In this series of blog posts, in order to become a better writer (and, in particular, a better screenwriter), I’d like to dissect the act breaks and plot developments of the show–all ten episodes, time pending. Consider this public access to my own personal story notes and take them for what they’re worth.

WARNING: Given the nature of such a dissection, spoilers will prevail, so if you haven’t yet seen Scream (TV Series), please give it your attention and then return to read my analysis. Or, if you don’t care about spoilers, I totally understand. Read on.

TEASER

Though I don’t have access to the script, I’d say the teaser lasts for seven pages (or thereabouts). Note the haunting “Daisy” song at the very beginning. It’s a potent motif that arcs through the season.

We’re then introduced right away to our “A” story (the story springing from that haunting “Daisy” song), that of Audrey and Rachel caught making out on a cell phone-shot video and said video going viral, an act that spurs the overarching death that follows for the remaining nine episodes. Getting a shot of Audrey’s shocked reaction acts as the very first red herring. This is a slasher, right?

We’re then whisked away to the house of Nina Patterson, who turns down the affections of her latest boy-toy, Tyler (thus setting up Tyler to be a potential slasher vis a vis his reaction). She quickly becomes privy to the fact that someone’s cyberstalking her (in real time, via technology—someone who is maybe even already in her house), which reinforces Tyler’s role as slasher, but Tyler’s head ends up in her swimming pool just moments later. She’s then murdered by our masked killer. At this point, we’re led to believe that the killer could be connected to Audrey.

Not only is this a teaser, it also sets up the entire season. Of course, we don’t yet know the significance of Nina, but she becomes a thread to the “B” story that weaves its way around the “A” story. Also, it sets the tone for what kind of show this is—the focus on technology (Audrey’s video, Nina’s and the killer’s use of cellphones) and the cat and mouse nature of the slasher genre—and spurs the mystery about to unfold.

ACT ONE

This act is probably about ten pages long. It’s dense in that it gives screen time to every major character of the season, while already dropping us into both the “A” story of the slasher and the “B” story, which focuses more on double-crossing and deception (secrets and lies). I’ll try to explain.

First, we meet Emma (the main character) studying with Will. Knowing the slasher context and the fact that Will makes an excuse, we learn an important lesson about this show. We can’t trust anyone. That’s intentional. Emma’s mom is introduced as dating Sheriff Hudson, and then we’re off to school, the “meeting room” or “centralized mind” for all these students. Remember, Nina’s death is the pre-existing conflict as is Audrey’s viral video. This narrative takes precedence, but we also quickly learn a couple important things. One, none of Nina’s friends actually liked her and two, that Emma was with Nina when the video was filmed (the video, it is learned, was filmed by Emma and Nina). This introduces a dimensionality to the characters. We want to trust them, but at the same time, we see a glimpse into their dark sides and thus, cannot. In this kind of show, that’s exactly what we want. We want complexity of character. For instance, we realize that Will and Jake had some video footage (we don’t yet know the extent of the damage that footage will cause or their motives).

One thing to remember about this first act is that EVERYTHING MATTERS and NOTHING IS WASTED. It’s not that clues are being dropped, but that relevant backstory is constantly being woven into the present two stories (A+B). This is more of an unfolding than a summarizing.

During Mr. Branson’s English class, we encounter Noah’s “meta-logging” for the first time. It’s fun, but it also works with the unfolding stories. Finally, during grief counseling, we encounter the myth of Brandon James and the mysterious young woman he was in love with. Of course, the finale to the first act is finding out that Emma’s mom (her secret) is that she was Brandon James’s lover, Daisy, thus echoing the haunting song at the beginning of the teaser. This is revealed by a locket she admires, a locket with “Daisy” written on it. Emma’s dad is mentioned, which is pertinent, for he will wind up returning later in the season to help spur the story toward its finale.

ACT TWO

Act two probably begins around page seventeen and ends around page twenty three. Emma talks with her friends Will, Jake, Riley, and Brooke at school. Tyler’s body was never found, thus he’s considered a suspect. Brooke is planning an “Irish wake” at Wren Lake for Nina. Interestingly, Wren Lake was where Brandon James died (or, was murdered by police, set-up when he met “Daisy” for the last time). Will confronts Jake (a cohort kind of relationship) about “getting rid of files” — our “B” story, but at this point in the series, we really don’t know what that entails. It is revealed that Mr. Branson (the English teacher) is sleeping with Brooke. And, the scene that really drives this act forward–Emma receives a mysterious package on her doorstep, a package marked to “Daisy.” After she leaves, her mom opens the package only to find a huge bloody animal heart and a note that reads, “Emma looks just like you at that age.” There’s a definite suspense that her secret connection to Brandon James, especially in light of Nina’s murder, is going to be blown wide open as well as the obvious suspense of who placed the package on the doorstep.

ACT THREE

Act three takes us to the “Irish wake” at Wren Lake, the same lake that was shown to us at the episode’s beginning. Also, as I mentioned in the second act, the same lake where Brandon James was murdered. It’s loaded with significance. This act probably flows from pages twenty-three to thirty-five.

Although it comes as an aside, Brooke mentions that her dad is out of town. This is part of the season’s “B” story, for the dad will come to play a heavy part in later episodes and his absence is quite telling.

Emma’s mom talks to Sheriff Hudson, telling him the truth about who she is (i.e. Daisy). It is learned that her ex-husband disappeared and she doesn’t know where he is, making him a potential slasher, right? Red herrings abound.

At the party, Kieran (a new guy in Lakewood) makes a statement that “this [the party on the lake] is a natural slasher setting.” Remember, the message of this pilot is that anyone could be the killer and that no one (especially guys, but of course, we’re not ruling out Audrey) could be a slasher. Soon after, Will makes a comment that he’s not sad about Nina’s passing and Brooke, exposing herself as someone who doesn’t mind ruining relationships, reveals to Emma that Will might have slept with Nina. This angers Emma and she lets Will know, storming off. The garage lights flash and Brooke (alone) goes in to check. Alone is never good for a character, but great for a show of this nature. Tension builds, but no one’s in there. Suddenly, Will emerges as if on cue and warns Brooke not to say those kinds of things again. Of course, this allows us to distrust him. It also reinforces the fact that these characters are able to lie. And they do. Meanwhile, Emma kisses Kieran in the greenhouse.

Noah, who passed out drunk when discussing slashers (more “meta-logging” perhaps), wakes up on a floating dock in the middle of Wren Lake. He hesitatingly swims toward shore, but hears whispering in the water and is suddenly pulled under.

ACT FOUR

Kieran rescues Noah immediately, but it almost makes it look like Kieran was in the water already by way of how fast the rescue happens. Jake makes a comment as if he was the one who did it—and enjoyed doing it, too. This rivalry between Noah and Jake will emerge in the next episode, which is one thing I really enjoy about this series—the constant setting up of future betrayals/conflicts. This act probably flows from page thirty-five to forty-four (the end).

Kieran drives Emma home and its revealed that he’s Sheriff Hudson’s son.

Audrey, who left the party with Noah (in anger at the rude prank), is at Rachel’s house. Rachel is the girl in the video who Audrey was caught kissing. This brings us nicely back to the beginning of the pilot. They kiss passionately, but it is revealed that a killer in a black hood and what will come to be known as the “Brandon James mask” is watching them.

The next day, Sheriff Hudson confronts Noah, wants to talk to him. Noah is smart enough to know that he’d make a great slasher suspect. He confides this to Riley as he “meta-logs” more of how viewers should be paying attention to the show (the why, not the how, he says).

Emma visits Rachel, confesses to her that she was with Nina when the video was shot. This enrages Audrey. Moments later, when Emma’s walking home, she receives a call from an “Unknown Caller” who says, “I know the truth,” and “I’m the one that’s gonna lift the mask.” This frightens Emma as it should. Again, the timing of it makes it seem as if Audrey were responsible, but given how deceptive some of the characters are, we already don’t know. Good move, writers! It keeps us watching.

Noah talks with Riley on the telephone, says, “Everyone has secrets. Everyone tells lies.” He wipes his forehead—it’s stained with something red (set-up for the next episode).

Jake moves a file to a folder entitled “Nina.” It shows Nina dancing on her webcam. It makes it look like he could have been the one to kill her.

Emma hears something rustling in the bushes outside her house.

————

Wow… This pilot episode presents so many angles on who the slasher is, even though Noah urges viewers not to focus on that. It presents characters as having secrets and uses the murder of one of their classmates and a viral video as the catalyst for the season. It also, of course, shows us that there is a masked killer on the prowl who is connected to this in some way. Finally, it introduces the mythology of Brandon James and, given the attention given and the connection with Emma’s mom, makes that stand out.

Also, this show is based on an existing property, so we already come to it with preconceived notions. We’re expecting betrayal. We’re expecting murder. We’re expecting a mystery. This show has taken all of that and woven it into its own Lakewood/Brandon James mythology. It worked for me. I really enjoy it.

There could be more, but here are the tensions I found in the first episode:

  • Emma – her mom – the stranger who is haunting/stalking them: the box on the porch, the phone call, Emma’s mom’s role as Brandon James’ lover, the mysterious box
  • Emma – Audrey – Rachel: the viral video, Audrey’s anger towards Emma (and everyone involved with the video)
  • Emma and Kieran, and Kieran being the sheriff’s son
  • Noah – the paint/blood on his forehead, his love of slashers, his communication with Jake
  • An obvious masked killer
  • Jake and Will: those secret files, that tension, something sadistic about them
  • Noah and Riley’s relationship (as developing)
  • The catalyst of Nina’s murder (and what Nina could mean as the show goes on)

I hope you enjoyed these notes. Going forward, I’ll try to dig more into how the A and B stories intersect as well as the various character arcs that will take place. These become vastly significant. Finally, as mentioned above, if you want to support some good horror that I’m trying to make, please show some love to UNFINISHED BUSINESS.

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