One of the key elements in a screenwriter’s portfolio is an original pilot — especially if that screenwriter hopes to land a seat at the table in a writer’s room. Pilots are an art. And one of the easiest ways to learn how to write your own pilot episode is to break down those that already exist.
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In this series, we’ll break down the pilot episodes of both dramas and comedies, current and past, streaming and network.
This is the first breakdown of the series. The second is STRANGER THINGS.
Click here for a description of the elements we’ll be using and why, which you can then use for your own work, or some of your personal favorites.
About The Pilot:
- Created By: Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof
- Genre: Drama
- Pilot Run Time: 57 and 42 minutes
- Pilot Page Count: 108 pages
- Original Air Dates: September 22, 2004 and September 29, 2004
- Total Number of Episodes: 121
- Where You Can Watch It: Hulu
The pilot of LOST is actually two consecutive episodes — Part 1 and Part 2 — which premiered one week apart in September 2004. There is just one single script though, so for this breakdown, I will consider the two parts as one.
The survivors of a plane crash find themselves on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited tropical island.
Ignoring the seven total commercial breaks and focusing solely on story, the pilot of LOST solidly follows a six-act structure. Each subsequent seems to follow this same six-act structure as well.
Given that LOST pilot is actually a two-parter, it seems to make more sense to analyze the storylines chronologically (as in: one storyline happens, then another, and so on).
A-Story — The immediate aftermath of the plane crash / First day on the island
B-Story — Finding the cockpit, transceiver, and the pilot
C-Story — Adapting to life on the island / Fixing the transceiver
D-Story — First part of the hike (leading up to the polar bear)
E-Story — Second part of the hike / Using the transceiver
If you really want to break down the storylines by character, my best guess is that it would look something like this…
A-Story — Jack & Kate
B-Story — Charlie
C-Story — Sawyer vs. Sayid
D-Story — Michael & Walt
E-Story — Everyone else
Fourteen — Jack, Kate, Claire, Hurley (aka. Hugo), Boone, Shannon, Sawyer, Charlie, Sayid, Sun, Jin, Michael, Walt, Locke.
The Island (2000s)
IMPORTANT MOTIFS / DETAILS
- An eye opening
- Flashbacks (which later become flash-forwards and flash-sideways’)
- The Smoke Monster (though the survivors don’t call it that yet)
Jack wakes to find himself in a bamboo grove. A retriever is licking his foot. When he is able to stand, he stumbles to the beach, where he sees the chaos of the plane crash he has just survived.
Oceanic Flight 815 crashes on the Island.
Everyone versus the Island
The name of the game in the pilot of LOST, and, arguably, the entire series, is survival. Conflict comes from the natural issues that arise when you’re stranded on a weird island with 40-some-odd people you don’t know — injuries from the crash, culture clashes, conflicting personalities, sibling rivalries, lack of resources, and that ominous noise that keeps coming from the jungle.
Jack, Kate, and Charlie find the cockpit, and the pilot is miraculously still alive. He tells them that the plane’s radio went out during the flight, they were off course, and any rescue plane out there is looking for them in the wrong place.
During the hike to higher ground, something comes running at the group. Sawyer pulls out a gun and shoots… killing, of all things, a polar bear.
THE BIG MOMENT
The transceiver can’t send a signal because there is another outgoing message blocking it — a message that says: “It killed them all.” Sayid does the math and discovers that the message has been on repeat for 16 years.
“Guys, where are we?” (Charlie)
“Backgammon is the oldest game in the world. Archaeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old. That’s older than Jesus Christ.”
“Did they have dice?”
“Their dice were made of bones. Two players, two sides. One is light, one is dark.” (John Locke)
Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Charlie, Shannon, and Boone test the transceiver, which still doesn’t work because it’s blocked by another outgoing message on the same frequency. Shannon translates the ominous message from French, while Sayid figures out that the message is on a loop — and has been for 16 years.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
- Is Claire going to give birth on the island?
- What’s up with Jin and Sun?
- Will Walt find his dog, Vincent?
- What is that mysterious, noisy creature in the jungle that killed the pilot?
- How on Earth did a polar bear end up on this tropical island?
- When will the other survivors find out that Kate is the criminal?
- Who left the outgoing message?
- WHERE are they??
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.