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.
Have you already written a great pilot script? Enter the ScreenCraft Pilot Launch TV Script Competition here.
In this series, we’ll break down the pilot episodes of both dramas and comedies, current and past, streaming and network.
This is the second breakdown of the series. The first was LOST.
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: The Duffer Brothers
- Genre: Drama (Sci-Fi)
- Pilot Run Time: 49 minutes
- Pilot Page Count: 61 (not including the appendices)
- Pilot Air Date: July 15, 2016
- Total Number of Episodes: 17
- Where You Can Watch It: Netflix
When a mysterious force causes the disappearance of Will Byers, his friends, family, and the chief of police set out to figure out what happened to him.
A-Story — The boys (Will, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas)
B-Story — Hopper and Joyce (and Jonathan)
C-Story — Eleven and the agents at Hawkins Lab
D-Story — Nancy and Steve
Thirteen — Mike Wheeler, Will Byers, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, Nancy Wheeler, Mrs. Wheeler, Joyce Byers, Jonathan Byers, Chief Jim Hopper, Barb, Steve Harrington, Eleven, Benny.
An additional character is seen, but not named — Martin Brenner. (Which balances out the overall number, since Benny dies before the pilot is over.)
Hawkins, Indiana (early 1980s) — A small, suburban town in the Midwest. Nothing ever really happens here, as evidenced by how Hopper handles his job. There are low-income and middle-class residents, but no one in the upper-class. Boys ride around town on bikes… after all, it’s the 80s.
A scientist runs for his life through the hallways of a lab, absolutely terrified. He makes it to the elevator, but is caught by some kind of monster before he can escape with his life.
This one’s a bit tough — it could be considered one of two things. The true inciting incident, the thing that really gets everything started, is the “Demigorgon” escaping Hawkins lab. But in terms of the story of Stranger Things, the inciting incident is Will’s disappearance.
Everyone versus The Unknown
When Will goes missing, it sets off a chain of events that spirals throughout the entire Hawkins community. Will’s friends — Mike, Dustin, and Lucas — and family want to figure out what happened to him, while Chief Hopper is dealing with the mysterious things happening in his town. The conflict at the core of the show is between everyone and the unknown.
Chief Hopper talks to Mike, Dustin, and Lucas about Will’s disappearance. He tells them that they should go home immediately after school, which in turn raises the boys’ suspicion about what’s really going on.
Secret government agents posing as social services arrive at the diner. When they shoot Benny, Eleven kills some of the agents and runs off into the night.
THE BIG MOMENT
Joyce and Jonathan are going through family photos in order to find a good headshot of Will for missing flyers when the phone rings. Joyce rushes to answer, but whoever is on the other end doesn’t say anything. She screams frantically, thinking that it’s Will. The phone shocks her and fizzles out, dead.
“Will could have cast protection last night… but he didn’t. He cast fireball. My point is… he could’ve played it safe… but he didn’t. He put himself in danger to help the party.” (Mike)
“Something is coming. Something hungry for blood. A shadow grows on the wall behind you, swallowing you in darkness. It is almost here.” (Mike)
Mike, Lucas, and Dustin argue while searching for Will in the woods in the pouring down rain. They hear something and freeze… and turn to see Eleven.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
- Who is Eleven? What happened to her? What will the boys do now that they found her?
- Where is Will? Will Joyce, Hopper, and the boys find him?
- What is really going on at that laboratory?
- Who was on the other end of the call that Joyce answered?
- Are Nancy and Steve going to hook up?
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.