“All women in Hollywood are known as sex symbols. You’re sold, and it’s based on sex. That’s O.K., if you know how to use it … I’ve learned that being a celebrity is like being a sacrificial lamb. At some point, no matter how high the pedestal that they put you on, they’re going to tear you down. And I created a character as an offering for the sacrifice.”
In one of the best ever episodes of HBO’s Entourage, movie star Vincent Chase, on the hunt for a new agent, is subjected to a series of presentations in which each agency in turn promises that he will be not just a star, but a brand:
Now, I’ve never seen a Transformers movie. And I haven’t yet seen Jennifer’s Body, which opens in the UK this week after a disappointing run in the US. But I can’t help knowing who Megan Fox is, because she’s everywhere. And if you ever doubted the accuracy of Entourage’s portrayal, check out this New York Times piece, which is one of the most candid (and paradoxically concealing) accounts ever given of what it’s like to live in the eye of the media storm.
The director Mike Figgis tells the story of how he once arrived at LAX and was asked the reason for his visit. “I’ve come to shoot a pilot,” he explained, and was promptly hauled off for questioning. But creating a successful pilot episode is one of the trickiest jobs in television. You have to set up the idea of the show, introduce the major characters, tell a sample story and leave the viewers wanting more, all in one episode. The best pilots are unforgettable, like the ripple of grief as news of Laura Palmer’s death spreads through Twin Peaks; the worst feel clunky and awkward, as characters introduce themselves to one another and the set-up is explained. Comedy is particularly hard, as so much of the humour comes from our existing knowledge of the characters; the pilot of Friends is notoriously unfunny for a show that would then run for a decade, and still plays approximately 28 hours a day on E4.
So what are the secrets to a successful pilot? Fortunately for us there’s now a fine selection of pilot screenplays available to study right here, including The West Wing, Twin Peaks and the famously awful US remake of Spaced. There’s also the first episode of Entourage, which is a virtual masterclass in character description:
NB. These screenplays come from several different sources, and some of the links are broken; the pilot of Bonekickers, for example, is no longer available, presumably to spare anyone’s embarrassment …