Peter (hujhax) wrote,

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... wherein Peter tries writing an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode.

I tried writing an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..  It's called "Kill Code", and it's posted here.

So this might be the most pointless thing I've ever written -- "pointless" in the sense of "impractical".[1]  People write specs when they want to prove to gatekeepers that they know how to write television, and that's something I have little need to do.  And even if I *did* want to do that, specs are supposed to be *current*.  This story takes place in the first half of season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so the events of The Winter Soldier have rendered it instantly dated.  Meanwhile, fanfic writers *never* write spec scripts -- instead, they write prose stories set in the show's world.  This is so prevalent that fanfic writers actively avoid anything written in anything like screenplay format, because they know it'll be awful and amateurish.

So I've written something that's useless as a spec and equally useless as fanfic. :)

Instead, I wrote this to scratch an itch.  As y'all can probably tell from my writing *about* the show (1x01, 1x02-1x05, 1x06-1x08, 1x09-1x11, 1x12-1x14, 1x15-1x19, 1x20-1x22), I've always seen Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a show that just *misses* being a great show.  All the elements they need are there, but they never quite line up right.  This meant that, while I watched the show, I rewrote a lot of its dialog in my head.  Eventually my brain was churning out so much "alternate-universe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." that I figured hell, I might as well try writing an episode.

So I wrote "Kill Code".  It was fun to write, and it was good practice, and after five years (six years?) away from spec-writing, it was really pleasant to prove to *myself* that I still knew how to do it.

It was challenging, though.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a teaser, plus five acts, plus a stinger, and that's not easy at all.  You're hitting a cliffhanger roughly every six pages, and that gives an episode a kind of hyperventilating, scrambling feel.  You don't get room to breathe and let the characters just exist, or argue, or have feelings, and you spend a lot of screentime laying pipe to set up yet *another* terrifying reveal.  Sure, things move briskly, but how the hell do you keep your story from turning into a meaningless jumble of arbitrary plot moves?

Meanwhile, I learned to passionately hate the Bus.  In the first half of the season, the characters were usually on their giant airplane -- the show's standings sets were the plane's interiors.  The problem is, once the characters are on the Bus, it's damned hard to get them *off* the Bus.  If you want to move a character to a new setting, that trip has to be important enough to land the plane, dispatch them to wherever, and pick them up again.  Come to think of it, several episodes ("F.Z.Z.T.", "0-8-4") start *off* on the plane, move *to* the plane, and then never *leave* the plane.

And sweet jesus, the good guys are overpowered on this show.  Okay, they have scientists who can figure out anything, a hacker who can hack anything, and field agents who can kick anybody's ass.  Also, they have the complete resources of a worldwide spy agency at their disposal.  It's damned hard to gin up a villain that can *challenge* that level of competence.  I had to resort to "there is a force betraying S.H.I.E.L.D. from within", which is kind of the same answer that Marvel came up with.[2]

On balance, I feel proud of this spec.  The funny bits are funny, the exciting bits are exciting, and I like to think it has a good overall shape -- a constant mounting terror of "holy crap, we're out of our depth, crap crap crap".  It's been pointed out to me quite rightly that this script doesn't really go *beyond* the material in the show itself[3], and it falls a little bit into the "empty pile of plot moves" trap -- i.e., it doesn't really have a clear emotional through-line at its core.  So if I ever come back to this one, I know what to work on, and when I write scripts in the future, I know what pitfalls to look out for.

Anyway, time to kick this out of the way and start in on the next thing.


P.S. Thanks and kudos to Lindsey and Brooke for beta-reading the script and providing feedback.  w00t!

[1] "All art is quite useless." -- Oscar Wilde[1b]
[1b] "It's a sorry man who cannot invent an Oscar Wilde quote to fit his situation." -- Oscar Wilde
[2] This means I'm a genius, right?  Right?
[3] Ideally, a spec will explore some new facet of the characters, such that you never quite see them the same way afterwards.

Tags: screenwriting, writing

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