Acclaimed TV-Dramatist and showrunner Colin Teevan shares six tips to help you write a killer opening to your drama pilot.

Sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative

Colin Teevan is a celebrated playwright and writer for screen, and is lead writer, showrunner and executive producer on Das Boot (Bavaria Fiction/Sky TV) seasons 2, 3 and 4, a reimagining of the 1981 classic West German war film set on a U-Boat. He is currently showrunning a show for Channel 4/NBC Universal/Playground, and his feature film Der Tiger for Amazon is in production. He has new series in development with Gaumont Germany and Windlight.

Colin is also the tutor of the new six-week online Writing TV Drama course from Curtis Brown Creative – the writing school affiliated to the major literary and talent agency.

The opening scene of your pilot is your contract with the viewer. In other words, it makes a promise to them about what they’ll be getting in this drama. It should hook us, give us a taste of what’s to come, make us feel excited and make us want to see more. Here are six essentials for your strong opening scene:

  1. Establish the genre of the drama. The Das Boot prologue, for example, makes it very clear that it’s a war drama.
  1. Tell us what kind of world the story takes place in. You’ll be establishing the setting and context, ready to blow it all apart by the end of the first episode.
  1. Introduce your protagonist. If they don’t appear in the teaser/opening scene, they should in any case appear very soon.
  1. Give us the stakes. The Das Boot prologue makes it clear just how high the stakes are in this story by showing us the U-Boat men’s (and our!) worst nightmare – to be locked in a metal tube, sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
  1. Establish tone. Season 3 of the drama series Fargo opens with a man being interrogated by a Stasi officer in East Berlin, and being accused of a murder that he clearly didn’t commit. What’s the point of this very ‘meta’ opening, which appears to have little to do with the story we’re following? Well, it establishes one idea – that potentially the devil came to town. And as the drama shifts far away, that’s the overriding sense that remains with the viewer – that the devil is coming to town.
  1. It must ask a question. In the case of a crime drama, you might be starting with the discovery of a body. The big question this asks is, who is the dead person? It’s in the unpicking of this question that the series story develops teaser/.

These tips come from the Writing TV Drama course materials. Enrolment is open now for this flexible online course – with exclusive teaching videos, notes and screenwriting tasks presented by Colin Teevan.

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