Writing for TV: Dark Pilot
Though there are plenty of excellent television series worldwide, that is a tiny percentage amongst the sheer volume of television pilot scripts written. Multiply that number even more by how many people aspire to be a screenwriter. Thankfully, there are plenty of great television series to analyze for inspiration, with Dark being one of the science fiction shows in recent memory.
Co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, Dark is a German science fiction thriller television series that lasted three seasons from 2017 to 2020. The show received critical acclaim and praise for its tone, visuals, acting, score, and ambition, making it a perfect television series to analyze as a writer.
Still from 'Dark'. Photo credit: The Movie Culture
From the jump, Dark is a show with a slew of characters. Even if you dislike shows with so many various plot points, Dark does an excellent job of juggling these characters. From the start, we’re introduced to the Kahnwald family, the students at the school, their parents, and teachers.
Many of these characters are connected closer than they realize, such as Ulrich Nielsen’s affair with Jonas's mother. Like any town, there’s more to each person than what meets the surface. Many of these characters intertwined with one another, whether it’s a previous relationship, a family member’s relationship, or something else.
It’s a writing lesson that demonstrates the necessity of character arcs. None of the characters presented in episode one are saints. Every character has flaws, even the ones that seem like good people. It’s a realistic portrayal of individuals and is probably the primary reason why the show is so successful.
Furthermore, it’s interesting how the show develops these characters, even in the initial pilot. As an audience, we’re confronted with how to view these characters, only for the story to develop and change our viewpoint because of the show’s progress. In the end, a show isn’t successful without exciting characters, and Dark does that from the start.
The genius of Dark is primarily centered on its ability to combine genres. Even from the start, it doesn’t feel like a traditional sci-fi show, without hinting at sci-fi until episode one’s ending. On the surface, the show is a mystery thriller about pursuing the truth in the aftermath of a child's disappearance.
What’s revealed in future episodes is entirely unpredictable and is a big reason why the show is as acclaimed as it is. However, what’s important to note is Dark’s ability to combine these genres easily. The two work so well together without feeling strange whenever it changes tones or goes deeper in one genre over the other.
As a note, look at Dark’s episode one to see how it introduces the story without going too deep into the sci-fi world. It sets-up the future episodes, causing the audience to want more. The notion of wanting more is essential to any excellent television script, and dark more than delivers in that respect.
A Visual Delight
If there’s one thing that needs more discussion within the screenwriting world, it’s visuals. No one talks about visuals in writing since they don’t think of it as a part of writing. Sometimes, classes might only chalk it up for the director and cinematographer rather than an essential step in the writing process.
Dark is drenched in excellent visuals throughout, adding a deep sense of fear and dread for the audience. It provides atmospheric substance to the story, allowing us to entrench ourselves within the story. Thus, it’s vital to know about visual descriptions within screenwriting and how to add that flare to your script.
Wondering What’s to Come
Trying to explain the premise of Dark is nearly impossible. An article like this is straightforward enough since we’re focusing on the pilot. Nevertheless, the show’s complexity works with its ability to cause the audience to wonder what’s to come. As mentioned earlier, every great show has that wonder where the person watching wants to tune in to the next episode.
All of that about the show leading the audience is thanks to its brilliant writing. The ending of episode one leaves us wondering what the hooded figure is that’s strapping Erik to a chair. There’s so much to dissect and answer; no wonder the show got approved for three seasons to explore this world.
Though the philosophical themes don’t come into later episodes, Dark is all about diving into various philosophies to boggle your mind and beliefs. Putting the family drama and time traveling, an entire array of philosophies showcase the brilliance of putting a central theme question to your story.
That question or theme point doesn’t need an exploration right away in your story, though it should be thought out early on. In that way, while you’re pitching your script, you can raise those questions if the producer, agent, or studio interested asks. In Dark’s case, there are questions of fate, destiny, and choice.