Writing for TV: Mindhunter Pilot
No matter the genre or specific storyline you have envisioned for a television script, realize you have a monumental task in front of you. This isn't to sway you from accomplishing the very dreams you sought out to achieve, but understand what you have to do.
On top of creating a script to the best of your ability, understanding what you can do better is crucial. Outside of just the basic necessities for creating a decent script, a television script needs to stand out from the rest.
Even if a script were to get the green light from a production company, it still has to get produced, budgeted, shot and directed, and eventually develop a big-enough audience to continue growing from just a pilot. Basically, it’s an exceedingly difficult goal to accomplish. However, tons of shows were able to become iconic and popular, so why can’t your script?
With this in mind, the best way to create a script to the best of your ability is by learning from other scripts. Mindhunter is a perfect example of a modern show that is original, exciting, and captivating. There's a reason the show has become as popular as it is, and learning from it is precisely what every scriptwriter should do. Let's take a quick look at the pilot of Mindhunter, and what makes it great.
Photo credit: Consequence of Sound
Antagonists Don’t Think They’re Evil
As you might've learned by now, the antagonists of scripts don't think what they're doing is evil. Even if they're the evilest person you can imagine, what they're doing is completely fine from their perspective. From their perspective, everyone else is at fault, except for themselves. Even in the first scene of the first episode, Cody Miller commits suicide as a result of thinking everyone around him is at fault, rather than himself.
The best scripts utilize the understanding of an evil character, someone who doesn't think of their actions as evil. Since Mindhunter is filled with genuinely evil characters, the script understands that evil characters aren't evil solely for being evil.
On the other hand, if you were to craft a script with evil characters who are evil for the pure sake of being evil, no one would find your story interesting. There needs to be an understanding of why they commit the actions they do. Otherwise, you’re left with a bunch of one-dimensional characters that are deemed useless.
Using What’s Popular
Part of the reason Mindhunter is so popular has to do with society's interest in serial killers around the same time. Countless documentaries and shows were being created to discuss the various detailed killings of serial killers. Most of us are utterly unknown to that world, which is why the subject became so mainstream.
With the subject of society's interest in serial killers in mind, the show was slightly easier to sell since it shares a lot of the same motifs people are already interested in. It's a lot easier to sell something everyone is talking about than a completely new idea.
This isn’t to take anything away from Mindhunter since it's such a fantastic show, but utilizing current events into your script is always a good idea. However, you should always be ahead of the curve when it comes to the mainstream. It becomes easily repetitive for script readers if every script features a similar story.
Appalling Details Compel Audiences
People have an odd fascination with society's darkest realities, and serial killers are one of them. Mindhunter takes the compelling nature of appalling details to the fullest. Although the most shocking moments of the story don't happen in Mindhunter’s pilot, the pilot still brushes upon the interest of appalling moments in the opening scene.
Opening up with the suicide of Cody Miller is a tone representation that, as an audience, we can expect to see in future episodes. Shocking the audience is sometimes useful, but giving them a taste of what to expect is ideal for television shows.
Since there are future episodes of the show that have an even deeper representation of appalling details, setting the audience up on what they can expect is always the right idea. Mindhunter doesn’t trick its audience into watching a show that isn’t what they expected. Meaning, the script clearly demonstrates what the show is all about during its opening scene.