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Writing for TV: The Young Pope Pilot

The young are always more extreme than the old, or at least that’s what used to describe Jude Law’s character, Pope Pius XIII, in the HBO series The Young Pope. This one-season show was brought to us by iconic filmmaker and screenwriter Paolo Sorrentino.

Sorrentino has been in the screenwriting world for a long time, and rightfully so. Sorrentino has a unique take on what it means to be a writer and filmmaker, most of which can’t be done by most writers and filmmakers.

Using The Young Pope as an example, there are many examples of why this one season story was such a cult classic since its release. People love intriguing and different kinds of stories, both of which are done through The Young Pope.

As subjective as the entertainment industry might be, it’s vital to understand why and how something like The Young Pope is so acclaimed as it is. Regardless of it’s short-run, it makes for fascinating discussion in how a television series is sold over one that’s not.

For another installment of Writing for TV, let’s discuss the details of The Young Pope’s script and, more specifically, how Paolo Sorrentino utilized his natural screenwriting abilities to the best of his strength. Let’s get started!

Photo credit: The Times

Visual Means

As great as a script might be, it’s nothing without the visual means tied to it once it’s executed. However, the visual means can’t be adequately done unless the script itself highlights what the visualness is supposed to be.

Obviously, it helps that Sorrentino directed The Young Pope as well as reading it. Still, the necessity for description in a script can’t be clearer. Still, it’s essential to note that a script should never read like a book, no matter how good of a writer you might seem.

For example, in The Young Pope, we see massive scenes filled with otherworldly clothing we’re not used to. As a result, the script heavily utilized the description of outfits and the size of crowds for the speeches from Pope Pius XIII, and countless other examples.

Commitment to Style

If someone were to tell you the key to any great script, whether it’s for television or film, they’ll let you know the importance of style. Having a dark drama set in a religious overtone is a difficult task in and of itself, but Sorrentino displayed a commitment to style.

We know who is evil and who isn’t as the story unfolds, but it stays committed to the script’s dark undertaking is telling us. As dark as the story gets, we know what we signed up for as an audience from the start.

It doesn’t waste our time with shifting moods or trying to play it safe. People will get offended by this story, and that’s part of the point. Great art is meant to cause controversy, no matter how considerable the controversy might be.


If you look at anything about Sorrentino, you’ll find one word to describe most of his work, and that word being audacity. The Young Pope is a result of a bold risk that ended up paying off. People tend to get sensitive to topics like religion, especially when it’s not necessarily a happy story.

However, since the story is intriguing and exciting as it plays out, people start to disassociate their religious beliefs with the incredible entertainment that is The Young Pope. Risks can pay off, especially in the script world.

Show Your Influences

Showing your influences is a great rule of thumb for screenwriters who want to develop their style. Of course, this doesn’t mean to show your influences to the point where it seems like you’re ripping them off.

Still, getting a decent amount of representation in who you’re inspired by in your script is an excellent example to include. With The Young Pope, we see hints of Italian Neorealism and surrealism, all depicted with a modern twist.

Constant Struggle

Conflict is what drives a story, and without it, there’s no sense of a story being told. From a script perspective, every scene should be filled with conflict to a certain extent. This doesn’t mean there needs to be intense fight scenes 24/7, but a healthy dose of conflict.

In The Young Page, we get an understanding of how conflict is continuously happening in the story. We see Pope Pius XIII have conflict with Sister Mary and countless other characters as the story unfolds. Not to mention Pope Pius XIII’s own personal conflict that begins to erupt later in the season.

Shocking the Audience is Useful if Done Right

Shock is only a useful tool in a story if done correctly. With The Young Pope in mind, a story like this needs to have a sense of shock since it’s such a surreal and dim tale. Evil is a strong point throughout the story, and all stories involving evil have a shocking element.


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