Two Minutes & Fifty-Nine Seconds Is All You Need
We all understand what it means to say that the beginning of a movie is the promise of the end. JAWS opens with a shark eating a woman swimming in the ocean. It ends with our heroes killing the shark. BACK TO THE FUTURE starts with the school principal telling a chronically late Marty arriving at school that “no McFly ever amounted to nothing.” In the end, Marty helps all the McFly’s amount to something. Most RomComs start with a character unlucky in their quest for love. By the end, love has conquered all.
Set up. Pay off. The hook gives the movie a narrative purpose. The promise of the end. Movies are close ended. We set up a problem and by the end of the movie the problem is solved.
But what about TV? Just like a movie, in a pilot we need to hook the audience as quickly as possible. Establish the promise. But is it a promise of the end, or a promise of what the show is or will be?
Unless it’s a limited series, the goal of most pilots is to set the groundwork for a show that will run for years. Before the advent of streaming services, the goal for producers of a network show was to have it run for at least 100 episodes. Then those episodes could be sold into syndication (reruns on local stations, basic cable and now even streaming services). It is reported that both Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld have made $1 BILLION DOLLARS EACH from the sale of syndication rights to the SEINFELD catalogue.
What is your show and when should you define it for the audience? The answer…as quickly as possible.
And in two minutes and fifty five seconds the pilot for MYTHIC QUEST (AppleTV+) does just that.
MYTHIC QUEST (created by Charlie Day, Megan Ganz and Rob McElhenney) is a workplace comedy set in the world of a computer gaming company. This company, created by the egomaniac Ian Grimm (expertly played by McElhenney), has created the most successful MMORPG in the world, aptly titled MYTHIC QUEST.
The opening image of the pilot is actual gaming footage from the game accompanied by a voice over proclaiming “What is Mythic Quest?” What we see for the next two minutes and fifty five seconds is a documentary style intro to the world of the game, the show and its characters.
Stakes are set (it’s the most played game in the world); goals established (they are about to release an expansion pack – Raven’s Banquet); the main characters are introduced and the roles they play in the company. We end by coming out of the “documentary footage” to discover the main characters watching the footage which is actually a commercial for the game. Character dynamics are established through a quick exchange about the content of the commercial and the fact that it’s not only a commercial for the game, but also a “commercial” celebrating Ian and suggesting he’s bigger than Speilberg and other famous filmmakers. The head writer of the game proclaims “I think it’s brilliant.”
And brilliant, yes, it is.