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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Opening with Jekyll

Look at this opening five minutes from the BBC miniseries Jekyll.

It’s is a marvelous, entertaining five minutes of television and it’s nearly all exposition. This scene is a real text book case for aspiring writers, especially those in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, on how to give information while at the same time creating drama and entertainment.

The writer here was faced a number of challenges. He had to introduce two main characters, well THREE main characters really. He has to spell out the main concept and the conflict both of which are a little complicated. To recap, a modern day man who is the descendant of the real Dr. Jekyll has a split personality and can transform into a superhuman Mr. Hyde. He hires a psychologist to help him monitor his Hyde persona and he is giving her the details of the uneasy truce they live under. He has to establish the main character of Tom Jackman, the supporting character of Catherine and, although he doesn’t actually appear in this scene, the character of Mr. Hyde.

The writer doesn’t do anything fancy. He just lays it all out and we’re on our way. What he does a great job of is creating a dramatic circumstance which makes it necessary for Jackman to recap all this information. He’s hiring a new assistant and needs to get her up to speed. This isn’t any ordinary job interview. There’s a real chance Hyde might kill her. He also he creates a real sense of dread about the character of Mr. Hyde. That chair with the straps (a terrific opening image) creates a sense of unease. How could all these precautions be necessary?

That chair isn’t just a great image, but it spells out clearly the main conflict of the show, the struggle between Jackman and Hyde. This is something new writers should really study. You’ll progress a lot faster if you practice this kind of visual shorthand in your scripts.

Finally what really makes this scene is that Stefan Moffat really takes the time to get inside his characters and really write from his perspective. Jackman is worried but at the same time this is all routine for him. Catherine is amused and mildly flirtatious. There’s a hint of attraction between these two, making this more personal and not such a dry emotionless scene. These are probably two of the duller characters in the story yet their scene here is riveting.

Then Moffat follows up with this next five minutes.

Perfect delivery of the promise. We meet Hyde and he’s even more awesome than we were lead to believe. And just when we thought we had her down, Catherine reveals she might have another agenda. Really your goal in the first ten pages is to blow the reader away. If this were in a contest I honestly wouldn’t read past the first ten pages. Automatic to the next round. If I were reading for a company this would go to the top of my “read thoroughly” pile.


  1. Does anyone know where I can get the scripts for this show online? I've looked, with no luck. I want to have it as the focus of a series analysis assignment for TV writing class.

  2. -ing-

    Try these two sites

    Got them from twitters buddies @bourbonroad and @pennysmyrl

  3. "I honestly wouldn’t read past the first ten pages."

    Don't you mean you WOULD read past the first ten pages???

  4. No Joanne I meant what I said. The first ten pages being this good, I'd automatically put this one in the next round of a contest.

    Working for a prod co is different since I'd have to give a detailed analysis. But in contests it's usually upwards on onwards to the next level of judging.


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