The Words on the Page

Big Little Lies

February 21, 2017

Big Little Lies

Written by David E. Kelley

Writer's Draft - August 2015

Drama, 56 pages

 

"Oh, calamity." - Chloe

 

I'm obviously a fan of David E. Kelley's work, and I was quite excited to get my hands on the Big Little Lies pilot. It is an adaptation of the book by Liane Moriarty, who I was surprised to see was not credited on (at least this version of) the script itself. I'd read and enjoyed the book, and I was looking forward to see how it would translate to the screen.

 

The script itself took me a couple of pages to get into. Kelley uses a lot of all-caps, frequently to denote important elements or camera directions. (Example: "GLIMPSES OF PEOPLE IN COSTUME") Because it is used so often, it pulled me out a bit, but only initially. Once I became more used to the style, my read became much faster. I think what I learned from this is that your reader can be "trained" to accept anything, as long as you are consistent within your script. Also, David E. Kelley is David E. Kelley. He has a proven track record and can do whatever he wants in his scripts. People will still fight over them.

 

This might have to do with this script being an early draft, not to mention its being an adaptation from a book that was highly cerebral, but many of the action lines weren't that visual. Some examples: "Madeline's ankle has been healed by adrenaline," or, more prominently, "And she can't help but wonder a bit. Could he have done it? Does anyone truly know their child? After all..." There was almost a poetic quality to this script, which is a quality that the gurus and books tend to warn away from. I think it captured the tone and could, if necessary, be adjusted to something more visual later in the process. After all, it is better to have an accurate placeholder than nothing at all.

 

On a similar note, the action lines I found most effective were ones that functioned as metaphors - "Lori looks back at this alien." What an effective way to convey that she thinks Madeline is nuts!

 

Although I am concentrating on the scripts themselves and how they are written, in this case I decided, after reading the script, to watch the aired pilot as well. There were definitely changes - Madeline's age, the age of the kids, having Abigail in the car that Madeline accosts at the top of the episode - but the overall tone matched, and the story was compelling. If I didn't know this was written by David. E. Kelley, I probably could have guessed. He has a distinct style and voice which, of course, is what every writer wants. And who wouldn't want his career?

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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