The Words on the Page

12 Monkeys

March 14, 2017

 

12 Monkeys

Written by Terry Matalas & Travis Fickett; Inspired by the film written by David Peoples & Janet Peoples

July 2013 draft

Sci-Fi/Drama Pilot, 62 pages

 

"Cole, who helped him destroy the world?" - Jones

 

I decided to check out the pilot of 12 Monkeys this week, the 2015 Syfy series based on the 1995 movie of the same name, after seeing the series mentioned in an article discussing the varying complexity of time travel shows. This series was rated as highly complex, so I wanted to see how it worked on the page. From what I could gleam, the series tells essentially the same story as the film, expect all of the years have been updated so it remains relevant for today's audience.

 

In the pilot script, at least three timelines are mentioned - 2015, 2017, and 2043 - and there is a lot of bouncing back and forth among them. Time travel, or, as they refer to it, splintering, is messy, seemingly taxing on the human body, and rather imprecise. In fact, I don't quite understand how it works. It seems it is pre-programmed in the 2043 timeline as Cole knows when he will be leaving, but he often ends up, in the earlier timelines, at a slightly different time or place than he expected. I hope the time travel is explained more in later episodes and, to be honest, I missed the presence of a fun time travel machine or device. At the same time, ending up somewhere you don't want to be raises the stakes and the personal risk to Cole as well as the risk to the mission overall, and I could see that coming into play more down the line.

 

The script itself is well written - three-dimensional characters, differences in everyone but Cole in each of the timelines (which makes sense), evidence of underlying secrets and backstory. I found myself wanting to know more about these characters, which is, after all, the main goal of a pilot launching a series. I'm curious how a film could be successfully expanded to support what will be a four-season television show.

 

Underlying, all-caps, and bold text were all used in this script. The bold had the biggest impact on me, and it was used fairly judiciously, usually to emphasize a countdown or other important details or to tell me we were seeing a flash of the future, which was exiting. Who doesn't want to see the future? There was one instance when both underline and bold was used. It was the description of a watch - "The same as hers." - and it highlighted an extremely important plot point. I felt the use of the varying types of emphasis really helped me catch important points in a highly complex script. At the end, I wasn't confused (other than, perhaps, about how, exactly, time travel works). I was able to follow the plot, and I was clear as to where the story was going next.

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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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