I decided to take a look at the pilot script for “From” currently airing on EPIX. We don’t review a lot of pilot scripts here (more on that later) so it felt like a good one to look at as the show seems to slowly becoming a “water cooler” item.
Here’s the general description on IMDb:
“Unravel the mystery of a city in Central America that imprisons everyone who enters. As the residents struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy and seek a way out, they must also survive the threats of the surrounding forest.”
When I first read the synopsis for this series, it reminded me of the 2018 Fresh Blood script,, “Small Town Murder Mystery,” as far as a town you can’t leave. I read that back when the list came out, and while it was not nearly as professional as this, I thought it had promise and would have read more episodes. This also has echoes of “Wayward Pines.” I never saw the second season of Pines as I heard it was no good, but I read the original book and watched the first season and enjoyed them both.
The creator of the show, John Griffin, doesn’t have much history on IMDb – though he is apparently writing a “Magic: The Gathering” TV show; however, one of the producers, Jack Bender, has a long history in TV, notably with some Stephen King adaptations and, most importantly, “Lost.”
While I will admit to not loving how “Lost” ended its run, I did enjoy it and this feels a lot like that show. Whether or not it can end with better answers isn’t something we are going to figure out right now…
The “Lost” comparisons are inevitable at this point though since the show is spearheaded by Harold Perrineau, who was a regular on “Lost.”
Of random interest, this pilot script states two of the Executive Producers are Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, who are credited as the writers for “MI: Ghost Protocol.” (Side Note: Will “MI: 7” ever actually get released LOL?)
Anyways, besides my annoyance at the continual delays with “MI: 7”, let’s see how this pilot did with making us want to read on. As mentioned earlier, we don’t review much TV here, and that’s OK. Reviewing a feature script does allow us to talk about the craft of writing in more certain terms.
For example, the concept of set-ups and payoffs. In a feature script, it’s fairly easy to say one way or the other that the writer set up things and paid them off later in the script. And we preach that for a reason, as it’s important! Don’t set something up you’re not going to payoff later. We have to satisfy the audience.
But, it’s definitely more difficult when judging a pilot…
We know, for the most part, we are not going to see any payoff right away. It’s a long con – things must be set up of course, keeping us coming back to the next episode, but there is no need to pay them off yet. That comes later – assuming we as the writer even know what the payoff is…
To me, this almost makes pilots harder than a feature script. Yes, you can get away with setting up a mystery and not coming full circle for the time being, but now you are locked in where at some point, you are going to have to give the audience an answer (yea I know sometimes the writers still just say “whatever” lol). But either way, you are expected to give an answer at some point, though if the show is popular you can tease that out for a long time a la “Lost.”
Whether or not “From” can manage the balancing act that “Lost” did remains to be seen, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the pilot script, which I will say upfront I really enjoyed.
In a pilot, we usually have a teaser, which certainly appears in features, but not nearly as often. This script has a teaser I loved, even though it’s clear where it got its influences. It shows us brief snippets of the town, but nothing that would show or tell us what is going on. Something is clearly “off” here, but we’re not sure what it is. We eventually see a mother and daughter in this town – what town? We have no idea – and it really doesn’t feel that unusual other than – again – a pervasive sense of “wrongness.” Once we get to the old woman outside the window, the shades of “’Salem’s Lot” are impossible to ignore. But hey, if you’re gonna rip off a scene, might as well use one of the scenes most recall from the original “’Salem’s Lot” miniseries. It’s a little dated today, but the window scene holds up, as does the vampire makeup. I believe they are in the middle of filming a remake right now, with William Sadler as the head vampire… I’m in!
Diving a bit further into the teaser, I liked how it sets up the town. I’m not one for purple prose or flashy description (unless it’s Tarantino or Shane Black), but I I’m also not sure I love the new style of keeping description blocks at one line as they shoot down the page – feels a little scattershot to me. Just tell me what’s going on in clear, simple terms. Use one line or four lines, just accurately describe everything. This did.
Some examples as we are introduced to the town:
A small, quiet town in middle America. At first glance, it
doesn’t seem much different from any other small town you
might encounter on a trip across the heartland.
A number of cars are parked along the side of the street,
yet all the driveways are empty.
There’s no one outside.
On closer inspection, ALL THE CARS HAVE FLAT TIRES.
This is enough to give me an idea of the town while also letting me know things just aren’t… right. We are then shown Sheriff Boyd Stevens (Perrineau) walking down the center of town, for some reason keeping an eye on the setting sun and all the homes lining the street. We see Deputy Nguyen playing chess with his father until a medic, Kristi, comes and says it’s “time to go down to the basement.” Stevens continues to walk around town as he meets up with Deputy Nguyen, who says “Cutting it kinda close, aren’t you, Sheriff?” An intriguing line, though we have no idea yet what it means.
We move on to Frank, who is drunk in a bar. As Frank lies passed out, we get this from the bartender:
Come on Frank, gotta get home. It’s
getting dark out. Frank!
Fuck it. Lauren’s gonna kill you.
He slides a crowbar into the handles of the HEAVY WOODEN
DOORS, locking both he and Frank inside the bar.
Even with the crowbar in place, the Bartender still checks
the TALISMAN to make sure it’s secure.
Why is the bartender locking the door with a crowbar? What is the talisman? No idea, but I’d like to know so I keep reading.
We then move on to a young girl, Meagan, and her mother Lauren. I really liked this scene, so I’m gonna paste a bit more than I usually would. Meagan is hearing taps at her second-story window, and while it seems to be clear she knows she should not go over to the window, she can’t help herself, even as Lauren finds herself arriving too late…
She opens the shutters to reveal –
A KIND LOOKING OLD WOMAN, staring in the window. Her clothes
and hair are matted, filthy, covered in dirt. Her lips are
smiling, but her eyes seem vacant.
Let me in.
The Old Woman’s lips don’t move. Meagan stares at her,
entranced by the DISEMBODIED WHISPER, her hand slowly reaching
for the window latch when –
Lauren stands in the doorway, speaking very slowly, trying
to control the panic in her voice at the sight of Meagan’s
hand on the window latch.
Sweetie, you know the rules. You
know what they’ll do.
Lauren starts moving very slowly towards her daughter, the
smile on the Old Woman’s face growing warmer, kinder, the
vacant eyes focused on Meagan.
Let me in.
Baby, please, just –
Meagan’s hand starts to turn the latch.
But it’s too late! The latch springs open! We barely catch
a glimpse of the Kind Old Woman’s face as it MORPHS into
something HORRIFYING AND DEMONIC!
It lunges at the window,
crashing through the glass as we –
CUT TO BLACK.
Besides thinking of “’Salem’s Lot,” I thought this entire teaser really set up multiple questions I’d like to see answered. And yes, once we get back from the teaser both mother and daughter are clearly – and graphically – dead.
Since this review seems to be going longer than I initially planned, I will try and not go off on any tangents from now on (LOL) and just discuss what I thought the pilot did well, as I do believe it’s one of the better pilots I’ve read recently – even though that still doesn’t mean the ultimate destination is worth it if things have not been planned out properly.
We now go outside of town and meet the Matthews family, consisting of Jim (the father), Tabitha (the mother) and their two kids Julie (16) and Ethan (9). They are setting up a road trip, though it’s made clear there are tensions running through the family, even if we are unsure yet of the specifics.
Seeing as this review is going on longer than I anticipated, I will just briefly summarize the rest of the script and then discuss my overall thoughts.
The Matthews family ends up finding a downed tree over a backroad they are taking. As they try and find another way to continue their journey, they end up driving through the town. The first time they go through, they stop at a funeral (for Meagan and Lauren), and ask the sheriff for directions. It’s clear the sheriff, seeing them drive in, already knows something they don’t. But he dutifully gives them directions out of town, directions that lead them to constantly driving in a loop and showing back up in the town.
As the family starts to realize they are going in circles, they almost run headfirst into another car, and their camper flips over and drives off the road.
Sheriff Stevens along with some other town members end up saving the Matthews family, while also trying to introduce them to the concept that they are both stuck in the town now, and if they don’t follow the rules (mainly being inside and locked down by sunset) they will die.
The pilot also sets up that there is another faction in town, who live at what is termed the “Colony House,” and that while they follow the same general rules of survival, they don’t necessarily agree with how Sheriff Stevens is running things. This feels a bit reminiscent of “the others” from “Lost,” even if they’re not quite as mysterious.
The pilot ends with a few of the characters trapped in the overturned camper, and the night has fallen. The monsters are on their way – whatever they are.
So, I’m having trouble with coming up much to criticize here, and some of that goes back to the basic nature of a pilot script like this.
The writing is efficient, the description is sound. Multiple mysteries/questions are set up to keep us wondering, and again there is no requirement to pay anything off yet since we need the audience coming back for multiple episodes and/or seasons…
What I would like to do, but just don’t have the time right now, is to go back and re-read “Small Town Murder Mystery” and compare it to this, since I distinctly recall liking that one but also recognizing an amateur. I didn’t have that feeling here. If I get a chance in the near future I may revisit that one and compare it to this just to figure out why I felt that back then, but do not have that feeling here. In my defense, it was over three years ago I read the other one, so please forgive me for not recalling specifics at this time.
I am going to rate this one a READ IT.
It does what I believe a pilot for this type of show should be doing:
- It sets up an interesting world that we would like to know more about
- The description is pretty economical but does a fine job painting a picture
- Dialogue is fine, not flashy, and exposition feels mostly organic to the story being set up
- It makes us want to know more, so we would keep reading or watching
Final note on this review – I had it mostly completed and experienced a major computer issue, and even though I had saved it, it was lost along with another recent file. So I started from scratch, and this kind of contributed to a more stream-of-consciousness typing.
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