By Maria Gkika,
In more ways than one, making a TV series can be more challenging than making a film. The differences in budget, the available time for production, and the amount of content is obvious. What I find most interesting though is the difference in the ways that films and TV shows illustrate their storytelling. A film has a certain length, usually around two hours (though as the years go by the productions tend to become longer and longer), while series have multiple episodes. This difference plays a huge part in how the screenplays are written.
As a fan of both series and films, I always liked to notice the changes between movie and series screenplay structure, because the structure is the most essential part of a well-crafted plot without any holes. It is said that in order to make a good series, each episode must be considered as a small movie on its own with an intro, middle, and ending; while it still connects with the other episodes and the overall story. Every episode is integral to the plot but two types of episodes are the most important, one is the finale and the other, is the series premiere. Often originating as a pilot, the premiere episode is a first introduction to the new series that aims to make the audience get hooked and gives an idea of what is to come next. Non-satisfactory first episodes are the major reason the audience decides against continuing with watching; on the contrary, a strong premier greatly boosts viewers’ interest.
So while a sole cook does not bring spring, the start is almost everything and that is the case with the first episode of Ozark. By show runners Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, Ozark is a dark drama series about a dysfunctional family from Chicago that moves to the Ozarks after the father gets tangled up in a murky business deal with a dangerous man. Eventually, the father’s criminal activities affect everyone while hidden truths are revealed.
From the first scene of the episode titled “Sugarwood”, we enter a world of mystery and the voice-over prepares us for a story about money, crime, and difficult decisions. As the act progresses, we come to see that everyone has secrets that move forward the story and change the outcome repeatedly. Marty (Jason Bateman) is a seemingly workaholic financial planner bored with his life and especially his meek housewife Wendy (Laura Linney). Eventually, though it is clear that nothing is as we thought. Marty’s high profile is not what it looks like, Wendy is not really what she appears and Marty’s friend Bruce also hides a serious secret.
All in all, Ozark is a dark, slow-paced drama series that wants to introduce you to the characters in depth and to set up the plot first, to prepare the audience for the chaos that follows. This pilot episode has everything, the plot twists, the action, and the secrets are keeping the viewers at the edge of their seats and waiting for more. All basic characters are seamlessly introduced and the requiring theme of secrets makes the viewer expect that many more will be revealed about them. The direction is captivating too. It creates an atmosphere that keeps us in a state of constant suspense and alertness. In fact, Jason Bateman has also taken on the role of director for some episodes. Finally, the excellent cinematography and amazing performances by renowned actors leave no doubt that this is a series that aims for quality on all levels. This episode is indeed like a small movie.
- Series Premiere, en.wikipedia.org, Available here
- Ozark pt 1: Theme, Engine, and Secondary Structure, writeyourscreenplay.com, Available here