PSA: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Having a Banner Year

People like to root for the underdog. Our heroes are the rebellion raging against the empire. A small band of heroes taking on an army. It’s hard to tell a compelling story about the guys with all the power keeping down small threats.

That was the flaw in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season one.

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For the first 16 episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the team went on adventures to different parts of the world to deal with relatively unconnected missions. There was drama, but there wasn’t much of a sign that the show would become one cohesive whole.

Then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out. Now, when S.H.I.E.L.D. crossed over with Thor: The Dark World it really didn’t. Sure, there were Asgardians, but no element of the movie affected the show. But The Winter Soldier ended with S.H.I.E.L.D. being shut down because it had been taken over by HYDRA.

The stakes were raised, to say the least, and the show delivered a string of episodes that (mostly) brought the whole season together. It was an exciting time to be a fan of the show because the characters were turned into the underdogs. That’s a status quo the series has largely kept to for the following seasons.

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Season 2 ran with the S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hydra story, but knew that the super-spy series needed more super powers in it. The MCU couldn’t use mutants, so S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed the Inhumans. The back half of the season became about figuring out how they move forward with more superhumans running around than they knew of, and they’re all organized. Aside from almost forgetting to tie into Avengers: Age of Ultron, that season ended with terrigen crystals getting into the worldwide food supply and S.H.I.E.L.D. becoming the Inhumans police.

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Season 3 was a pretty good X-Men show with extra spy fun. Of course they spent the first half of the season fighting Hydra again, though this time led by their old friend Ward. They’re like cockroaches that Hydra, though they are up front about it. “Cut off one head, two more take its place” is the catchphrase after all. Plus they revealed that the jerk world security council member from The Avengers, the one that wanted to nuke New York City, was actually Hydra all along. So that’s fun!

The season took an odd turn when Hydra brought Hive, the Inhuman that Hydra’s been worshiping for centuries, to Earth. Maybe I prefer my Hydra to be Nazis and not ancient cults but I wasn’t a fan. Also they killed Ward. Ward! Either way, they beat the bad guy, a team member died, and we were treated to a time jump of several months. Which is how we come to season 4.

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You’re probably starting to figure out how this works now. Around season two the series started breaking its season into two wholly separate arcs. At that point this was probably necessitated by the long break Agent Carter forced into the series, but it also made the writers tell concise stories that were stronger for it. S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Inhumans, S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Ward, S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hive. But in season 4 they made this explicit by giving the series a fun subtitle for each arc. That first arc was Ghost Rider.This was the first time SHIELD could really get their hands on an iconic Marvel character and shape them as their own. Smartly, they chose to skip Johnny Blaze and instead introduce Robbie Reyes as their Ghost Rider. They told a simple revenge tale with extra magic fun, but they still kept that magic in the Marvel mold of, “this is all super science from a certain perspective.” Most important of all though, Ghost Rider looked great on a TV budget.tumblr_odu2p1ipkd1so8xfgo1_500But the Ghost Rider arc also happened at the same time as S.H.I.E.L.D. stepping out of the shadows and becoming a real US intelligence organization again. The fear was that S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t be underdogs anymore. Well the show solved that issue in the second arc of the season; LMD.shieldlmdWaaaay back in season 1, when the Hydra reveal happened, it was seismic because we didn’t know who we could trust anymore. We didn’t know who was Hydra and who was S.H.I.E.L.D. Now the show has managed to put the audience back in that head-space in a completely new way. First there was one LMD ( an android or Life Model Decoy), Aida, who appeared to go rogue. She was easy to fight because the team could identify her easily. But then the evil scientist who made the LMDs started copying members of the team. First Melinda May, and then four core team members at once to infiltrate the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. That episode aired last night and it was, no lie, one of the best the series has ever put out.

The team couldn’t trust anyone, leading to some great standoffs, Daisy had one of the best fights of her career–

–and LMD May had a crisis of faith over whether or not she’s truly alive. Then the whole thing ended with a small band of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the run. They are the underdogs once again, leading us into the the third arc for this season. Plugging their minds into the Framework, a matrix-like simulation of the world where their friends’ real minds are being stored.

This season has been killing it, turning in one consistently great episode after another, which is not something every superhero show can say. I am on record saying I would stop watching this show after season 3, but I am really glad I did not keep that promise.

I’ll leave you where the show left me, an introduction to the Framework:

-JP

PS, WARD! WARD! WARD!

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On Script Coverage

One of the strangest things about Hollywood is that the big decision makers in production, and agencies or management firms for that matter, will never be the first people to read your script. The first people you have to impress with your writing will almost always be a Development Intern. A college student (who probably wants to be a writer) who will read your script, write a synopsis and review of it, and pass that along to the Development Executive who will use that coverage, as its called, to decide if they should take the time to read the whole script on their own.

It makes sense to free up the executives time from reading scripts so they can worry about the other aspects of their job. What is frustrating is that some of these people reading your script are so new to the task that they are not adept at parsing out what is and is not good writing. I would know, I was one. I read both high level Hollywood scripts and low level For-TV scripts. I found most of them to be bad, but since then a couple have hit theaters and proven to be really good. It’s made me reassess how difficult reading a script an visualizing it in your head can be.

When you go to film school they teach you all about proper screenwriting format. But an odd truth is that there really aren’t any hard and fast rules to screenwriting format. As long as the reader can follow the action that’s perfect. They were teaching how to write a shooting script, which is not nearly the same as one built to be read. A shooting script is a meant to only convey movement and action, the rest is left up to the director and other crew members. The best scripts to read give you that movement and action, but also the tone of the piece and an idea of what everything looks like. They make sure you never get lost and can picture the movie in your head. It’s easy to get lost in a script.

I’ve read scripts where action is taking place in three different locations and, instead of using scene headings every time, they just use transition text. It saves space on the page and it creates less of a break for the reader. I’ve read scripts where a family has four children and, since they know you’ll forget which is which, the writer labels each with their age every time they show up on the page. It allows you to know these are the actions of a 9-year-old versus the actions of a 14-year-old. Sometimes a writer will even directly address the reader, break the fourth wall, even when they aren’t writing that kind of script because its the only way to convey what they want from that scene.

This is why its so nerve-wracking writing and submitting a script. You constantly wonder, did I present that scene well? It all makes sense in your head because you’ve been living in the script for so long that you cannot see it from an outsider’s perspective. Then you wonder, who’s reading the script? Is it an intern or someone a bit higher up? Will they understand what I’m trying to say here? Will they jive with the tone? Then, no matter who is reading your script, they’ll condense it into a one or two sentence logline, a quick summary, and their own opinion. Only then can your story potentially make its way to screen.

So throw out the rules and write a script they can’t stop reading. It can be easy to get bored, walk away, and come back having lost your place. Write a script that makes them laugh out loud. It’s easy to remember something that made you laugh since it so rarely happens on the page. Write a script that makes them want to see “that moment” on screen. It’s easy to recommend something you want to see done right.

Then keep on reading and writing, because the only way to get better at either is to continue doing both.

-JP

PS, Why does anyone choose to work in an industry this difficult? Why did I?

We Stand United

The day after election day I called my parents. I was distraught to say the least. It felt like the world was falling apart all around me and I needed the stability they could provide. My father told me that in one of the first elections he participated in, he voted against Richard Nixon. It was a way of letting me know that he’s been in a similar situation as myself and we all got through it okay. At the time it made me feel better, but these days I’m not so sure the comparison is accurate.

We are, as of this writing, 12 days into Trump’s America. Each day has brought with it a new piece of news that shocks me to my core, followed by a reaction to said news that restores my faith in humanity. A man speaks about uniting America at his inauguration, and the next day women, not just American but from all around the world, unite to protest against him and what he represents.

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The Women’s March will go down in history books at the largest global protest in history. A declaration that, though he may be in control, the President is in for a fight every step of the way. We haven’t stopped either, within two weeks there has been a second (and completely impromptu) protest at airports in regards to his executive order barring those from largely muslim countries from entering the country.

In the past, I’ve wondered what a Nazi rise to power would look like with modern technology. I don’t wonder anymore, I know it is impossible. Because of how information can travel and how the world has become globalized, he can’t silence everyone who stands against him. Hell the National Parks Service went rogue! There’s an old poem I’ve seen thrown around online a lot recently.

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– Martin Niemoeller

People have been using this poem about the rise of the Nazi party in relation to our own President’s autocratic interests, but it doesn’t quite track in modern day. In 1930s Germany people simply could not communicate in the way they do now. They didn’t speak out for the communists, trade unionists, and Jews because they didn’t know each other, their society didn’t bring them together. Today, the whole world is connected together, which means I don’t have to know a single Muslim personally to know that this is bad:

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And this is good:

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Before I saw these demonstrations I felt so powerless moving into this new era for our country. Yes, of course, call your senators and congressmen, but I live in California which is arguably the most blue state. I already know my representatives are going to fight for the rights of those that don’t have the safety of being a straight white man. Now I know that standing up for something, that saying something, can make a difference.

Still, I worry that my view is tinged from living in the bubble. I didn’t know the population of people willing to look past all of Trump’s flaws to elect him existed. I didn’t think any of this was possible. Now I have to actively look outside my echo chamber to see the world. There’s an excellent website called Blue Feed, Red Feed that shows side by side comparisons of democratic and republican Facebook feeds for a variety of stories that I recommend everyone looks at. I want us to stand united, all of us, which means we have to understand and educate both them and ourselves. Also the them vs us position isn’t exactly healthy. The most important thing is not to stand quietly and let this happen, because the more attention drawn to his deplorable actions, the more likely it is for someone across the aisle to look at those issues a bit more closely.

The irony of this is that I still put a lot of credit to the Bernie Sanders camp for all this. I might have said it before but a lot of people I knew who had written off our politics suddenly became involved when they saw him as a candidate who would stand for him. A lot of millennials who might not be paying attention today had they never heard of Bernie. Instead they are all drawing war paint across their faces and hunkering down for the next couple years.

“No. You move.” – Captain America

-JP

PS, apparently the President won’t be sending any of his people to speak with CNN anymore. I feel like I’ve entered Bizarro world. Look at this report from Jake Tapper:

The way they use clips in this is straight out of the Daily Show’s playbook!