First off, thank you for agreeing to join the writing team for Forgotten District.
It is definitely very much appreciated.
Below, please find information on the show and what I envision the writer’s room to look like. This should provide you a general overview of my expectations for the show. Feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns.
Thanks again and happy reading/viewing!
The World of Forgotten District
For pacing, think of the majority of the dialogue being fast paced. It should move and be snappy. But the beats in the dialogue let it marinate. A good example for pacing could be found in the opening sequence for Newsroom (see below). When Jeff Bridges gets started on why American isn’t the greatest nation, it moves. And then he takes his time and lets the pauses work for him. Those beats were in the script. His performance was amazing, but the script gave him the blueprint for the delivery.
Below are videos of some of the scenes from an old version of the pilot. These are not the actors that will be playing the roles, but they do provide a glimpse into how the scenes could play.
Here are a sampling of questions I’ve been asked, suggestions that I should provide, and additional information I thought might be useful.
How many people are in the writer’s room?
So far there are nine of us. I may add a couple of additional writers (just in case some have to drop out for any reason or in case some of the less seasoned writers prefer to co-write an episode).
How many episodes will be in the first season?
What are your expectations for the initial meeting?
Ideally everyone will have read through the pilot script a couple of times for familiarity. Several of you have already given me great notes and I plan to incorporate several of the suggestions in the next draft of the pilot. If there are additional notes for the pilot, feel free to send them to me or give them to me during the meeting.
After quick introductions, I’d like everyone to be prepared to give a 5-10 minute pitch on where they see the series. Be as outlandish as you want. There are no wrong answers. Obviously, there will be some generalities and there will probably be some overlapping of ideas, but that’s fine. During your 5-10 minutes, I’d love if you spent a minute or two on what you see happening in episode 2. Be specific. Take creative liberties. And if you could spend the last 30 seconds or so telling us how you see the season ending, that would be great.
Can the characters curse?
Of course they fuckin’ can! But it shouldn’t be excessive. The majority of characters won’t curse because it’s not necessary and that’s not who they are. But if the cursing enhances the scene then curse on!
Is there sex or nudity?
Sex will be implied and bedroom scenes may exist, but this isn’t 50 Shades. I can’t think of any potential storyline that would call for actual nudity.
Can we use the “n” word?
No. I debated even using it in the pilot but, for whatever reason, it just felt right for Congressman Crews. That being said, my goal is for it to be said in that one episode and never again.
Are we killing off characters?
No main characters will be killed off in the first season. I’m not opposed to the death of a secondary character. I’ve got a great hospital to use as a location, so brainstorm away.
How do you feel about non-linear storytelling?
I am not opposed to non-linear storytelling if it serves a purpose. I think that Cole will continue to have flashbacks. Maybe even an occasional whole scene, if it fits the episode. But for the most part, we are living in the present. I’ve always envisioned that towards the latter stages of the season, after the world has been established, there could be a Rashomon episode that deals with a significant issue and looks at things from Cole’s, Miles, Jasmine’s, and Iggy’s differing viewpoints. For the first season, I don’t foresee any character spotlight episodes, though different characters will have bigger roles for different episodes. Let’s keep it linear and keep it moving forward. We’ll deal with spotlight character episodes in season 2. 😁
Are Miles and Jasmine going to get together?
Not in season 1. But there will always be that undercurrent. Jasmine doesn’t want to ruin their friendship and Miles still doesn’t possess the confidence to tell her what he wants.
Can we utilize exotic locations outside of DC?
No. My goal is to actually film these 10 episodes once they are completed. So, unless one of you is independently wealthy and wants to EP, or has a benefactor who really wants to see your name in the “written by” title card, we will keep the locations to DC/MD/VA specific locations. Or at least locations that can be substituted in this general area (for example Cole’s battle scenes).
This brings me to the issue of script locations. Be realistic with the locations. Offices, restaurants/diners, houses, apartments, hospitals, TV Studios, outside areas…great! A chase scene through the middle of Pentagon City (a local mall across from the Pentagon), not so good. Scenes with 1-15 extras…good. Scenes where we frequently need 50-100 extras, not so good.
This isn’t necessarily The West Wing where the White House is essentially another character, but we should think of utilizing a set of five or six locations that are essential to the story and frequently reused, if possible. Obviously, Cole’s campaign headquarters, tent city (where he initially lives), the Three Musketeers’ (Miles, Jasmine, and Iggy’s) house, the Mayor’s office, and the TV studio are livable locations for us. And in addition, the streets of DC will serve as a good backdrop. And not just the tourist attractions of the Lincoln Memorial, MLK Memorial, reflecting pool, etc., but also the underground DC locations. A whole in the wall diner that is on the border of DC and MD (White Corner). Frederick Douglass’ home (best view in all of DC). The projects in Anacostia which are one of the only areas in DC that hasn’t been truly gentrified. The multi-million dollar homes in AU Park. The area surrounding Howard University. Georgetown, which was predominantly Black in the 40s and 50s but through discriminatory laws and policies, 97% of the Black population moved out (though the churches in Georgetown are still significantly Black Baptist). These are just a few of the areas that Cole and The Three Musketeers will have to campaign.
Can we have the characters undergo physical changes in the scenes?
Yes and no. Again, this is something I intend to film. And while normal TV shows shoot an episode each week, we will not be taking that tact. The reason we will not start filming until the entirety of the season is written is because we will break down the script by location for filming purposes. So, if we are going to be in the campaign headquarters in episodes three through ten, then we will schedule those scenes over the course of several consecutive days (or however much time is needed). So other than Cole, who goes from gruff to slightly more polished between episode one and two, everyone should keep the same physical look (hairstyle/MU) throughout to make it simpler for hair/mu.
Have you written any other episodes of FD?
Yes. I have a completed episode two and have outlines for three and four done.
Will you share them?
Maybe after the first meeting. Part of my desire in establishing the writer’s room is because I truly believe in the collaborative process.
A little backstory: I wrote FD on a lark. I had a Zoom general meeting with a Sr. VP at FX last July who loved one of my scripts. He asked if I was working on anything else and the truth was that I have a bunch of features, but the pilots I had weren’t FX’s style. I mentioned that I was working on the idea of a homeless veteran being drafted to run for office and he sparked to it. The truth was that I had written the first three pages of that story in 2006 and hadn’t looked at it again until the previous week while going through some old files. But he said he’d love to take a look at it when it was finished. I told him it was close and started outlining that day. The original three pages never made it into the new version. Between outlining and writing it, I was able to get a draft that is very similar to what you all have read into his hands in six days (the only difference is that I condensed some of the dialogue in your version). I chatted with him a dozen times over the next nine months and it was always on his list to read, but because he was overseeing the restart of shooting for the network, it kept getting pushed back, but he told me to keep following up. After two months of no response from him, I gave it one last chance and sent him a follow-up email. He responded minutes later and told me that it was a good concept, but the execution was lacking and that I should send him my next work. Nine months and I got one line of notes. LOL. Needless to say, my ego wouldn’t allow me to believe that he even read it. But maybe he did and just didn’t like it. Who knows? Regardless, it got me to the point that I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had actors I know who have each been on long-running network shows read through the script and the feedback was the same…very positive. Not being sure if my friends were biased, though I’m not typically a fan of services like the Blacklist, I even got two reviews done there and the reviews were excellent.
The big takeaway I took from everyone who reviewed is that there were notes that I was given that will make the pilot better than it currently is. As I mentioned before, several of you also gave notes that will enhance not only the pilot but the season, as well. This brings me back to whether I will share episode two and my further outlines. And the answer is…we’ll see. I want to see what this amazing group of minds is able to come up with together. I’m pretty certain based on what I’ve read or heard from each of you that the collective will far surpass my individual efforts.
What influenced you in writing FD?
I was influenced by several things.
First, my Dad was a veteran. He went to the VA multiple times a year over the course of several years with the same complaints and no resolution. When he finally obtained private medical treatment, he was quickly diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that had metastasized. Three months after getting diagnosed, he passed away. The bureaucracy and incompetence that delayed his diagnosis is something that a number of vets deal with. So, no matter how many cool storylines are going on, the underlying current of the show is about providing a voice to the disenfranchised.
Next, like many, I have become turned off by the partisan nature of politics. Cole should be the anti-partisan candidate. He bridges the divide.
Finally, I live in Washington, DC and the homeless population is growing as the cost of living continues to rise. I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters. I’ve had in-depth conversations with the homeless (some of whom are veterans), and I find it crazy that in the wealthiest country in the world, we have so many without.
You ask me why is the United States the greatest country in the world? I love it here but, to steal from the Newsroom…”it’s not…but it could be.”
Is this based on any other shows?
No. But one of my five favorite movies is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so in some ways, this is a modern-day homage. And I’m also a huge fan of Sorkin, so it has traces of The West Wing, The Newsroom, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in its DNA, I think. It also probably has some elements of Scandal. And though I’ve only seen a few episodes, I’ve been told that it also has a House of Cards feel (I don’t see it). Finally, in my mind, there are also elements of The Soprano’s in there, in that it will explore the blurred line between blood family and those who become family. I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s what immediately came to mind.
Do I have to outline my episode, or can I write it freehand?
While I definitely understanding writing what comes to you, this is not that type of endeavor. In an ideal world, each of the episodes of the season will be getting drafted at the same time. Because of that, it’s important that we are all operating from a similar base. The initial writer’s room meetings will help in crafting the general overview of the storylines and each episode. Prior to the start of writing, however, I would expect each writer (or writers) for each episode to submit a much more specific outline for approval before beginning the writing process. I know everyone writes differently, so some people will have an extensive outline and others…not so much. At the very least, the outline should have major plot points and act breaks for each outline though (thanks Jeff!).
Do you have any questions for the writers?
Of course. I’d like each of you to give some thought to these questions and email me your answers prior to our initial writers’ meeting.
1) Is there a character whose voice/dialogue resonates with you and you believe you can replicate well?
2) How long do you anticipate needing to complete a 45-60 page episode?
3) Would you like to collaborate on a script with someone else or do you prefer to write solo?
4) What screenwriting software do you utilize?
5) Provide all dates that you are available for the initial writers meeting between now and September. Plan on the initial meeting being a 6-8 hour, all-day affair with a couple of breaks throughout. Provide all dates/times you are available and please be sure to list your time zone.
Finally, I’ve established a Google Drive folder that we will use to share notes/outlines. I will send everyone a link to it shortly. Until then, stay safe and stay well!