Wonderfalls – rapid fire scripting and focusing on sisterly affection

Blast from the past. Did you ever watch Wonderfalls? So freaking good. You can grab a gander at the script for the pilot episode, Wax Lion, here. It’s zany, off the rails, sarcastic, cynical, a little bit silly…. Just all my favourite things. And one of the most beautiful aspects of this script is that it bounces around and powers through scenes like crazy. The script is 57 pages and there’s 56 scenes – and that doesn’t include the scenes-within-scenes that take place where there’s multiple beats in different parts of the one set/location. Scenes move through so blisteringly fast in this, and there’s a lot to reflect on in regards to how you can use a grab bag of smaller moments to help contribute to a larger whole.

One ‘full’ scene with a lengthy in and out doesn’t need to handle the entire beat required for the narrative thread. Take these two scenes for example, which take place one after one another. Much of the second act of this episode is centered around Jaye’s developing awareness that the inanimate creatures that have started speaking to her (and her only) want her to change her behaviour. We start here:

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And then swiftly jump to:

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Ultimately both of these scenes belong to a more cohesive whole about Jaye’s attitude and behaviour towards her family and how she relates to them. And while it maybe would’ve been easy to just combine Mahandra’s insight with the psychologist’s (or vice versa), splitting them up helps to keep the energy up and high. And we get to see what Jaye is willing to admit about herself to different people in her life – Mahandra is instantly identifiable to the audience as the best friend even without the words needing to be uttered, because Jaye is more honest with her than she is with anyone she’s spoken to beforehand. The script remains rocketing, and like most of the scenes in the script, neither scene has to have complete closure. We just keep getting these rapid fire moments of characters.

Alongside these scenes that have greater narrative value, there’s quick, random moments of comedy that help to flesh out the audience’s understanding of Jaye’s character, like so:

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I figure moments like this – and it could just be me, but there’s something endearing and affection-building when you see characters do things that aren’t quite socially acceptable. We all want to tell little kids to shut up, so when Jaye does something unpleasant, it doesn’t make us go ‘wow, you’re kinda unlikeable’, but instead inspire a sense of ‘you go, girl.’

Despite the pinball-esque nature of the script, a really nice focus is given to the central narrative thread to the pilot – that of the Jaye rekindling (somewhat) a relationship with her family… and it somehow manages to do this with the majority of her family only appearing in one scene! The heavy lifting of the story is really given to Jaye’s relationship with her sister Sharon, who gets to carry the bulk of it. Jaye’s relationship with Sharon becomes a metonymy for Jaye’s relationship with much of the rest of the world – so we don’t need to really see much of the others.

There’s a lesson in this here for me… don’t take on too much. You don’t need to. While it might seem important to give the rest of Jaye’s family more to do, they are also regular characters that appear in the credits and all that, the strength of the story is, ironically enough considering the manic tone of the series, in the specific focus and time given to the sisterly bond (or non-bond).

And it ends up so beautiful – their ‘moment of understanding’ scene is beautifully heartwarming. The resolution scene? Heartwarming…

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Yeah, bang. Don’t take on too much. When you strip things back to their bare essentials, you can sometimes find a throughline that gives you everything you need without clogging up an episode (especially a pilot) with too much.

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