Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thoughts on a THING IN THE WOODS Television Series

Once upon a time at DragonCon 2011, I heard from author S.M. Stirling that short stories make good movies and books make good miniseries or television shows. Although many movies have been made from books (think Shawshank Redemption or Jurassic Park), many short stories like "Who Goes There," which became the film The Thing, provide plenty of material to work with. However, many books would need to be cut down to fit a 1.5 to 2 hour film (in Jurassic Park, for example, the staff briefly regain control of the park before everything collapses into even more dino-violence, while Congo lost multiple sequences, including an entire rival expedition). Making a book into a miniseries like The Stand or Roots or a full-blown television show like The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, and Game of Thrones allows for much deeper exploration of characters, settings, etc.

More recently, I listened to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast that references the increasing demand for intellectual property by entities like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. For example, The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime streaming show, and Amazon Studios has a whole lot of movies listed here. Amazon's submissions system is pretty interesting--it's like a crowd-judged contest.

With that in mind, I've put some thought into how my teen horror novel The Thing in the Woods would look as a television series. Spoilers below.

Episode #1: The episode would open with belligerent homeless Panama veteran Leroy Tolliver getting arrested by a couple of renegade sheriff's deputies in the small town of Edington, GA. Instead of being taken to the local jail, he's taken to place of sacrifice, where he's offered up to a tentacle monster worshiped by a local cult. Cut to protagonist James Daly working at the Edington Best Buy, where he meets Sam Dixon, a local man who is also a film enthusiast. Having purchased a movie, Sam goes to a nearby barbecue restaurant, where it's revealed he's a member of the cult and Phil Davidson, the owner, is the high priest. Sam argues with Phil over the death of Tolliver, who's a fellow veteran. Phil puts Sam in his place and it's revealed Sam's wife is Phil's cousin's stepdaughter and she has recently miscarried. James returns home and we meet his family--James Sr., an Atlanta attorney whom the Great Recession has left underemployed, his mother Andrea, and his younger sister Karen. We'll also meet Karen's friend Amber, a local theater enthusiast who has a crush on James. James "doesn't like liking" her back, thinking he can do better once he goes to college.

Episode #2: James and several fellow ex-Atlantans (Edington is rapidly becoming a bedroom community) have dinner at a local Zaxbys and get into a confrontation with some redneck kids. They're challenged to an ATV race. The following Saturday they meet up at a half-finished neighborhood and have their race...perilously close to the tree farm owned by the cult where Tolliver was sacrificed. The episode will end with James' rival Bill injuring himself, James' attempt to help him, and the tentacle monster attacking them both.

Episode #3: It begins with the appearance of the monster, the death of Bill, and James' escape on an ATV during which he gets slashed across the face. The other kids rush him to the hospital, where Deputy Bowie, a cult member, attempts to bully him into claiming Bill had knifed him and James had shoved him into the pond in self-defense. James' father intervenes, citing several holes in Bowie's story, and takes James home, where he's grounded. Meanwhile the cult gathers in the woods, where Phil is challenged by a relative of Bill's. Phil orders Sam, Bowie, belligerent racist cultist Jeffrey Reed, and another cultist off on a mission to kidnap Maad, an Indian friend of James who is an interracial relationship with a white girl, and his family to be sacrificed.

Episode #4: The cultists arrive at Maad's house and Bowie attempts to use his authority as a policeman to get Maad's family to come outside to be arrested. Reed reveals himself and his gun too early and all of them end up in a gunfight with Maad's father. Edington police arrive--Phil had forgotten the area had been annexed by the city government, whose police force is less infiltrated--and the cultists are forced to flee. Phil spins the failure as their god's judgement on the cult for various failings and persuades them to sacrifice Bill's angry relative instead. He begins plotting to kill the Atlanta teens...starting with James.

Episode #5: James is at work at the Best Buy when Amber comes to see him, ostensibly about some speakers for her television. Instead she interrogates him about what happened at the ATV race, hinting that she knows something. James agrees to meet her for ice cream to discuss it. Amber has to defend this decision to her prejudiced friends, who are convinced James murdered Bill. Soon afterward Sam arrives and reveals his role in the attempted abduction of Maad's family. He tells James to go to the library and check out a book about mysteries from the Civil War. James does so and learns about a Union detachment wiped out near Edington, with the sole survivor raving about "the thing in the woods." He encounters Karen, who is greatly amused that he's meeting up with Amber, but blackmails him into doing her chores.

Episode #6: James learns from Maad at school about what happened at his home. Later that day, he and Amber have their date and Amber reveals that her uncle had been killed by the cult in the 1960s for helping a civil rights activist escape being murdered. Furthermore, she's distantly related to both Sam and Phil. She advises James and his family to get out of town immediately. James and Amber are spotted by James' mother, who calls him and orders further punishment for violating his grounding. Meanwhile, Sam argues with Phil again at the restaurant and soon after a mysterious man in a suit with dark glasses arrives and hints that he knows what happened. Phil orders the cult to go into action against James and his family immediately and orders Reed to attack Sam to keep him from interfering.

Episode #7: James is chewed out by his parents for violating his grounding while Reed attacks Sam and his wife. He's about to kill Sam (against Phil's orders) when Amber arrives and beats him into unconsciousness with a brass lamp. Sam's wife hogties him while Sam and Amber rush to James' house. The cultists have already invaded, chasing away James' mother and sister and kidnapping James' father. Sam discovers James hiding in a closet and, pretending to be a loyal cultist, takes him to his car. James briefly overpowers Sam, only to be restrained by Amber, who reveals they're going to rescue James' father and end the cult's reign of terror. They return to Sam's house where they collect various guns and some Claymore mines Sam stole from the local National Guard armory. Sam renounces the cult and dramatically re-embraces Christianity and they're off.

Episode #8: Sam drives his truck into the tree farm with James and Amber hidden in the back. James and Amber agree to go on a date and get a bit affectionate, interrupted by an amused Sam. James and Sam set up a Claymore mine, ordering the cultists assembled for the sacrifice of James' father to disperse, but one of the cultists draws a gun on them and James sets off the mine, killing most of the cultists. James rushes to free his father, only to be set upon by the surviving Phil. Sam distracts Phil, who shoots and wounds him but is in turn shot and killed by James. They untie James' father, but the nearby pond is roiling. The Thing in the Woods is coming.

Episode #9: The final confrontation with the Thing. It seizes Sam, who is wounded when James sets off the second Claymore mine. The monster is hurt, but it's able to kill and eat Sam before continuing after James, who's joined by Amber. The two retreat to the car with James' father, doing battle with surviving cultists who had been guarding the gate, while the monster pursues. James plants the third and last Claymore mine and finally kills the Thing, only for the Edington police and the mysterious man from the restaurant to arrive and arrest everybody. In the hospital (he received minor injuries that will become very important in the planned second book), James is forced to sign off on a statement that his father had been kidnapped by meth dealers who had a pet Kodiak bear and is promised a brand-new car (confiscated from drug dealers) to ensure his silence. The episode ends with James coming to collect said car from the police department before meeting up with Amber. As he drives toward her house, he grimly wonders what else strange might be out there in the world.

Thing could be a miniseries if I squeeze the above story into two or three longer episodes (as plotted out the above episodes wouldn't be very long), or perhaps one of those British TV series where it's a single, often rather short, season to tell a complete story and then it's done. Some material could be expanded to fill out a full season (or at least make ten episodes)--the novel strongly implies the civil-rights activists had been murdered and Amber's uncle captured and sacrificed by a much-younger Phil, which can be depicted in flashback. However, it doesn't have to end with just one season, I am working on a sequel, The Atlanta Incursion, that could serve as the basis for a the second season. I do have a third novel planned--there's a time-skip and it mostly takes place in Afghanistan--that could serve as a third season.

So moving back to that bit about Amazon crowd-judging television scripts. Maybe I should write one and send it over to one of my television-writer friends to take a look?

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