If you’ve watched The OA, then you know there are moments of genius and there are also plot holes so gaping they inspired a new category of porn.
There’s no way this was planned. Some of the scenes are absolute magic, simultaneously raising questions, completing thoughts, advancing plot, studying characters, and being original. There are others plot points – like where it’s a big deal that everyone leave their front doors open and then it’s never brought up again – that must’ve been part of a different story and just got lost in the rewrite.
So, being a writer, I thought this is probably how the pitch to Netflix went:
Paul and Gary from Netflix start their Skype call to Brit Marling and Zal Banmanglij in order to hear their pitch of a new sci-fi series that they’ve been told is akin to their upcoming mega-hit Stranger Things:
Paul from Netflix: Hey guys. Can you see us ok? We’re big fans of your work. Loved Another Earth.
Brit Marling: Thanks.
Paul: Who’s this?
Brit: This is my creative partner, Zal Batmanglij.
Gary from Netflix: Heh. Yeah. Barney GreenLanternBlip says he’s running late. So let’s hear this idea; you said it’s a lot like Stranger Things?
Zal Bamanglij: That’s my real name.
Gary: Sure it is, slugger. We think Stranger Things is going to be huge, so we’d love to have something that gives the public the ole one-two punch. “Bap!” “Kapow!” Am I right BatmanGlee?
Zal: That’s what we’re going for, yes. Please stop mocking my name.
Gary: You got it, champ. So give us the broad “Catwoman”-like strokes. Make us purr.
Zal: This is a common name in –
Brit interrupts: It’s called The OA...
Paul: Ok. I like it so far. A weird name, but not too weird…
Brit continues: It’s about a woman, played by me, who gets kidnapped and is held prisoner in a basement for years. She’s basically slave.
Gary: Anything gratuitous? Is she forced to do something against her will but in the end finds that she’s actually into it? And then she lets her husband know and they can finally get Colleen into that threeway I’ve always wanted?
Brit: No. Nothing like that. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with anything like that. Like I said, it’s closer to Stranger Things.
Paul: Sorry. Continue.
Brit: The guy who kidnapped her keeps her in his basement – but it’s not a basement, it’s more like an underground lair; not just bricks everywhere with a pingpong table in the background. It’s more like a cave…
Gary: The Bat Cave?
Zal to Brit: I’m just going to wait outside while –
Brit continues: …And the twist is that this kidnapper kills her over and over again. She continually dies and goes to heaven.
Paul: Oh. Nice. Different. So are there others with her? One of the best things about Stranger Things is the dynamic between the characters.
Zal: Totally. There are four other people with her down there. They’re all killed over and over again and they’re all brought back to life.
Paul: I like it. It’ll take a little work in casting, but it sounds good so far. One of the best parts of Stranger Things is this nostalgic thing because it all happens in the 80’s. Does this happen in the past too?
Brit: Part of it, yes. The 90’s. Maybe early 2000’s?
Gary: Not bad. The Goldbergs is doing gangbusters.
Paul whispers to Gary: “Gangbusters”? You sound like a Conan O’Brien character.
Brit continues: She escapes and convinces other people to help rescue the other prisoners. But it happens in parallel narratives: one is in the past, one is in the present; that way, the audience experiences this nostalgia with the characters.
Paul: OK. Now we’re getting somewhere. So when they die and come back, does anything special happen to them? Special insight or super-powers or something?
Brit: Oh yeah. My character, Prairie, was blind but after she dies, not only can she see, but she can see into your soul. Renata is able to seduce anyone when she activates her aura. There’s a kid who can heal instantly, Homer can send rays of light…
Zal: That’s the love interest.
Paul: Homer, the blind poet, is the blind lady’s boyfriend?
Brit: Yeah. Clever, huh?
Gary: A little too on-the-nose. I take it Carmel BatMan here is going to play him?
Zal: For the last time. The name is a common surname in many parts –
Brit: No. He knows the vision, so we’re here to see if we can get him to direct a few episodes.
Paul: That’s ballsy. Um. Before you continue, I just want to say I like what I’ve heard so far, but it sounds really expensive. From a production perspective, if you want to be like Stranger Things, you need to have an interesting/mysterious story…
Zal: We already talked about that. Check.
Paul: …Terrific actors…
Brit: Wait ’til you hear who we have lined up…
Gary: …and cheap. There are almost no computer effects in Stranger Things. The most famous person we had is Winona Rider and all she asked for was a chance to be on camera and as many cigarettes as she could fit into her Honda Civic.
Paul to Gary: Did I tell you that I found her here dressed up as Eleven last week trying to seduce one of the interns?
Brit whispers to Zal: Should I tell them Brad Pitt is willing to do this?
Zal to Brit: He’s not willing to do it for free. I wonder if he can recommend anyone from Fury.
Paul: So. Can we still do the story on the cheap?
Brit: Well, I guess we can do some old-school special effects. Instead of using CGI when Scott regenerates, we can just play the film backwards. Or when Rachel sings we can…
Gary: I mean cheap-cheap. Netflix is almost three billion dollars in debt. We can’t afford another Marco Polo. I think we’re in agreement here that we like the idea, we like other projects you’ve done. We even like your pitch: you’re making your own little Justice League-type series and you bring in BatManDoobie, here…
Zal: This is getting offensive…
Paul: We’re willing to give you eight episodes. But you have to scale back on everything. If we can make it on the cheap, we can make it.
Brit: Hold on…
Brit mutes the call and talks to Zal: I only wrote two hours of material! I thought you said this was a movie pitch!
Zal to Brit: Well, you kept saying Stranger Things…
Brit to Zal: How the hell are we going to make this into an eight-hour story?
Zal to Brit: You’re a good writer. Just take the scenes you really like and expand them out.
Brit to Zal: But half these characters aren’t even characters. They’re throwaways. Look at their names: Prairie, Homer, Hab, Renata… and Scott?
Zal to Brit: That’s how you make it longer: add some backstory to Steve and Jesse.
Brit to Zal: I guess, but how do we make a two-hour story about superhero origins into a cheaper eight-hour story?
Zal to Brit: How about instead of the dual narrative of a plot in the present paralleled with a plot in the past, the audience hears the story along with the kids in the present?
Brit to Zal: Oh! A frame narrative! I like it! It’ll be like the “story” is trapping her!
Zal to Brit: And what about instead of filming in Moscow, London, New York, and Paris like we planned, we do it in Michigan?
Brit to Zal: Or someplace in Canada that looks like Michigan!
Zal to Brit: Nice! Detroit or Flint! Lots of nice houses surrounded by lots of abandoned buildings! Now we’re thinking!
Brit to Zal: Yeah! It’ll show the dichotomy of Prairie/OA!
Zal to Brit: I guess…
Brit to Zal: And when they die, instead of going to some CGI heaven, we can just put them in a mirrored room full of christmas lights!
Zal to Brit: I suppose if we do it tastefully, that would probably…
Brit to Zal: And we can cut out the super-expensive sub-plots, like why Hab wants to keep his tomato-allergy secret or why the angel takes Prairie’s eyes…
Zal to Brit: Aw, those are my favorite…
Brit to Zal: And what about, instead of expensive superpowers, they all just dance creatively!
Zal to Brit: I’m not sure how that’ll…
Brit turns off mute: WE’LL DO IT!