Billie Bowtrunckle (bowtrunckle) wrote in spnematography,
Billie Bowtrunckle

The Viewer’s Guide to Supernatural: the pilot (1x01)

hugemind and I have been working on projects for this community since this summer. And after much dark chocolate and many blueberry pies we're happy to FINALLY post the first installment of the much fabled "Viewer's Guide". The Viewer's Guide is a collection of show facts, fannish observations, behind-the-scenes tid bits, cinematography meta. Each guide features "The Facts" (show statistics), "The Experts" (behind the scenes stories and trivia), "The Details" (fannish observations and curiosities), "The Visuals" (a cinematography-slanted meta for the featured episode), and "The Fans" (links to other other relevant fan-based projects and meta). The plan is to create a guide for each episode using some of the entries at this community as the backbone for each issue (with the author's permission of course) and build a library of meta/show facts/references. This is a project borne out of many gleeful show discussions and enthusiasm for the many wonderful people in this fandom, we hope you enjoy it.

Compiled/written for spnematography by bowtrunckle and hugemind

The Facts

Title: the pilot
Episode: 1x01
September 13, 2005
Eric Kripke
David Nutter
Production Designer: Mike Novotny
Directory of Photography:
Aaron Schneider
Property Master: Scotty Nifong
Costume Designer:
Bobbie Mannix
Film Editor: Paul Karasick
Show Facts:
IMdb and Superwiki
Summary/Visual Summary:
Sam and Dean Winchester strike out in search of their father, John, and investigate a haunted highway in Jericho, California. When tragic events of twenty-two years ago repeat, the brothers embark on a road trip to find answers.


Leave comments for the vidder, rocksaltbullet, here.


The Experts

Filming Location(s):
Los Angeles, California

Behind the Story:

Kripke placed the Winchester home in Lawrence, Kansas due to the plethora of urban legends based on Stull Cemetery located in the town of Stull approximately 10 miles west of Lawrence. The cemetery is fabled to be one of the seven gateways to hell and one of the two places on earth where the devil appears on the night of the Spring Equinox and Halloween.

Stull-based urban legends could have provided the roots of Supernaturalís mytharc, specifically the cowboy cemetery/devil's gate in All Hell Breaks Loose - Part 2 (2x22). Some of the lore places Stull in "the middle point of some kind of Satanic triangle". Some accounts place another Stull cemetery (according to some, the truly haunted one) in the middle of a pentagram, the points of which were marked by five cedar trees, two of which stand now.

Sam and Dean were named after Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty characters from "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, a novel based on seven years worth of road trips across America by the author. The opening paragraph, Sal says, "with the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road." In the pilot it's Dean's reappearance that paves the way for Sam's return to hunting and life on the road.

Every street in the pilot is a street in Toledo, Ohio, Kripke's hometown.2

Jensen Ackles originally read for the part of Sam. It was after Jared Padalecki's audition for Sam that the producers offered Ackles the role of Dean. Kripke recalls the casting process, "Jeez, you know it's like, Jared ... if Jared were Sam and Sam is supposed to be Luke Skywalker and you sort of need an innocence ... we're gonna tap into all of Jensen's charisma ... and we're gonna put it into Dean ... you know, there's Luke Skywalker but you could always be Han Solo."1 This plays nicely into Supernatural's tagline "Star Wars in Truck Stop America" revised from "No Rest for the Wicked".2

Behind the Scenes:

What Is And What Will Never Be: Early Drafts of
the pilot

"Creating the 'Supernatural
the Pilot' was a very difficult birthing process because there was a whole other version of the Supernatural script, the "Woman in White" was not in it, Dad died in the teaser ... you know, I worked so hard on that script and it was a mess, it just didn't work. And once you'd actually said, 'You know, what if dad is still alive? And what if the boys grew up with dad, as demon hunters? You know, what if they grew up in this sort of fractured family?' And to me that's what made the show work, you know, it gained the ability to have fun with it and have funny lines, and have a breezier tone and so, not that first script was useless." -Eric Kripke1

John Winchester was originally named Jack Harrison in tribute to Harrison Ford. However, there was a real Sam Harrison from Kansas, so that surname was struck for to legal purposes. "Winchester" was chosen for its western vibe and because of the Winchester Mystery House, whereby "Jack" was changed to "John" because there was a Jack Winchester from Kansas. But Kripke managed to put the discarded names to good use; his son, born on May 2, 2007, was named Jack Harrison Kripke. Strangely this is also Sam Winchester's birthday (May 2, 1983), which was coined years prior.

Throughout the revision process, Sam, Dean, John, and Mary's ages changed, as did the timing of John and Sam's estrangement and the duration Sam did not speak to the rest of his family. In some versions Jessica was revealed to be a demon. The Impala was originally a 1965 Mustang. Kripke's neighbor pointed him toward the Impala due to the fact "you can fit a body in that trunk"1. However, according to all released versions of the pilot, Mary's death was the catalyst that propelled Jack (John) into the hunting world and Dean was always the one to pull a reluctant Sam back into the hunting world.

The earliest draft of the pilot
opens with Dean Harrison (renamed Winchester) in the "Lone Star Auto Salvage", Glenrio, Texas facing down towers of seemingly possessed cars reminiscent of the Stephen King's Christine. Dean smokes Marlboro Reds, wears black biker boots, and carries a bowie knife and a Colt double-action six shooter.

Sam's first scene is his graduation from Stanford with Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Tommy, who raised him (and presumably Dean). Sam's starting a summer internship for a Judge Carlton in L.A. shortly and is planning to attend Columbia in the fall for law school. Jessica is 19, three years younger than Sam, seven years younger than Dean (not one and five years younger respectively).

Sam hasn't seen Jack (John) for 12 years and Dean for two, during which Dean was living with Jack and learning to hunt, a world which Sam knows nothing about. Jack dies (off screen) in the Texas salvage yard and Dean inherits a 1965 (not a '67) Impala. For a period of time Sam believes Dean is psychotic and may have murdered their father.

Sam reveals he was convinced Jack was schizophrenic and a drunk and blamed him for the car accident that "tore [Mary, early 30's] to shreds" on April 24, 1992. However, it's revealed in Act Three that Sam--then nine-years old--saw the black-eyed demon in the car as his parents left the evening of their crash but never said anything.

"That night. I saw it, Dean. Inside the car. Waiting for them. It looked at me. Like it knew me. I didn't shout, or warn them. I didn't do anything."

"Unexplainable car accidents" are the link between Mary's death and the Centennial Highway case revolving around Constance Weld (renamed Welch), which Sam and Dean later discover are unrelated. In Act Four, Dean pulls from his pocket the final and missing page of Jack's journal. It reads:



Another later, unspecified draft of the pilot shares more similarities with the final script. However, there are marked differences regarding the characters' ages, the timing of events, and the monster-of-the-week plot.

Mary is in her late 20's. Dean is 3 (not 4). Jack (renamed John) is 30 and was in the Navy (not the Marines).

At the end of the nursery scene the words "COMING FOR YOU" appear branded into the wall and then bursts into flame. Jack's (John's) canonical words to young Dean were originally, "No, Dean. Don't look, okay? We gotta go." These events were repeated at the end of Act Four with Jessica burning on the ceiling, the words reappearing, and Dean dragging Sam off of a chair, as he attempts to grab her, and out of the apartment.

In the present day, Sam is 23 (not 22), at Stanford, already a law student, and clerking for Judge Carlton. The bar scene features Jess convincing Sam, an expert dart player, to go home with her for Thanksgiving to meet her parents.

Dean, age 26, originally breaks into Sam's apartment through the bathroom (not the living room). Sam keeps all his weapons in a vinyl-shell suitcase in the closet, including a bowie knife. Dean has Jack's journal with him when he rendezvous with Sam.

The Impala is again a 1965 model (not '67) and is described as a "black, dented, a Rottweiler of a muscle car".

Sam hasn't heard from Dean or Jack in a year. Jack and Sam's estrangements occurred after Sam told him he was going to law school to which Jack replied, "You wasted enough time at college already, boy. Time to come home and join the business."

Sam and Dean have a conversation that was later recycled in the aired pilot and Born Under a Bad Sign (2x14) and, in light of the revelations in All Hell Breaks Loose - Part 1 (2x21), is quite anvilicious.

"Can't run forever, Sammy. Sooner or later, you gotta face up to who you are."
"Yeah? And who's that?"
"You're one of us. We may put the fun in dysfunctional, but we're the only family you got. And this stuff is in your blood."

As in the earliest draft, Constance Weld (renamed Welch) was an abused teenager who murdered her parents and staged it so it appeared to be a car accident. She hitchhiked, picking her victims to bring home and kill. However, this draft features an interesting cornfield scene where Sam and Dean chase Constance and find the cars of all the Centennial Highway victims arranged "like the spokes of a wheel".

When Dean drops Sam off in Act Four he sees something in Sam's bedroom window, which precipitates another break-in. This is different than the unaired deleted scene (see below) from the pilot where Dean drives away, finds his watch has stopped, and returns to save Sam from the fire.

Jared Padalecki used this draft of the pilot for his screen test for Sam.

Deleted Scene(s):

The Details

The Nitty-Gritty: Facts, Observations, and Mistakes

The events that catalyzed the series, Azazel's visitation and the death of Mary and Jess, propelling John then Sam into the hunting world both occurred on November 2. This is "All Souls Day"--a.k.a. "The Day of the Dead", the "Feast of All Souls", "Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed", and "Thursday of the Dead"--whereby the souls of the departed lingering in purgatory can be purified of sin and ascend to heaven through the prayers of the living and the sacrifice of the Mass. It follows All Saints Day, in Western Christianity a celebration of all souls who have been absolved of sin and reached heaven. Furthermore, the twenty-two year hiatus between the November 2 dates (1983 and 2005) was intentional as well as Sam's age (and perhaps the emergence of his abilities) at the series start as stated by Kripke in 2007. Thanks to zazreil for this tip.

There seems to be a witching hour for Azazel's visitations. Sam's nursery clock stops at 8:12 pm, signaling Azazel's arrival. In Salvation (1x21), Rosie's nursery clock stops around 8:15 pm in Sam's visions, but in the show's reality Azazel visits Rosie around 8:45 pm.

Stanford doesn't have a pre-law program. Thus, Sam couldn't have been a pre-law major but something else, perhaps History or Religious Studies major. Stanford Law School doesn't grant interviews, which was Sam's reason for returning to Palo Alto at the end of the pilot.

Jess seems to be an art student as suggested by the easel in the bedroom. In Provenance (1x19) Sam mentions art history is "good for meeting girls", perhaps a clue as to where Sam and Jess met. Stanford does offer a degree in Art History.

Kripke (2005 Paley Festival) confirmed Dean's comment that it had been two years since he'd bothered Sam was a mistake. Originally Sam was in his junior year of college (strange considering two previous pilot scripts had Sam graduating Stanford and then age 23), but then he likely wouldn't have been 22 years old unless he started school late or failed a grade, unlikely considering his record of straight A's and high LSAT score (174), which placed him in the 99th percentile. Although it's feasible he could've been held back a grade if he missed enough school as a result of moving frequently.

The production photos of John's red motel room revealed details not previously seen in the pilot. An article taped to the wall, entitled "My Son The Cambion" written by Mary Ca... was noticed by missyjack and later was pointed out by fannishliss after In the Beginning (4x03) and the revelation that Mary's surname was Campbell and she came from a family of hunters.

The online newspaper article for Constance Welch, the paragraph next to the picture has a quote from neighbor Deanna Kripke. Thanks to sadelyrate who noticed David Nutter is also a neighbor.

"How is that not déjà-vu-vu?": Revisited Scenes

John's words, "Take your brother outside as fast as you can and don't look back. Now, Dean. Go!" were repeated by Sam in Home (1x09) when rescuing Sari and her younger brother from the Winchester home. "Alright, Sari, take your brother outside as fast as fast you can and don't look back."

The night scene where Dean slams Sam into the supports of the bridge was recycled in the final scenes of Salvation (1x21):

Sam: "Mom's gone and she isn't coming back." Dean: "Don't talk about her like that."

Dean: "You said yourself once, that no matter what we do they're gone, and they're never coming back."
Sam: "Don't you say that! Don't you ... not after all this, don't you say that."

Dean breaking into Sam and Jess's apartment was meticulously recreated in What is And What Should Never Be (2x20) with a few purposeful differences. Sam carries a baseball bat instead of a knife and their fight sequences is cut and short as this Sam was never a hunter nor trained in hand-to-hand combat.

The final scene in the pilot ended with Sam tossing a rifle into the trunk and saying, "We got work to do." This was respun in All Hell Breaks Loose - Part 2 (2x22) with Dean throwing the Colt into the trunk, saying, "We got work to do."

The Beastie Bites It: The Monster of the Week's Death Scene

Constance's spirit was finally destroyed by her own children, who she'd drowned.

The Visuals

The pilot of any television series acts as the guide wire for the rest of the series' production. The framework set in the initial episode establishes the tone, pace, visual style, and plot. But its most important job is to sell the characters to the audience by making them convincing, compelling, and real. Twinning together plot and characters are the writers' jobs, but equally important is the execution of the story, how events that begin as black and white words on a page are brought to life. This is where the director and the camera's eye are important. If handled well, the camerawork is unobtrusive, reinforcing character emotion (characterization), under scoring dialogue (plot), and eliciting deliberate responses from the audience that compliment the aforementioned. As a result, the audience unconsciously registers the whole of the camera's effects, which helps create emotional connections that go deeper than words. This meta will discuss how the director of the pilot, David Nutter, helped establish the protagonists of Supernatural and how the camera launched Sam and Dean, selling us the story of two estranged brothers and their '67 Impala.

The protagonist is the one who has the most at stake, the one who the audience needs to be made to identify and empathize with in order to have an emotional investment in the story. Supernatural is about both Sam and Dean, and, as the series has evolved, they've both carried the weight of protagonist and antagonist in the plot and relative to each other. This is most apparent in episodes that feature one brother more heavily than the other whereby the story is told partially through the point of view (POV) of either Sam or Dean. But because this is a story of brothers, it was important that in the pilot both boys be established as important POV characters. The camerawork reflects this desire, and, at different points in episode one, shots were intentionally selected to make the viewer feel a greater affinity for Sam and then Dean rather than the other characters, separating them visually and emotionally from others. This is especially apparent in two resonant scenes in the pilot: when Sam and Dean reunite in Sam and Jess's living room and when Dean was accosted by the police outside of John's motel room. Both are discussed below.

Stranger Danger and the Man of Self-Appointed Action: Sam's First POV Scene

The first POV scene in the pilot is appropriately Sam's, our entry character into the series. This was probably done because we had been previously introduced to Sam in the opening scenes of the present day and to inject tension and create a sense of mystery around Dean, the intruder, making the revelation he was "brother Dean" more interesting and dramatic (think about how mundane it would've have been if Dean knocked on the door). Watch the clip and pay attention to the camerawork. I wrote out a shot-to-shot breakdown of this scene to make it easier to see what the camera was doing.

Just a quick word I hope doesn't sound too pretentious. In order to get a better sense of camera techniques and their emotional impact, the best way to view the followings scenes is to watch them without any sound. This prevents the dialogue from influencing your perceptions (if all the dialogue is focused around one character, then that character is likely the sympathetic one). It also helps to pretend you've never seen the show and know nothing about the characters. Try to watch as if you've turned on the TV to find these scenes playing.

The pilot
(6:05-8:27 in the continuous episode, 0:42-3:04 in the embedded scene above)
1. INT. BEDROOM. NIGHT: Camera TRACKS from right to left, revealing Sam and Jess sleeping before settling on a CLOSE UP of Sam who opens his eyes.
2. INT. HALLWAY: MEDIUM SHOT of Sam exiting the bedroom.
3. POV SHOT (Sam) of the living room.
5. POV SHOT (Sam) of the living room.
6. POV SHOT (Sam) of the open window.
7. CLOSE UP of Sam. His eyes shift.
8. POV SHOT (Sam) of the doorway to the living room. The door is open.
9. CLOSE UP of Sam looking suspicious.
10. POV SHOT (Sam) of the doorway. Shadow walks by. Camera shakes.
11. CLOSE UP of Sam who jumps into action, exiting the frame.
12. Camera TRACKS in to a profile CLOSE UP of Sam waiting on the other side of the doorway. Camera shakes. Shadow enters and the camera TRACKS it from left to right across the room. Camera PULLS OUT.
13. CLOSE UP of Sam in profile, waiting and then jumping into action.
14. INT. LIVING ROOM: CUT to flight scene. A series of TRACKING and REVERSE ANGLE SHOTS of Sam and intruder, too many to list.
15. Once Dean is revealed through a POV SHOT (Sam) of Dean's face, there's a series of REVERSE ANGLE SHOTS. The scene ends with the camera tightening in on Sam's face, settling as a CLOSE UP as he says, "Jess, excuse us. We have to go outside."

There are a handful of camera/framing/editing techniques that emphasize one character over others sharing the scene. One that is especially prevalent is the use of POV tracking shots and cutaways as both increase the subjectivity of the shot and force the audience to see the events unfold through the eyes of the featured character. Usually the POV character is the one the director wants the audience to sympathize with as done in this scene where there are five Sam POV cutaways in just over two minutes. We feel Sam's trepidation and suspicion as his eyes dart into dark corners and he grips his knife. We feel his tension as we catch glimpses of the dark living room though his eyes (POV shots with camera shake). During the fight, we root for Sam rather than the faceless intruder. But perhaps the best way to see camera bias is to imagine how different we'd feel if the scene was portrayed from another character's POV. If Dean was meant to be the sympathetic character, the scene could've been shot like this:

1. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean walking through the living room. Off-screen sound.
2. EXTREME CLOSE UP of his eyes darting to stare off-screen as he freezes.
3. POV SHOT (Dean) of a shadow moving along the doorframe, a glint of metal. Camera shake. His breath picks up (overscene).
4. CLOSE UP of Dean looking wary.
5. POV SHOT (Dean) of the door, showing nothing is there.
6. CLOSE UP of Dean glancing around.
7. MEDIUM TRACKING SHOT of Dean walking through the living room.
8. POV PAN (Dean) of the room. 9. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean (foreground) with a figure launching out the shadows behind him. He turns, surprised.

In this scenario, the camera paints Dean as a fully fledged character; we're drawn to him instead of the knife-wielding shadow lurking at the fringes of the frame. POV shots can also be used to create tension and suspense. Thrillers and horror films often scatter POV shots through the eyes of the killer in strategic scenes where they want to create a tangible sense of fear. Think about how different the scene would feel if it had been played from Dean's POV without showing Dean as a sympathetic character. It could be shot something like this:

1. POV PAN (Dean) of Sam and Jess's living room through a closed window, the camera darts back and forth, lingering on the dark hall leading to their bedroom.
2. MEDIUM SHOT of Sam and Jess sleeping.
3. POV SHOT (repeat of #1). A man's hand slides open the window.
4. CLOSE UP PAN of the man's hand sliding along the kitchen table, pausing to touch Sam and Jess's belongings.
5. MEDIUM SHOT from behind of him picking up a picture of Sam.
6. EXTREME CLOSE UP of his mouth curling into a smile.

Even though POV shots are employed, this scenario makes Dean seem menacing by objectifying him. Showing only parts of him (hands, fingers, mouth) and masking the rest in shadow not only maintains an air of mystery, it prevents the audience from seeing him as a whole person, someone they can identify with.

Another way to promote feelings of intimacy and increase drama, helping an audience sympathize with a character, is by using close-up shots and narrow eye-lines (the off-screen gaze). Experienced and talented actors will express emotion through their eyes and actions, and the tighter the shots, the easier it is to see the subtleties in their performance. This is why sit-coms and comedies, which require a distance between the characters and the audience for the light tone and jokes to be effective, rarely if ever use close-up shots and never employ extreme close-up shots. If in doubt, try recalling Rachel's eye color in Friends or if any characters in Family Ties or How I Met Your Mother have facial moles. In this scene, the majority of close-up shots are of Sam. We see his eyes snap open, his gaze shift through the living room, and close-ups of Sam's profile repeatedly featured as he waits in the shadows.

Also, the sympathetic character will often dominate the screen time. This is apparent in Sam and Dean's fight scene. Dean's face is revealed briefly in the flurry of quick cuts, which give a sense of urgency and chaos. However, itís Sam's face the camera lingers on. During a pause in the fight, we see him regroup and grow angry, determined, and focused. Similarly we see Sam emphasized in the final moments of this scene when the camera closes in on his expression as he says, "Jess, excuse us. We have to go outside." The terminal moments of a scene are like the final sentence of a chapter in a book, and like spoken dialogue, who or what the camera emphasizes leaves a lasting impression on the viewer and can visually weight one character over the other. In this case, it's Samís emotions and reaction--despite the previous moments that were equally weighted between him and Dean--that are most important to the story at this point, and appropriately the scene ends with a close up of his face.

This scene is critical not only because this is the brother reunion scene that kicks off the series and sets the tone for their relationship (combative, playful, snarkiness barely masking genuine care and concern), but also because it shows us who Sam is: a proficient fighter, brave, and someone who won't hesitate to act, to do what he deems best. This has been a key personality trait of Sam's that is partially responsible for getting him to where he is now, the dangerous and detached brother who takes the initiative to do what he feels he has to do regardless of the consequences. Sam is the head down, stubborn, heed-no-one-if-it-interferes-with-his-primary-objective brother. And it's satisfying to look back and find the seeds of his personality strengths and weaknesses planted from day one.

Knee-jerk Sacrifice and The Big Brother Protector: A Dean POV Scene

Prominent POV scenes from Dean's perspective occurs three-fourths of the way through the episode when he is arrested in the motel parking lot after he sends Sam to "find Dad" (30:03-30:54) as well as when he escapes the police station (35:15-36:10). For the sake of highlighting camera techniques not yet covered, only the first scene will be discussed even through the second scene features Dean more prominently. Watch the scene without the sound and pay attention to the close up and POV shots and/or refer to the shot-by-shot breakdown below.

The pilot
(30:03-30:54 in the continuous episode, 5:33-6:25 in the embedded scene above)

1. EXT. MOTEL PARKING LOT: MEDIUM-LONG SHOT of Dean exiting motel room, shrugging on his jacket. Camera tracks him across the parking lot. He looks to his right where in the background are two police officers and the motel desk clerk.
2. CLOSE UP of Dean from behind, turning in the direction of his gaze.
3. POV SHOT (Dean) MEDIUM-LONG SHOT of the three men. The desk clerk points directly at the camera (Dean).
4. CLOSE UP of Dean from behind, turning away.
5. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean (foreground) and the three men (background). Shallow depth of field, camera is FOCUSED on Dean who reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone.
6. INT. MOTEL ROOM: medium shot of Sam on bed checking his phone messages. (overscene) Jess's voice. Sam clicks to the incoming call, "What."
7. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean (repeat of #5) "Dude, five-o take off." The officers approach Dean from behind.
8. INT. MOTEL ROOM: medium shot of Sam standing up, alarmed. Camera closes in on Sam.
"What about you?"
"Uhh, they kind of spotted me. Go find Dad."
9. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean (repeat of #5).
10. Series of CLOSE, REVERSE ANGLE SHOTS of Dean and the police officers.
"Problem officers?"
"Where's your partner?"
"Partner. What ... what partner?"
One officer motions for the other to go to the motel room. Dean looks worried.
11. POV SHOT (Dean) of the officer walking to the motel room door.
12. POV shot (Sam) through the curtained window of the officer approaching.
13. Close-up of Sam pulling away from the window. He exits the frame.
14. Series of CLOSE, REVERSE ANGLE SHOTS of Dean and the remaining police officer.
"So, fake US Marshal, fake credit cards. You got anything that's real?"
"My boobs." Dean smiles.
15. MEDIUM SHOT of Dean and the police officers at the squad car. Camera CLOSES IN as Dean get slammed face down into the hood. He's cuffed. End with a CLOSE-UP of Dean's face. (overscene) "You have the right to remain silent."

The shots and camera angles selected in this scene favor Dean and his reactions rather than the police officers, the motel desk clerk, or Sam. Another way to highlight a character is by preferentially featuring them in dynamic shots while other characters are given static camera treatments. A dynamic camera is more visually interesting and arresting and draws the attention of the viewers, especially if they are done quickly and/or use sweeping or angled motions. While the camera closes in on Sam as he stands in shot 8, the most attention-grabbing and longest dynamic shot in the scene is reserved for Dean, a ten-second tracking shot of him leaving the motel room and walking across the parking lot. Every shot of the officers contains no camera movement. Similarly, the scene ends with the camera swiftly narrowing in on a close shot of Dean being slammed face first into the hood of the police car, acting as a visual exclamation mark that cap off the final moments of this scene and directs the attention toward Dean while pulling it from the police officers.

Physical screen dominance is an easy way to direct viewers' attention because when a character or object occupies the majority of the frame, the viewers have no choice but to take notice of them or it. Not only are there more POV shots from Dean's perspective than any other character in this scene, but also Dean is framed such that he appears larger than the other characters. In shots 1, 5 and 7, he occupies the foreground while the police officers and the motel clerk are relegated to the background and are out of focus.

Furthermore, the actions and reactions of the emphasized character are commonly played out on-screen rather than off-screen so the viewers can experience that character's story. This scene could've been played entirely from Sam's perspective with Dean exiting the room and Sam receiving his phone call and observing the events out the window. Or it could've been portrayed from the viewpoint of the officers and the motel clerk with close shots of their conversation as Dean emerges from the motel room in the background; the camera could've followed them across the parking lot, showing their determined faces as Dean turns his back. Instead, the majority of this scene is from Dean's perspective interspersed with snippets of Sam's POV (required to show Sam escapes the motel room so it's not surprising when Sam shows up alone on Joseph Welch's door) because Nutter was giving glimpses of who Dean is and how he operates. This was necessary in order to establish Dean as a fully fledged character more than capable of carrying the story in his own right as this series is about the brothers together and apart.

This scene features Dean doing what he does best: walking and talking big, flashing his charisma and glib humor while thinking quickly and evaluating the situation for the best exit strategy. But if you strip away his macho face and bravado, the heart of this scene is Dean sacrificing himself to protect Sam, something that has become the driving force behind the series. We've seen him repeatedly mouth off to pull the attention from Sam (Shadow (1x16), Devil's Trap (1x22) No Rest for the Wicked (3x16)), literally use himself as a human shield (Home (1x09), Fresh Blood (3x07)), offer to take responsibility for emotionally destructive acts (Heart, (2x17), and save/protect Sam often at the expense of his own safety (The Benders (1x15), Hunted (2x10), Born Under a Bad Sign (2x14), All Hell Breaks Loose - Part 2 (2x21), Bad Day at Black Rock (3x03)). How appropriate it is, then, that Dean's first emotionally affecting scene is also the first truly revealing glimpse into what will become his primary motivation throughout the series.

Last Words

The camera can be made subjective. In this case, it's biased toward Sam and Dean, showing events through their eyes and favoring them over the other characters. This was done to establish them as the pair of protagonists for the series, showing both are capable of carrying the story. It laid the expectation that Supernatural would be a show with a shared perspective and simultaneously allowed the flexibility for Sam-centric and Dean-centric episodes. The effect of alternating POV has essentially made Supernatural the love child of Sam and Dean's perspectives, giving the audience a better understanding of their headspaces, enriching the story, and enduring both brothers to fans.

The Fans

The pilot:

SPN the early days
by yourlibrarian: a discussion about the unspecified draft of the pilot touched on above
Those Tiny Trifles: 1x01, Pilot
by sadelyrate: details, observations, and bulleted meta of the most minute sort
SPN Revealed - 1.01 Pilot
by raloria: continuity errors, trivia, filmmaking techniques, and observations
General meta
spn_heavymeta bible entry

Other Show Facts and Cinematography Gems

"Tales from the Edge of Darkness" S1 DVD featurette
Knight, Nicholas, Supernatural The Official Companion Season 1, Titan Books, London, 2007.

We want this to be a community project, so if you have fun facts/observations for a future episode (we're currently pulling together entries for Wendigo (1x02) and Dead in the Water (1x03)) or feel like you'd like to contribute in a small way please let us know in the comments. Also, please feel free to suggest other links, factual tidbits, fannish observations for the pilot in the comments to this post and we will update this entry. If possible please include links to the source information (interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and/or the original meta) or mention where it came from such as the S1 or S2 Companion guides or one of the DVD commentaries if you recall. Of course, if you're contributing your own fannish observations no references are necessary. We'll be sure to give you credit for any contributions. We'd love to get your feedback--the good, the not so good, and the ... constructive--to improve future "Viewer's Guides". :)
Tags: 1x01, mod post, season 1, the viewer's guide

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  • Episode Discussion 11x18, 11x19, and 11x20

    I'm so sorry these are epically late. /o\ Any thoughts, notes, and comments on the visuals of ep are welcome here! HD screencaps for 11x18 are…

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    I'm not sure if I can see the screen from tearing up but in case anyone else can... Any thoughts, notes, and comments on the visuals of ep are…

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    This ep had a lot of interesting visuals! Any thoughts, notes, and comments on the visuals of ep are welcome here! HD screencaps for 11x16 are…