The Magnificent Seven - A Series Format
SERIES OVERVIEW AND PHILOSOPHY
"You think I'm -- brave because I carry a gun - well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility."
Who can fail to remember the heart stirring emotions created by the theme music of the Magnificent Seven and the sense of mythic rightness and courage that came from experiencing the film?
As the Millennium approaches, one might ask, has living in a world with vast technological changes created a different set of moral values? Should we define our heroes differently when we're threatened daily in our newspapers and television by massively evil villains like the Saddam Husseins and the Jeffrey Dahmers?
We believe the answer is... that mankind's basic values never change. No matter what the era or fashion, HEROES are a basic dramatic form, defined the same in every country and culture throughout history.
They are the constant force of good that our species needs to believe in, so that we feel comfortable facing the future and raising our children. The courage that seems to move us most is when the act is altruistic. When a fireman risks his life to save another man's child, or a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades.
The Magnificent Seven are those kind of heroes. Men living in the old West, a civilization stripped to its most simple elements. They are human. They argue with each other, they make mistakes, they have disparate faiths, desires and plans. But they unify when others are threatened. Together, they are a group of underdogs going against the greatest of evils, banded together by faith, courage and friendship.
The Magnificent Seven will be approachable for an audience who wants to see heroism and courage and wants to support the underdogs. Most importantly, our adventures will be tempered with humor, drama, action and of course, romance.
The Magnificent Seven eloquently adds one more element to the Joseph Campbell myth of the hero... a sense of redemption for our characters. Men who have lived rough and violent lives now find a moral completion when they are recruited as hardened fighters to give up all reward to stand back to back with helpless peasants.
It is important that each show resonate with a sense of raw chivalry. Our Magnificent Seven are no longer killers but are protectors. In their rough stand for frontier justice, they must protect the Makers of civilized life, the innocent, the young, the married, the homesteaders, versus the Takers of life... those in a frontier without law, who see no reason to behave morally.
THE WORLD OF THE SERIES
The series takes place in a nameless Territory in the west prior to statehood. The Territorry is a lawless place run by a group of cattle and land barons who hold the Territory politicians in their hip pockets: they have paid off the governor. They control politics and range policy and their goal is to make sure towns don.'t develop, farms don't take root, and fences aren't put up. Our Town has managed barely to survive, even though the barons have run off the last six lawmen. Without law and order, the Town has become easy prey for the bad elements and outlaws who come and go through the area.
The newspaper editor, Mary Travis, and her father-in-law, a circuit judge, have been carrying the burden of trying to see justice meted out in the Territory. Mary and the Judge decide to offer The Magnificent Seven $5 a week each to defend the town and fight against injustices in the Territory.
While the Seven don't immediately embrace the idea (and never do become an officially organized group of lawmen/detectives), they accept the Judge's offer. The Seven use Pinkerton-like methods to catch bad guys. The Pinkertons were cowboy detectives who went undercover, never took a reward and had a code of ethics that was seldom corrupted.
All shows will involve all seven of our men. Chris will continue to lead the group and assign some of the other six to whatever problem he's been given (ala 'Mission Impossible'). Each member of the team will then use his unique skill to help solve the problem. Mary, the Judge and the people coming and going through town are the delivery system for these problems and the conduit for episodic stories. As the legend of the Seven becomes known, many people come to the Town deliberately looking for help.
"I make a point of knowing who's in town. Live longer that way."
Chris is the charismatic leader of "The Magnificent Seven", a gunslinger who lives bv a moral code rare to the frontier. Many years ago, Chris suffered a great injustice when his wife and son were burned alive in a fire. Unable to prove who did it. Chris became a man on the brink. He hired himself out as a gunman and took many lives...some perhaps too hastily. Today, he still lives with the nightmare of both his family and his victims. Because Chris has lost a part of himself, his story is one of redemption, about preventing the kind of injustice he suffered from happening to others. It becomes clear that Chris lost his faith in God after his wife died. He will necessarily pursue any clue to his rival's whereabouts of his family's killer. Chris is closer to an anti-hero than a hero. Above all, he is a dangerous man with an intense inner rage, unpredictable, someone you don't cross. He is restless, unable to stay in one place too long. He has a "need for speed", at his best when he is in the heat of the fray and his life is on the line. During periods of inactivity, he's liable to head south of the border and lose himself in a cantina. His wife's name was Sarah and his son, Adam. He finds the man who set fire to the house (Cletus Fowler), but Fowler dies before telling Chris who hired him.
"Aw hell. I never planned on dyin' with a broom in my hand."
Vin is the second in command to Chris. He has a hidden past that remains a mystery to our team, a dark time of his-lifc that occasionally is hinted at but never expounded upon. Having spent time as a Buffalo hunter, Vin excels as a sharpshooter. He's learned all the tricks of hunting and is extremely adept at tracking. He also earned a living as a bounty hunter. Vin has made many enemies over the years, and in one frontier town, Tuscosa, he was framed for a murder he didn't commit. Now he must live with a price on his head, which is why he's hiding out as a shopkeeper when we first meet him, and he always tries to keep a low profile and tends to be a loner. Every time he goes out, there is a risk he could be captured and hung. As an underdog and an outsider, Vin identifies with people in need and is motivated by a strong internal sense of justice. He is driven to clear his good name. We learn that his mother died when he was very young.
Buck: "They got ladies where you're going?"
A professional gunfighter, Buck is a large likable man with a wild personality who's been working in the Old West for vears. If you're on his side, he's your best friend. But if he's against you, watch out --he's been known to turn on people in an instant if he disagrees with them. He's known Chris a long time. They know more about each other's past than they are comfortable with and this frequently leads to tension between them. Buck is good looking and his personality is a magnet for women. He is an incorrigible ladies' man, and that is the Achi11es heel. His dalliances constantly get himself and the others into deep water. Buck feels a strong sense of paternal instinct to J.D. He takes on the role of the young cowboy's mentor, which J.D. resists. Their Laurel and Hardy-type relationship is a constant source of humor. Buck, too, has a dark side. We discover that his mother was a prostitute and he was raised in a whorehouse. He was a friend of Chris before the death of Chris' wife and son and had ridden with him to Mexico the night they died.
Cowboy: "You only got one more shot in that popgun."
An inveterate smooth talker, Ezra is a "Southern Gentleman." but also a trickster, a P.T. Barnum-type with a flair for snappy dressing. Still quite young, Ezra's been everything from an actor and a riverboat gambler to a fortune teller, from a bible-thumping evangelist to a flimflam man. He's a cynic, the disbeliever in the group, the one who's alwavs looking for the angle. In a world without laws. Ezra lives by his own moral code. Also a master of disguise. Ezra has even escaped from trouble by dressing as a woman when his cons were discovered. Ultimately, however, if his disguises don't work, he's just as willing to use his deft gunslinger skill to shoot his way out. He constantly has new devices and inventions, some of which work better than others. He's had many aliases and his true identity and past remain a mystery. Ezra has an affinity for kids. His southern attitude towards blacks causes conflict with Nathan. His mother, Maude, is a conwoman who taught Ezra 'the trade'.
"If death is coming, I'd sooner meet him head on."
A defrocked priest, Josiah handed in his collar after killing a man who was threatening the life of a decent family. He could no longer stomach the notion of "turning the other cheek." Now, wearing a simple poncho, Josiah resembles a mad prophet--and acts the part. Having sinned, and lived the life of priest, he knows that neither one has all the answers. Josiah's faith has driven him to seek forgiveness when he sins--which means he's always working off a penance. He's searching for a higher spiritual plain. This search has led him to experiment with many kinds of beliefs and religions. He's not above dispensing his own version of justice with a staff or with a gun. Josiah is also a drinker, often noting with a smile that he "seems to have turned to the wrong spirit." He also has a playful, self-effacing humor that makes him appear less of a threat than he is. When he shifts into fighting mode, he's as tough as they come. He is unafraid of death. His father was a missionary and Josiah traveled the world with him as a child.
"The Seminoles put 'emselves on the line for many an escaped slave. For five dollars, they can have a week of my life."
Nathan escaped from slavery to the North where he suddenly found himself caught up in the Civil War. As a soldier on one of the two Northern all-black infantries, Nathan was injured and spent time in a field hospital. While he was recuperating he began working as an orderly, picking up leftover body parts and cleaning out operating rooms. But his eyes were always open and Nathan was eager to learn. He began a passionate self-teaching process, eventually reaching a level of skill equal to some doctors. He left the field hospital and became a medic, fighting his way across the battlefield to save injured soldiers. Despite his new medical knowledge, however, Nathan was still an illiterate black man. Once the war ended, he headed out west to escape his past. Nathan's intrinsic desire to help other people has never waned and wherever needed, he will step in to administer to someone who is sick or dying--sometimes despite the protests of men who let racism get in the way of their health. Nathan excels at knife-throwing, the only weapons he had access to as a slave. He is as fast and deadly with a knife as many men are with a gun--he can kill, or cure with it. He has an intermittent, ongoing relationship with Rain, the Seminole girl.
JOHN ".J.D." DUNNE
"I can help if you give me a chance. I'm ready to fight."
A young cocky kid from New York, J.D. has come West in pursuit of the excitement and adventure he's read about in dime store novels. He arrives with brand new guns and a smart suit. He passes himself off as coming from a wealthy family, but in reality he was just a stable boy. He has grown into an expert rider, but his fighting technique is still untested and green. Throughout the series, J.D.'s blind courage and enthusiasm will thrust our group into dangerous situations that a wiser gunfighter might have avoided.
Mary: "I'm just trying to scare the bad element away from this town."
Mary recently inherited her deceased husband's newspaper business. Ambitious, educated in the East, and possessing a razor sharp mind, she works both as the publisher, editor and one of the newspaper's contributors, all the while grappling with the sexism of those who don't trust a woman. Mary lost her husband and connects with the deep scars that come from losing a loved one that she recognizes in Chris. Because both are fiercely independent, their relationship is marked by some strong disagreement, but a deep abiding attraction clearly exists between Mary and Chris. She has an eight year-old son, Billy, whom she has sent to live with his grandparents because the town is so unsafe. She is blindly determined to make a go of it out west and reform this town by any means possible.
JUDGE ORIN TRAVIS
A man in his sixties who, although not a gunfighter himself, has a fierce strength that comes from his belief in justice. With no honorable politicians left in the territories, Judge Travis is the only true source of justice in a thousand square miles. As Mary's father-in-law, he feeds her news of the wrongs which the Seven will right. He's as tough as they come. He never forgets a name or a face or a crime.
MARY - the quest to deepen her character
Mary is frequently introduced in our screen stories as a beautiful but passive and unchallenged woman in her support role in the Mag 7. She's sort of standing, there the conscience of the community waiting to be called upon, or worse she plays the school Marm, wagging her finger.... and yet, as "Witness" shows we have an artist with incredibly strong passions and humor playing her role.
I think we should challenge ourselves to a major rethink... to get Mary out of mourning and wagging. I very much lean towards deepening her Norther Exposure feel of the whole show and believe Mary cab play a bigger part in creating emotions and humor for us if we give her more character and quirkiness.
Any time Mary is on camera, she needs to look much more deliberately self-sufficient, more dirt under the fingernails. She should always have her own agenda - that our Mag 7 stories interrupt. She needs to be active rebel, fighting back at of the traps of frontier life for a woman. She should have an unpredictable sense of humor, using it against a world that doesn't play fair. This lady deserves the vote! We should always find her taking on the tasks that make her an underdog. Always wearing an ink-stained apron, rolled up sleeves, a torn dress, hair out of place. Carrying bags of stuff, writing a document, carrying a tool. Fixing - oiling. Arguing her points while she's sweeping, hammering, chasing a rat with a six-gun, etc. Determinedly struggling to do more than she can in a man's world, so we see her as a woman who is as strong as the other seven men.
I'd love to redefine Mary thus... She feels she is as good as any man. She was a Tomboy as a kid. Because she had five brothers, breaking down on crying didn't carry the day! A good kick where it counts or a lick on the jaw got her equality. At school they tried to teach her to be a polite little doll and tried to knock the Tomboy out of her. And when she met her husband he was a man with his eyes on the West and treasured her for her self-sufficiency. Her husband was the first man who saw beyond her outside beauty, and valued her independence. Traits that would similarly attract Chris and some of our other guys.
Let's experiment: Try and get Mary out of the tight necked garments, get rid of the bun hairdo. Let's do a new makeup and costume test to see what we can accomplish.
A small general note: My directing coach on Moll Flanders told me that an easy way to give an actor power in a scene is to define what the character was doing, or what the character's goal was, just prior to them appearing on camera when they into the scene: Where did they come from? How are they dressed? What props do they have to put down, to deal with the new emergency? How much can the new direction of the scene change the plans that the character originally arrived with, etc? I think we should ask all our writers to analyze what is happening prior to the scene starting for all our characters, what costume, what props, etc., will give greater sense of life going on...
Mary could be much more often interacting with other members of the local community when the 7 come to call.
The low-key approach to this would be... She's sewing a patch on the old town drunk's pants. She's teaching the Chinese kid to read English. She's bargaining in another language with an Indian for a deer haunch. She's on the floor rolling dice with the town kids, and losing.
High key would be... We discover her secretly in tears reading poems by her husband. It's their anniversary - A woman slaps her because she thinks Mary's after her husband. Mary is loading a gun and lies to a guys because she is determined to personally go after someone.
And she could also be more active even within her newspaper franchise. Going out to do research for her stories, talking to a widow about an obit. Running for town mayor. Trying to interview a self-proclaimed "impossible" survivor from Custer's last stand. (There were dozens, they were the Indians!)
Developing her humor could come by giving her more attitude.
If Chris arrives to do research in Mary's files and finds Mary under her printing machine with a wrench like a garage mechanic. He watches silently amazed as she hammers her thumb... slams the machine cursing and dancing around it. Until she sees him.
She calls the old printing machine "Lucifer", and frightens Josiah when she tells him Lucifer's determined to wreck her life.
She's trying to bribe the blacksmith to fix her printer but the guy's mad at her for an editorial that caused his wife to stop having sex with him.
More humur more in reverence, more "unladylike" qualities. Let's see her take on the men, acting coy, one second, so she can give them lip the next.
She should challenge the men's machismo solutions to problems.
"Buck, if you keep your pants on and your mouth closed for two minutes, maybe I could explain this to you."
"My father had a male dog that chased around like you, he fixed it... with a bullet."
"I've often thought the process that turns a Bull into a Steer might have valuable applications to some members of the human species!"
And more heart.
Let's try and use my old plot from "If Wishes Were Horses", having Mary and Chris wrestle to save an animal's life by turning a foal in a breech birthing Mare. (Or human mother's).
Let's have Mary slammed on the head by a crook and have her suffer amnesia, so the guys have become women to teach her how to behave.
Let's do Mary's "It's a Wonderful Life"... she's packing to leave town, giving up and in the course of the episode she finds how much the people in the community need her... so she decides to stay.
Because she's a writer we could also create an episode that is written by Mary, from her journal describing all our characters as she sees them... this could be an attempt to a sell a story to a magazine in New York. She wants validation! The story gets into the wrong hands and is read back to the guys... she rewrites the ending... They validate her.
SERIES STRUCTURE AND SPECIFICS
I. Each episode should have an A. B. and C story:
II. At some point in each episode, all seven should be together.
III. Tone of the stories should be a fun, employing inventive problem solving.
IV. Stories are delivered to our Seven through one of two ways:
V. The relationship between Chris and Mary should be akin to 'Moonlighting' in tone. A combination of power struggle, playfulness and attraction.
VI. Buck and J.D. have a Laurel and Hardy type of relationship that should be played for humor.
VII. Josiah's preachings are bizarre, wacky and oftentimes incomprehensible. He is also our entranceway into 'strange' stories, such as ghosts and the paranormal.
VIII. There needs to be ongoing conflicts between members of the Seven. For instance. Ezra vs Nathan: Chris vs. Buck.
IX. We must avoid letting the characters become "soft", goody-goody. These are flawed heroes with dark pasts. Avoid dilemmas that are too black and white. They resist being heroic: are not blindly altruistic.
X. Writing Tenets
-Series franchise episode: As the Seven arrive in town. the cattle barons are offering townspeople $100 to leave, with the hope that it will become a ghost town. A small group, led by Mary, her father-in-law and the mayor, stand up against the cattle barons, but are scoffed at and wished good luck at surviving. Chris and the rest of the Seven aren't interested in becoming involved in the struggle. When the cattle barons begin sabotaging the town with acts of violence and robbery, Mary once again tries to enlist their help. She offers $5 a week for each of them and says she will also help Chris find the killer of his wife and child. Reluctantly the Seven agree to help, but only on a temporary basis until the town becomes stable.
-The Seven join a wagon train as drifters to root out a man who has been plundering and abandoning immigrants and making it look like Indians attacked.
-They go undercover on the railroad to be captured by outlaws and discover their hideout. (Not in the first six episodes.)
-Judge Travis (or someone) sends the Seven after a man who claims he has amnesia and isn't sure whether he committed a crime or not. The judge wants him taken alive, in case his story is true.
-A cowboy is called to gunfight with a young man in the street who says. "You killed my father." He draws on the guy, misses, gets shot, goes down. Nathan treats the young man, and discovers that the young boy is actually a young woman. The Seven take up her plight... but of course something bigger is at stake. The girl's father was killed because two or three others were trying to shut him up. They were planning something illegal.
-One of the Seven rides into a town where, on the surface, everything seems normal. When he is cornered and captured, we soon realize that a heavily armed group has taken over and is waiting for a large shipment of gold that is due there. And if anyone does anything to reveal what's truly going on, they'll kill everyone.
-They go into a mining town as miners to get the goods on a sheriff who is framing miners and raking their claims.
-Members of the Seven fake being arrested so that they can go into a jail and try to foil a major escape before a hanging.
-Vin takes the blame for a crime. The evidence seems to go against him, and yet Chris finds it hard to believe. As he investigates, he looks even more guilty. What we discover is that his younger brother is in town and had broken the law, and Vin is willing to take the fall so that the younger brother he abandoned gets a second chance at life.
-One of the Seven goes bad and the others have to hunt him down before he reveals too much about them to a gang of outlaws who want revenge.
-Elements included in the first episode outline: Newspaper woman has secret wealth from husband. She was an actress, wants to make up for a life of make-believe. Decides to hire the Seven at $5 per week. Has husband's old ranch/mine as base. In return will get to write stories about the group's exploits. Deems them the Magnificent Seven... keeps their identities hidden.
-Geoff Murphy's mining story: A cruel mine owner runs his mine under criminal conditions. The workers complain, but the owner refuses to change. He does, however, challenge that if any worker can defeat his big, tough pugilist son in a fight, he'll listen to their complaints. Josiah rises to the challenge, defeats the son, but still the owner doesn't listen. The rest of the Seven must help change the situation.
-J.D.'s father shows up and J.D. learns the truth about him the hard way.
-One or more of the 7 trapped a la "Straw Dogs" or "Stalking Moon". Chris, Mary and her kid are trapped in her ranch house, surrounded after they have driven off squatters.
-Two women outlaws -- Jennie "little Britches" Stevens and Cattle -Annie McDougal -- are finally captured by the Seven.
-The Santa Fe Ring -- a group of New Mexican politicians who control local politics and range policy -- are challenged by the Seven on
-One of the Seven is a murder suspect --Nathan of a white guy?
-Someone impersonates Chris, goes on a killing spree.
-Hysteria over disease epidemic -- looks like cholera?
One of the Seven accidentally kills/wounds an innocent bystander.
-Man whose wife is captured by Indians.
-Mary teaches J.D. to read.
-Thanksgiving episode. (Not in first six episodes.)
-Christmas episode. (Not in first six episodes.)
-A beleaguered missionary asks for help.
-Two of the Seven fall for the same woman.
-Historical characters should not be used literally, but interesting traits, actions and situations could be drawn from and used to create original characters.
-One of the Seven injures a finger or hand and has to use his left hand.
-Chris goes to Mary to have some research done in her files. Mary decides to get more deeply involved and gets caught in a bad situation. Chris has to bail her out.
-Pioneer woman loses her husband and needs the Seven to protect her land.
-Mad millionaire is kidnapping men to have them fight to the death.
-Cheated prospector comes back from the dead and wreaks revenge by framing wealthy men for crimes so that they pay for his demise... but one of the men is innocent.
-Crooked sheriff returns to town to bring in Chris. A cattle baron is behind it.
-Chris searches for the man who set the fire -- Silverman. A man who's nick-named Silverman, At the fire he lost a finger maybe. His gun was dropped and had his initials on it.
-Friend of Chris is hung. He goes to investigate, finds the jury was intimidated and someone doesn't want the circumstances unraveled. Turns out the old buddy had gone crooked and faked his death. Chris uncovers him and has to go up against his old friend.
-Ghost dancers. White men have found valuable mineral, borax, on Indian land and want to provoke the Indians into an attack so that they can take the land. So a pioneer family is attacked by "Indians". The little girl is the only survivor and sees her doll crushed by a boot. She becomes mute. Josiah befriends her and she'1l talk only to him. The Seven wind up the townies to go after the Indians, to lead a lynch mob. Mary's friends come west and it looks like they're the next potential victims. Josiah realizes it wasn't Indians, it was the white men and Chris is in trouble. The Seven end up having to protect the Indians and then take out the bad guys who had tried to drive the Indians off their land to get the minerals. The little girl ends up living with a new family, but is still befriended by Josiah.
-Serial killer story - turns out the killer is a man disguised as a woman.
-Nathan in a duel with gunfighter. Beats him to the draw with his knife. Man assumed Nathan was going to use his gun and knew that Nathan was slow with it. Perhaps it's a man who is angry at Nathan for surgery he's done (amputation?) which was life-saving but he prefers to blame him.
-Vin relentlessly pursues a gang (the posse who came to get him from Tuscosa), or just Eli Joe. Wounded, without food and water for days, he just tirelessly keeps on going while he catches up to him. He has to take Eli in alive to prove his own innocence.
-Josiah heads out into the desert to recover trom his wounds, meditate and smoke peyote (perhaps.) They have to bring him back to preach the Sunday service, which Mary feels is crucial for the town's bonding and self-confidence, etc. Ezra volunteers, but is rejected.
-Ezra has a new scam. He's concocted his own panacea medicine. When he's discovered, they want to lynch him.
-Chris tracks down and kills the man who set fire to his house and killed his wife and kid, but still has to find the man who hired that person.
-Josiah's wife turns up.
-We discover Buck's backstory: he killed his father to protect his mother. Perhaps he grew up in a whorehouse.