VIDEO: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Unaired Pilot

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Sofie goes back and digs through her pile of Requested Reviews for a rather special request: The original, unaired pilot to what went on to become a very successful show, Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender!

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TV Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender

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  • Avater: The last Airbender, in my opinion, is an example of a series “that gets it right.”  Like you said, it’s ALL about pre-production.  

    Note that there are only two main writers.  My biggest problem with my other favorite cartoon, MLP:FIM, is that there is an entire stable of over a dozen writers that may interpret the series bible differently, leading to serious continuity conflicts.  And although I think a good director/editor should be able to fix these conflicts, the writers guild usually discourages this.These are the two that know the most about the characters and how they’re supposed to develop.  Plus they’re actually good at writing a coherent narrative.  They keep the story on track, it flows.  I’m sure that have additional writers that come in to help polish off the final product; like a dialog guy to punch up the conversations, make them snappy; or a comedy guy, to make sure all the jokes work.  But in the end, comes down the two guys.

    This was a great adventure cartoon, and it’s because the writers didn’t delegate their vision to others.

    • Sofie Liv

      It’s definetely an amazing show. And I do believe that is becoming a more regular thing of it just being a very small group of writers working together. How-ever you are wrong, there were more than just two writers, this is the list of writers whom worked on that show.

      Michael Dante DiMartino
      Bryan Konietzko
      Aaron Ehasz
      Tim Hedrick
      John O’Bryan
      Elizabeth Welch Ehasz
      Joshua Hamilton
      May Chan
      Matthew Hubbard
      James Eagan

      How-ever, there were two main creators! whom held the chair as sort of directors and leaders whom controlled their show and made sure it ended up as they wanted.

      In regard to Avatar, you can definetely feel the more tight structure that would allow them, you feel that the show is going some-where, and as it moves along and progresses, it does so very naturally, in later seasons as they are just no filler at all, yeah definetely, you can feel the writers worked a lot tighter.. and well, I am going to say it’s an great adventure show because every-body working on it was both very talented and clearly cared a lot about the project, the details they some-times went into for this show is just astounding.
      It’s just a shame Legend of Korra was a show that ended up feeling rushed in its story telling, all of the story that happened in her one season could easily have been stretched out to twice as many episodes.. I mean.. “Hallo Iroh II Good buy Iroh II it was nice not having the time to know you.”
      Oh well, still an up and above cartoon show in many aspects, which a really good female lead.

      • EDIT:
        Goodness. I am wrong, and embarrassed. It’s been a while. Dimartino and Konietzko seemed like they took the helm on so many episodes, that I must have just mentally filed them as such. Maybe because their names popped out to me. But I stand by what I said, in principle (if not supported by this example).

        I love Phineas and Ferb.  I loved this show since the Episode “Flop Stars.”  It may be predictable, but it’s always fun.  In fact, this show is the reason why I can’t hate Highschool Musical.  Dan Povenmire and Jeff Marsh wrote all the songs.

        As for Korra, I agree.  It could have been done much better.  But I think there was an executive decision to lengthen what the writers had planned, which may have caught them off guard.  I feel it could have been done better.

        But not every Franchise benefits from it having few writers.  In Star Trek, some of the least favorite episodes (and one movie) are the ones the Gene Rodenberry personally wrote.  In Starwars, George Lucas’ lack of Dialog writing skill really shows.  (Still, I’m looking forward to Disney’s Star Wars Episode 7)

        • Sofie Liv

          It’s cool, we all make mistakes, god knows I do that all the time!

          I guess what it comes down to is merely talented people working on this, and well.. having a talented leader with a clear cut through voice guiding the whole project definetely helps a lot.

          A good leader definetely is some-one whom knows his own strenghts and weakness’s, can manage to rely on the people to do their thing and fill out his weakness, deligate and delinquish tasks, listen, stand on top of it all and rely on the people whom knows what they are doing, and actually not be a dictator but a democrat.. a gift George Lucas didn’t really show-case in his own Star Trek prequels :/

          He should have let some-one else write the scripts, that’s how the original Star Trek films managed to turn out so well, the people working under him got to do their job -_-;

          Franchises benefits from having GOOD writers, that’s it!

          • $36060516

            I hated George Lucas’s Star Trek prequels… Jar Jar Binks as captain of the USS Enterprise was an embarrassment.  :-)

          • Sofie Liv

             ….. whops

          • Thomas Stockel

            It certainly helps if the guy at the top has someone providing a moderating voice.  Gene Rodenberry had Gene L. Coon when he was doing The Original Series, for example.  Coon is credited with creating The Prime Directive (before it was twisted all out of shape by TNG writers) and the Klingons, among other things.  Who knows what ‘Trek would have looked like without Coon co-producing?  And When George Lucas did the first two Star Wars movies Gary Kurtz was there producing along with him.  When Kurtz left right away we got Ewoks.

            And what happened when these guys, years later, revisited their franchises without a strong dissenting voice to bring reason and order to their respective projects?  Star Trek, The Next Generation, seasons one and two.  And Star Wars, Episodes I-III.

            Still, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing when the producer is also writing the screenplays, provided that again there is some oversight.  J. Michael Strazynski wrote most of Babylon 5, for example.  The dude just needed a better editor to smooth over some of the cornier dialogue, that’s all.

          • Sofie Liv

             Well, duh, you can certainly be both a good writer and a good director, it’s just not all whom is it, and both are very difficult tasks, so there’s no shame in not being all.

            Like Tim Burton, he is a great director and a great artist.. he is a sucky writer.
            Josh Whedon is a great director and a great writer, but never cares about the art in his movies.

            We all have different strenghts, you should just be able to know what those are and when you are not the best person at some-thing, let some-one else take over or at least help you to get better, especially in profesional circles.

    • True but looking at it from a different angle, some consider FiM to be a ‘slice of life’ cartoon (like SoL anime such as Azumanga Daioh) at times showing events not necessarily showing continuity, but establishing a situation, see how the characters react to said situation and each other during that situation and that can be the episode. But you are right about how certain writers have different interpretations of events and characters, for better (More enjoyable character moments and better storytelling) or worse (bad character interpretations and shoe-horned morals).

      From what I know about The Last Airbender, it has epic story arcs and large amounts of character development as well as superb animation which is most likely how, as you said, it get’s it right. It’s on my ‘to watch’ list anyway since it’s a show that passed me by in my teen years, but I’m sure I’d like it even now.

  • Jason Withrow

    You finished it!  I’m glad the video wasn’t insurmountable in the end.  I really enjoyed your points on pre-production, and completely agree.  I work in freelance in web and writing and the pre-production discussion’s been running up and down both industries.  Makes me hopeful that it might stick!

    So anyway, thanks again!  I hope you had some fun with it.

    • Sofie Liv

       Thank you for the donation.
      Well, it was an interesting piece to dig up and sit through, I will give you that, and the process behind making good stuff is very fascinating to me.

      I of cause, neglected to point out the dark side of pre-production, because yes, on one hand you shouldn’t rush through it, but on the other hand, lots of people also makes the mistake of getting stuck in the “pre-production phase” and there-fore don’t manage to put out real any material, especially people here in the web-buisness whom does every-thing themselves there’s a lot of people going.

      “But it’s not good enough yet, I want to fix more.” “Dude, you’ve been working on that ten minutes video for three months, If you want it out so you can move on and make an actual show, you just need to finish it!”

      I have pointed this out some-where else that the darker side of web-production like this is that we become manifactures instead of caring artists, because we need to put these videos out in a steady pace, we simply cannot afford to have such a thing as “pre-production.” and movies can’t afford to have to long a pre-production, you’ll get stuck and you wont get any-where, a pre-production must also be very focused on moving forward.. it’s a thing where its a question of balance while you stand in it, you need to have that pre-production but neither must it take over.

      And now I am rambling ones again, again thanks for the donation, helped a lot :)

      • Jason Withrow

         Yeah, that’s definitely the downside, and a constant factor in freelance, but don’t I wish!  Oh well.  Another dark side: when it just plain doesn’t work… or doesn’t seem to.  I’ve been watching the Backer Videos for the Double Fine Adventure kickstarter.  After all their pre-production, they start up and… well, to paraphrase Tim Schafer: “If I hadn’t worked in this industry for years, I’d be panicking right now.”

        But there’s something to be said about the work that gets done without, an ability to think on your feet I see in a lot of the web video producers after a year or so.  Improv has always been important for comedy, of course, but it goes beyond that into every aspect of the videos, script, critque and so forth.  Your crossovers lately, and those of the other Boothers: I’m sure I can’t even imagine the amount of on-the-spot coordination, correction and rapid planning required!  And yet, in the end, success (or at least to a layman like me).  Crossovers may have been invented as a form of cross-advertising, but being able to enjoy two hosts you already enjoy covering Breaking Dawn without stumbling over the logistics is just pie.

        I suppose it’s another of those all-but-mythical sweet spots.  If only we knew where the damn thing was!

        • Sofie Liv

           Tell me about it, I am working on a stage-play right now, a new original stage play where I have one of the four leading parts, we all-ready are booked for a stage in April which is when the show must be finished… and we are so still only on a pre-production stage of things.

          We got together all four main actors and script-writer on the first day, exspecting to have a script so we could just go straight ahead and work towards our opening, but as it turns out.. the script really sucked.. and all four actors could tell that, could even give multiple exemples on why and the script writer (whom has never ever written a stage-play before, but on the other hand, is in mid education as a doctor… for real.) at last nodded and agreed that the entire thing needs to be re-written, from page one.. so what we have now is.. four leading actors, whom are all better script writers than the actual script-writer, a script writer not wanting to hand his script over and let us do the work for him and a stage which is all-ready booked for April and us all-ready in the theatres programme… personally, I am kind of freaked about this whole thing at this point, I’m not panicking yet, but.. just give it to March, then I’m sure i’ll be panicking.

          And yeah.. to do this and do it probably, you definetely need to simply just be able to think for yourself, be willing to bend and compromise, look at the situation you stand in right now and grab the moment as it comes.
          Personally, I don’t do to much improvise in front of camera, in fact I barely improvise, my limited languet skills in this regard prevents me from just starting to improvise as shit in this regard.. so that’s that, I always work from a script I wrote priorly.

          • MephLord

            Stuff like this reminds me why I am glad to be a blue collar worker that doesn’t have to be creative or logical, just do his job and watch the decision makers around himself…having more knowledge of computers and IT than my bosses and still smiling at how clueless they can be about simple processes.  I am not consulted for my IT diploma, so I watch them fuddle and figure stuff out on the fly and seeing how much money they waste rather than look at it logically and systematically.

            My online job, on the other hand does recognize how good my work is (thanks to my Oracle training) so I get to call my shots on how much I work on their database, and they realize I have a full time job as well.  So it’s amusing how some people that there are parallels: a good boss does not mean good results, and a smart person does not mean a good script. 

            I’m of the opinion that you can be open to ideas to an extent, but if you don’t let your qualified staff to make decisions, then you are wasting their talent.  If you have a trained actor that is relegated to a supporting role, that is wasting the talent of that actor.  If you have a trained plumber and let him only dig trenches and change piping, that’s a waste of his talent.  If you have a singer that does amazing original compositions and only have her doing covers you are wasting her talent.

            Sorry for the rant, but it does bug me that management and executives act as if talent is interchangable, when it is not…the people doing the creative and analytical work are more important than people making bone-headed decisions.

          • Sofie Liv

             Yeah… the guy putting it all together as you can probably tell.. is a damn smart person. He is one of the smartest people I know, i’m dead sure he’ll become a doctor and a really good high grading one.
            That he managed to pull the people together and hire a stage so some-thing is going to happen, is nothing short of astounding, it really goes to show how passionate and smart he is.. but. he just isn’t a script writer.

            Doesn’t mean he couldn’t learn how to be one.. but.. he should honestly just focus on what he knows at this point.
            The big difference just is that the four actors he got, all have a long exsperience in working with scripts, seeing them in front of us, even writing. My first stories I ever wrote, were of cause.. shit.. they were not very good, but after years and years of writing, analyzing other peoples work, both in regard to what I like and don’t like, copying formulas I liked, writing an entire novel seized fanfic (yes I did.) I learned how to do this.. sort of.. again, your first draft will never be perfect, neither are mine, but I like to think I can write a workable story if you hand me a concept.

            And well yeah, the sad thing here is that all four semi proff actors, including me, are willing to write for him, because we all want this show to be good and give it us all (seriously, the people he managed to pull together, that’s just impressive, they are so skilled, and so passionate.) And he wont give the writing duty up!
            I get why he doesn’t want to. This thing is his baby, and he worked on that first sucky script for five years. He wanted to turn it into a play, because it is his babie he want to tell.. but he still can’t write.. it’s based on a role-play game he wrote, and its an amazing Role-play game, I played it, its brilliant, thing just is.. a role-play isn’t the same as a theatre play! Role-play is for playing, theatre is for show-casing, you cannot write the same way for the two things, and it’s just an entirely other skill-set to make a theatre play.. sigh.. now I am ranting, but as you can might sense, now I am the one standing in a frustrating spot.

            I want this show to be good! I can’t wait to get back on stage and do what I feel like I do best. but as it look now.. some-thing is going to happen, it’s just a very big question whether it’s going to be good or not.

          • MephLord

            I wrote my own role playing game, and have been published in a role playing sourcebook series (although my work is pretty bad, so it won’t be appearing on my resume).  Each submission did get better but writing RPGs is extremely exhausting because not only does it have to be interesting and fun, but also has to adhere to a ruleset that governs actions and results.  My RPG was 260 pages when my computer crashed and lost everything and still haven’t had the heart to try and recreate what I lost.

            To show what a nerd I am, I like to convert comic book characters into various RPG systems to check out the systems and see which is the best.  So far my favorite is Big Eyes, Small Mouth with Mutants and Masterminds 2nd and Heroes Unlimited 3rd.  If I’m not the only one that has converted Continuity Comics characters to RPG stats, I’ll be truly in awe!

          • Sofie Liv

             yeah.. that’s now how he wrote it. You see, role-plays are many things, as long as it’s a game where the players takes on a role, it qualifies as a role-game.

            And this was a small larp game which was character based not system based, and you trust your player to be able to handle being in character without using any system sheets at all, none, and system sheets are never used at larping in Denmark as we feel like it spoils the illuasion.

            It’s more like he wrote a set-up, and four characters with back-ground story and motivation, the now and here situation is that the four characters is trapped on a very small space, a broken elevator, so the players cannot leave the small room, and small trickers such as music quos from the game-masters computer, made the characters have flash-backs to their former lifes, which the players were briefed on individually, and the whole thing becomes about staying in character yoursel, figure the other characters out, and survive or get redemption if you can, play to get a natural solution and stay in the illusions.
            When I played it the whole thing became very intense, we screamed, cried, laughed of insanity and our characters went absolute crazy because of the pressure.. and no.. I am not really a fan of system based role-plays myself, because I absolutely agree it spoils the illusion, and i like to just compleately sink into a character and go for the insanity.

          • MephLord

            Being trapped in an elevator is a natural scary environment, so it’s easy to get into character.  After all, escape or communication is the first thing you’d think of doing, and a character with claustrophobia will the first to panic, and do something desperate.  Another character might call out for help, while another might become despondent and simply wait.  The fourth character could be trying to calm the claustrophobic person down, leading to character tension, especially if they are unsure if the elevator will collapse and fall.  Easily a very dramatic situation to envision yourself in.

          • Sofie Liv

             Also helped the four of us really worked each other up in there, it seriously ended with me getting smacked around because the others grew so frustrated….. auw..

            And yeah, in the basic scenario every-thing happening out-side of the elevator is mad-town and complete shit, when-ever we actually do manage to get radio contact out-side, the out-side just sounds worse and worse and we are constantly broken up as the elevator keeps dropping, and yeah.. the final conclusion to the show will be the elevator dropping all the way down and every-body in there dies. (unless players found an alternative.)
            So what it basically is is the last hours of these peoples lives, with an underlying sense of doom which drives up their panick.

            But character set-up is also about how each comes from different positions, one is a terrorist against the coorporation drive world (this takes place in a dystopian future.) one is a old soldier fighting against the terrorist, one is a doctor whom ones was a terrorist a very long time ago, but realised there isn’t any point to it, so he/she basically just gave up a long time ago and doesn’t really give a fuck (that’s the character I have in the stage play, and yeah it’s a gender neutral role that can be played by either gender.) and the last one is a protestute whom merely tries to get by and really the only character whom never did any-one any-thing. (The character I played when I actually did the larp game.)

            And you can see, between four characters coming from four so different positions, conflicts happen.. especially as it turns out terrorist guy was the guy whom planted bombs all around the place, and by mistake got stuck in the elevator as the bombs defused way to early… we ended up killing him in our larp game.. because he really acted like an ass-hole.

            And the remaining three characters just went. “Oh good, never liked the bastard.” .. then our game sort of ended as all the plot lines had been played out, we had had what can possible be called the flash-back weed trip of the century, and there was nothing else to do than just dropping the elevator all the way down to kill the remaining three X)

  • Randolph Quazalpene

    though I was never a muppets fanboy, I did enjoy the original. I give it masssive credit to introducing me to the idea of “meta” long before the internet or the trope of meta even existed, which is redicilously awesome.

  • Halosoulfire

    I watched the original Avatar from beginning to end watching them all grown in the matter of nine months (?) and I agree that a great story is one that is written then re-re-re-rewritten several times before the finished product.