HEAD WRITER THOUGHTS
I've never been a head writer before. On my previous show, there were just two of us creating and writing the show equally. On Galidor
, I was Executive Story Editor, but the other staff writers and story editors were in Los Angeles, and most of the show was written (first drafts anyway) by free lancers. This is the first time I've run a writing room. It's exciting. It's also exhausting.
Writers are not by nature friendly sociable people. Writers are by nature people who observe other people being friendly and sociable and then go home and make fun of them on paper. TV writers have to be much more friendly and sociable than novelists; TV writers have to have the most social skills of any writers alive, really, except for gossip columnists. But they are still artists, full of pride, a little touchy. And when writers are angry or upset, they generally can't concentrate on their work. In fact when TV writers are angry or upset, their being friendly and sociable means they vent like crazy for hours. Often hilariously. But no writing gets done. A graphic artist can do their thing angry, but when the writing staff gets in an interpersonal jam, no work gets done. As Head Writer, I'm responsible for nudging people back to a state where they want to get work done again.
We have pretty high morale in our writing room. I've made a point that we don't talk about what idea came from whom. In a previous situation I worked with someone who always made a point about which idea came from them, and it was a big fat waste of time. I don't believe that the person who first articulates an idea in a writing room has a right to claim it as their own. The conversation that lead up to the idea is just as important, as is the conversation that made the idea into someone worth putting on paper. It's rarely obvious exactly how the precursor conversation contributed to the articulation of the idea. But it's clear that few ideas pop up without some kind of conversation coming first.
What happens when you don't credit individual people with ideas, and don't tell people outside the writing room who wrote what (aside from the first and second drafts, which belong to the credited writers) means that everyone feels good about the successes, and everyone has responsibility for the failures. When someone lays into a script, no one person has to feel singled out for it, so they don't have to take it personally. When a script is praised, everyone can feel good about it. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only sane way to run a writing room.
In particular it is crucial for the Head Writer. As Head Writer you are the person ultimately responsible for what comes out of the writing room. You are entitled to the last rewrite. You should not need to lay claim to any of the good ideas personally because YOU GET CREDIT FOR THEM ANYWAY as the guy who ran the room that had the good ideas. Your name is in the main titles. How you manage to deliver those ideas -- because you thought of them or because gremlins put them in your shoe every morning or because (hopefully) you encouraged the writers to have them and helped select the best ones -- should be irrelevant. You shouldn't need to stroke your own ego.
And just as importantly, if you don't lay claim to the ideas, then you are slightly insulated from your failures, or what producers perceive to be the failures. Of course this is only slightly because ultimately any failure is your responsibility. You are the guy out in front. That's what they hired you to do. But it feels better saying "we failed" than "I failed."
As Head Writer, you can boss or lead. Bossing is no fun for anyone. Leading is much more fun for everyone. And if you're not having fun, what's the point?