Bridget Carpenter is a producer on my favorite show, Friday Night Lights
(now airing Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC). She graciously agreed to answer a few questions. I'll be running the interview over the next few days. Stay tuned!
Crafty TV: What specs got you the show?
Bridget Carpenter: I've never written a spec.
Crafty TV: [crashing sound] I'm fine. I'm fine.
Bridget Carpenter: Before I began writing for television, I was (am) a playwright. My first staff job was DEAD LIKE ME, and for that job I used two plays as my writing samples. After I got that staff job, I would (and still do) use a combination of tv episodes that I've written and/or one or more of my plays, whatever seems most appropriate. It's been my experience that the people who enjoy reading plays as samples are pretty much invariably people I'd be excited to work with.
Crafty TV: FNL seems to have a more fluid structure than a traditional hour drama. There's a main or "A" story, which belongs to Coach, but instead of having a secondary B and a tertiary C story that take up the rest of the episode, we get a weave of stories, where each of the characters seem to have their own stories that run in parallel. Y'know, like in life, but more interesting. Do you feel that's true?
Bridget Carpenter: That is indeed true. In fact we never, or almost never, talk about stories in terms of A/B/C. It always seems that we have an innante "room understanding" of the weight of each character's story in each distinct episode. We'll pay more attention to Smash for a few episodes when we get into his taking steroids, the pressure that he's feeling to excel, his drive to make "the list"--and as a result, another character's story for that episode/episodes may recede temporarily. We do tend to go back to Coach and his family more often, because he's the character that links pretty much everyone else in town.
And when you break story, how do Peter Berg and the rest of you track the stories?
We have to keep reminding each other when things happened. "Did that happen in episode 112 or 114?" It's fluid. And confusing. And fun.
Incidentally, while Peter Berg is a genius and we all adore him, he's not in the writers' room at all--he's off directing movies. Jason Katims is our showrunner, Exec. Producer, and boss. He, too, is a genius. We pretty much worship him.
Crafty TV: There's usually a football game, but it can come at the beginning of the episode or the end of one. Is there any sense of "the following things have to happen in every episode"?
Bridget Carpenter: It also can come in the middle! That was something that excited all of us from the beginning--that when we have a game, it should serve the story of the episode--it doesn't have to cap it. That said, a football game has a natural energy and drive that often makes its way into Acts 4 and 5.
As we break episodes, we ask ourselves, is there a football game in this episode? If there is, then we talk about when we want it to be and how it's helping to tell the stories of the characters within the game. We don't want the games to be interchangeable. We want them to be wholly connected to the episode they're in. In my episode "Crossing the Line" we didn't have a football game, but we did have a quad rugby game--the first time Jason Street has done anything athletic since becoming injured. That seemed to naturally replace the football--doing two hard-hitting games in a single episode would have been overkill.
Labels: Crafty TV Writing, interviews
Ooh, AWESOME. (she said, insightfully.)
And "Dead Like Me" raises its quirky little head....
I heart FNL. During other shows I find myself thinking while watching - here comes the act out, this must be a set-up, ahh! here's the pay-off, that kind of thing.
On FNL I engage with the characters, so I don't disengage. Thanks to everyone at FNL for a great show, and thanks to Alex for the interview - looking forward to part two.
My favorite show of the season too, Alex. Really looking forward to the rest of the interview, and thanks in advance for doing it and sharing. I'm particularly interested in how the writers maximize the talents of the ensemble cast, which, to my mind is populated by more actors capable of breaking into major careers than anything else currently on TV. Also intrigued by the mix of documentary and traditional dramatic styles in the shooting. It's clearly a carefully and creatively thought out show at all production levels.
I love that show. It's how drama should be.
I love Friday Night Lights. It's replaced actual football in my affections.
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